Washington, April 8: Australian researchers have come up to protect Great Barrier Reef corals from bleaching by circulating cool ocean water onto a handful of critical sites. The project worth $9 million aims to prevent loss of coral species by utilizing low-energy solar technology.Sheriden Morris, Managing Director of the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, said that this pilot project aims to prevent the loss of coral species by staving off bleaching in select, high-diversity areas. Pontoons, equipped with low-energy solar technology, would draw up adjacent water from depths of up to 130 feet where water temperatures are slightly cooler and flood it onto shallow reefs.
“It’s much localized,” Morris said. “This isn’t going to save the reef. All the efforts to improve climate change need to happen at the same time. This is just protecting some of those complex areas.”
“As pressures increase, we have to increase our protection agenda. We have to actually start doing applied approaches for protections. Otherwise, if we do come out the other side and we do get successful international control of climate and the Paris Agreement does hold we might get to the other end and have lost some of these assets already.”
The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest reef system, is off the coast of Queensland, Australia, and extends more than 1,400 miles. It consists of some 3,000 individual reefs and is home to about 600 species of coral. Currently, Australia’s marine jewel, like many reefs around the globe, is in serious trouble. Scientists from the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies found that last year’s bleaching, the most severe coral bleaching event on record, had affected 93% of the reef. Coral bleaching is a phenomenon in which stressed corals expel algae and turn white, often as a result of warming ocean temperatures. If not given time to recover, bleached corals can die. Morris said her organization’s proposal calls for deploying the pontoon units at ecologically and economically valuable reefs around Cairns, a tourist hotspot. She hopes to have the technology in the water before January, the start of bleaching season.
“We are looking at how you can actually sustain key, complex communities into the future with the current climate pressures that the reef faces,” she said.
A coral expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Rusty Brainard, said that, “given the plight of corals around the globe, that even small efforts like this are a step in the right direction” as countries work to reverse the global CO₂ emissions trend. “Saving some reefs in the short-term provides more opportunities for recovery and sustainability over the longer term,” said Brainard, Chief of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Program at NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.
“This sort of thing really only makes sense if it is happening in conjunction with major reductions in CO₂ emissions,” Brainard said. “Otherwise, it is indeed only a Band-Aid.” “As an analogy, bandaging up a wounded soldier but leaving them in the line of fire is not a solution. Once you get them out of harm’s way, bandages are a very useful way to bring them back to health,” he added.