Dr Marji Puotinen, from AIMS, said the study came about after a colleague wondered why Scott Reef in Western Australia had significant damage but hadn’t experienced any significant weather events.
The research will help groups running coral rehabilitation and restoration programs decide what areas of reefs they should put money and effort into.
“We don’t want to spend millions of dollars trying to save a reef or part of a reef if it’s likely to get smashed up by cyclones all the time,” Dr Puotinen said.
The group of scientists examined data on 150 coral reef eco-regions around the globe, crunching information gathered between 1985 and 2015 to understand the impact cyclones can have from afar.
“Just because damage can be happening up to a thousand kilometres away it doesn’t mean that there’ll be damage every single place within that distance from the track,” Dr Puotinen said.
“Reefs block each other from wave energy. It’s amazing that when a big wave comes along almost 97 per cent of that energy gets lost when it interacts with the first part of the first reef it encounters.”