Coral reefs provide critical ecological and geomorphic (e.g. sediment production for reef-fronted shoreline maintenance) services, which interact in complex and dynamic ways. These services are under threat from climate change, requiring dynamic modelling approaches that predict how reef systems will respond to different future climate scenarios. Carbonate budgets, which estimate net reef calcium carbonate production, provide a comprehensive ‘snap-shot’ assessment of reef accretionary potential and reef stability. These budgets, however, were not intended to account for the full suite of processes that maintain coral reef services or to provide predictive capacity on longer timescales (decadal to centennial). To respond to the dual challenges of enhancing carbonate budget assessments and advancing their predictive capacity, we applied a novel model elicitation and review method to create a qualitative geo-ecological carbonate reef system model that links geomorphic, ecological and physical processes. Our approach conceptualizes relationships between net carbonate production, sediment transport and landform stability, and rates knowledge confidence to reveal major knowledge gaps and critical future research pathways. The model provides a blueprint for future coral reef research that aims to quantify net carbonate production and sediment dynamics, improving our capacity to predict responses of reefs and reef-fronted shorelines to future climate change.