A group consists of chemical engineers, polymer science experts, and marine ecologists unveil an innovation that can safeguard the Great Barrier Reef from effects of coral bleaching.
In making the device, the experts use the same ingredient that corals have in their skeletons. Trials have shown that the material can reduce light by up to 30 percent. This is promising as excessive light makes water warm and warm water expels the algae living in corals’ tissues. When the latter happens, corals turn completely white in what commonly known as “coral bleaching.”
Breakthrough Shield Can Protect The Great Barrier Reef
Inventors simply call their creation “sun shield.” Its being extraordinary, however, lies in the detail.
The device is 50,000 times thinner than a human hair and because calcium carbonate is used in its development, the material is completely biodegradable. It becomes a thin film that settles above the corals once sprayed on the ocean, and from then provides an effective guard against the sun.
The “sun shield” has already been successfully tested on seven different coral species at the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s National Sea Simulator. However, at this level, it is unable to cover the entire 348,000 square kilometers of the Great Barrier Reef, according to Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden.
“The concept needs more work and testing before it gets to that stage, but it’s an exciting development at a time when we need to explore all possible options to ensure we have a Great Barrier Reef for future generations,” Marsden explains.
Different institutions have contributed in making the innovation possible; including the Tiffany & Co. Foundation, the University of Melbourne USA Foundation, and the Australian Government’s Resilient Reefs Successfully Adapting to Climate Change program.
Great Barrier Reef Dead
In October 2016, Rowan Jacobsen of Outside writes an obituary for the UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site. In the piece, he tracks the timeline of when coral bleaching started its destruction of the reef.
Coral bleaching was first observed in 1981, in the same year when UNESCO declared it as a heritage site, Jacobsen writes. The winter season between 1997 and 1998 brought the worst coral bleaching in the reef, he continues.
The damage has remained bigger than the one that took place between 2001 and 2002. By 2009, Charlie Veron, the longtime chief scientist for the Australian Institute of Marine Science has already raised the possibility that the Great Barrier Reef was already on death row, Jacobsen highlights.
As days go by, it has become apparent that climate change and acidic ocean waters continue to destroy the reef, hence Jacobsen’s obituary by 2016.
Great Barrier Reef Facts: Survey Finds Coral Bleaching is Killing Water Corals
A survey conducted by the Marine Park Authority, Queensland Parks and Wild Service, Australian Institute of Marine Science, and the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies estimate that 70 percent of shallow water corals have already died. The survey, which was released in 2017, use data collected throughout 2016.
“The amount of coral that died from bleaching in 2016 is up from our original estimates and … it’s expected we’ll also see an overall further coral cover decline by the end of 2017,” Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman, Russell Reichelt says.