How science is saving the Great Barrier Reef

Image credit: Raw Glamour

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef runs for more than 2000km along northern Queensland’s coastline. Oh, and it’s the largest living organism on Earth. However, mass bleaching from warmer waters – when the coral expels algae living in its tissue and turns white – along with ocean acidity, pollution and invasive species are threatening the reef’s future. In 2016 alone, one-third of shallow corals died as a result of mass bleaching. So, how can we save the Great Barrier Reef?

Thankfully, scientists are onto it. Researchers from organisations such as the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE), James Cook University’s Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority all have remediation programs underway to help save the Great Barrier Reef and keep it healthy. Here are just a few of them…

1. Super shield

Fact: coral can get sunburnt. Yep! An ultra-thin ‘Sun shield’ on the surface of the water could reduce sunlight and prevent coral bleaching. The ‘Sun shield’ is 50,000 times thinner than human hair, and was designed by the same scientists who made Australia’s polymer bank notes.

2. The terminator

RangerBot Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) – created by QUT and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, along with the support of the Google Impact Challenge – uses artificial intelligence technology to protect the reef. From hunting down the deadly crown-of-thorns starfish, gathering helpful data and distributing fertilised coral larvae to promote growth, AUV has this landmark covered.

3. Sun(screen) safe

For every 10,000 summer beachgoers, there’s roughly 4kgs of sunscreen chemicals washing into the waves. These minerals react to produce hydrogen peroxide which bleaches our coral. The solution? Safe sunscreen made from blue-green algae. Slap it on!

4. Dive in

Want to do your part to save the reef? Join the 6000 visitors who have taken part in the University of Queensland initiative, CoralWatch. This citizen science project aims to help gather info on marine health and flag problem areas within the reef, using a specialist colour chart available to tourists. It’s a massive area, so scientists are super grateful!

5. Reef rehab

Coral doesn’t grow on trees, but the Reef Restoration Foundation is aiming to change that. They’re using underwater ‘trees’ to propagate and harvest coral.

6. Charity vibes

Marine science students from James Cook University will be donning their togs for a cheeky swimwear calendar that aims to raise awareness of the threats facing the reef as well as funds for the Great Barrier Reef through the GBR Legacy organisation.

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7. Barrier babies

The mass release spawning strategy of coral usually results in most coral spawn being swept out to sea. So, Australian Professor Peter Harrison from Southern Cross University has come up with a way to provide a helping hand. The concept: growing millions of coral larvae in the lab first, then securing them to degraded reefs using fine mesh nets to prevent the larvae from drifting away. #Winning.

STEM Contributor

Author: STEM Contributor

This article was written by a STEM Contributor for Careers with STEM. To learn more, please visit our contact page.


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