Tag Archives: great coral reef

Australia allows 1 million tons of sludge to be spilled into Great Coral Reef

Remember how a few days ago we wrote about the massive mud plume that hit the Great Coral Reef in Australia? Well, there’s another one headed for it — except this one will come directly from the port.

A plume of sediment off the coast of Queensland after recent flooding. Image credits: NASA.

Despite strict regulation against dumping things in and around the reef, port authorities have found a loophole: the law doesn’t apply to dredging spoils. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has already given the go-ahead to the Port of Hay Point, home to one of the world’s largest coal loading facilities, to spill up to one million tons of sediment around the reef.

The North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, which operates the port at Hay Point, argued in a statement that all the spillage would occur at 100 km away from the reef waters, and will cause minimal damage. However, they agree that the home is area to “coral communities [..] and coastal habitats including mangroves”, as well as “a number of protected fauna species [..] including marine turtles, whales, dolphins, dugong, migratory shorebirds and the Water Mouse,” but argue that the area “does not provide critical habitat for any protected marine species.”

“Importantly, our assessment reports have found the risks to protected areas including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and sensitive habitats are predominantly low with some temporary, short-term impacts to benthic habitat possible.”

“Risks to sensitive habitats such coral communities are predicted to be low to negligible as they lie outside of area expected to have altered turbidity and sedimentation.”

However, environmentalists and researchers say this only adds insult to injury, and places the already struggling reef at even more risk.

“The last thing the reef needs is more sludge dumped on it, after being slammed by the floods recently,” Australia Green Party senator Larissa Waters, who hopes to get the permit revoked, tells Smee. “One million tonnes of dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip.”

Dr. Simon Boxall from the National Oceanography Centre Southampton echoed similar concerns, saying that it will be difficult to carry out the operation in a way that does little damage to corals. If the material gets too close to the reef, it can smother the corals, and even at large distances, trace metals and other chemicals can still have a damaging effect on the corals.

“If it’s put into shallow water it will smother sea life,” he told the BBC. “It’s important they get it right. It’ll cost more money but that’s not the environment’s problem – that’s the port authorities’ problem.”

Corals, and the Great Barrier Reef, in particular, are under massive threat from rising temperatures and bleaching effects. Studies have also shown that human activity is one of the main reasons why the reef is in decline..

Global warming strikes again: delicate coral-algae partnership threatened

great coral reefAfter things seemed to be going a bit towards the right way, when fishing was banned in the 2nd largest coral reef in the world, a new study pointed out the fact that not a single square meter in the oceans has been left untouched by man’s activities. Corals are especially threatened, and protecting them is vital, as 200 million people depend directly on them to subsist, and several billions are affected by the destruction of coral reefs.

The thing is that between the corals and the zooxanthellae (tiny one-celled plants) is not only powerful enough to create the largest living organism on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef, but also underpins the economies and living standards of many tropical nations and societies who harvest their food from the reefs or have developing tourism industries. The issue is whether this weird yet magnificent partnership is strong enough to resist the threats mankind rises.

Professor David Yellowlees of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) and James Cook University comments:

“It’s an incredibly intricate relationship in which the corals feed the algae and try to control their diet, and the algae in turn use sunlight to produce “junk food” – carbohydrates and fats – for the corals to consume.
“Where it all breaks down is when heated water lingers over the reef and the corals expel the algae and then begin to slowly starve to death. This is the bleaching phenomenon Australians are by now so familiar with, and which is such a feature of global warming.”

“In other words, how robust this symbiotic system is and whether it can withstand shocks from warming, ocean acidification, changes in sunlight levels and other likely impacts from human activity.
“The bottom line here is the survival of the Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs the world over.”