Australia: Great Barrier Reef faces multiple threats
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Australia: Great Barrier Reef faces multiple threats

A few months ago researchers told us that the Great Barrier Reef had lost over half its coral over the past 27 years due to a combination of tropical cyclones, the crown-of-thorns starfish and coral bleaching. Now scientists have discovered that a large section of the sea floor next to the Great Barrier Reef is on the verge of collapsing.

Dubbed the Noggin Block, this one cubic kilometer slab is the remnant of an ancient underwater landslide and is perched precariously on the edge of the continental shelf. It is not known when the slab will collapse, but scientists say that it will – eventually. The consequences could be disastrous.

Dr Robin Beaman, marine geologist at James Cook University, is quoted in the Telegraph:

If it were to break away catastrophically, that is break away really quickly, what that would do is it would create a surface wave above it. It would actually cause a tsunami. That tsunami would travel across the Great Barrier Reef, it’s about 70 kilometres offshore, and it would impact the local area, the North Queensland area.

From natural disaster scenarios that probably no one can do anything about to industry and capitalism-caused disasters, which probably no one with any power will do anything about, the future of the Reef looks bleak. The government of the state of North Queensland is planning to expand coal ports, which will include dredging and dumping acidic soil waste onto (or near) the Great Barrier Reef, according to an environment report released by the state-owned Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation.

From the Australian:

The proposed new dumping ground is close to Holbourne Island, which has been declared a national park, but the report claims this is more environmentally acceptable than another location in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park previously considered by the government. The report also specifically rejects the possibility of depositing the soil on land as “the timelines required to stabilise the material (approximately four years) would result in significant delays to the project schedule” and some soil may have had to be relocated further inland from the port works.

The WWF is concerned that dredging up acidic soil, disturbing and dumping it will have negative consequences for the Reef, specifically hermit crab and mud scallop populations.

One bright spot of Great Barrier Reef news is that reef coral has been discovered living at depths previously unimagined. Robots diving in the reef have found live coral at 4 times the depth that most scuba divers can descend. Read more on that story in the Guardian.


Pic: Paul Toogood (Flickr CC).