ON THE SOAPBOX Pollution is the problem for reef
CYCLONES and crown of thorns starfish have never been a serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef - pollution is.
Back in the early ’70s when we had the worst ever outbreak of the crown of thorns plague and the press were saying the Great Barrier Reef will be destroyed within a few years, I was the first to speak out that this was not going to happen, that it was a cyclic phenomenon and the corals would grow back within a few years.
At the subsequent royal commission into the plague, every scientist agreed with my submission.
There is no plague happening now.
I remember how devastated Michaelmas Reef was after that big plague in the early ’70s and how within five years it was almost back to normal and looking good.
The only threat is if a plague happens on a popular diving reef and the starfish should be removed from that reef so the corals will still look nice for the tourists, and leave the non-visited reefs alone.
The same with cyclones, they do damage the reef but it quickly grows back within a few years. Cyclone Yasi was huge and the damage was huge, so this will take longer for the corals to rejuvenate, but Yasi was a one- off.
The starfish and cyclone damage actually helps the reef to grow. They break down the more fragile corals, the staghorns and plate corals, into rubble that builds up the reef and allows a more diversified hard corals to take their place.
Pollution has been and will continue to be the biggest killer of coral reefs, and is the major destructor of coral reefs around the world, along with overdevelopment and over-fishing.
The worst pollution is sewerage, the second is land run- off of soils and fertilisers that smother and kill the corals and allows algae to take over.
Most inshore coral reefs around the world and here are mostly dead because of this.
Our saving grace for the Great Barrier Reef is it is well offshore and very little pollution reaches it and it is still in good condition.
However, massive dredging at Gladstone and soon at Cairns does destroy the corals of the inner reef and turbidity can reach up to more than 30 miles offshore and spoil the viewing of the reef by divers.
This has happened at Heron Island where back in the ’ 80s the water clarity dropped to half because of the Gladstone harbour dredging.
Most underwater photographers used to go to Heron Island but when the visibility dropped they started to come up here to Cairns and Port Douglas. Now this problem may happen here.
A good example of pollution here, similar to around the world, is at Low Isle.
I’ve been visiting Low for 40 years and witnessed the decline in hard corals in the lagoon anchoring area.
This has been caused by sewerage from boats and septic sewerage from the three houses there that leached through the porous limestone onto the corals.
While both have stopped now, the damage remains. Also the runoff from the Daintree River floods has deposited nutrients over the corals and helped to kill them.
Today, 70 per cent of these lagoon corals are dead and covered by soft corals,
I have witnessed this slow decline over 40 years. Fortunately the seaward corals are healthy, washed by clean currents, but the tourists rarely swim there.
Please let’s put the money and research into the pollution problem.
Another big problem may exist in the breakdown of the huge plastic rubbish floating out there, and when it finally breaks down into minute particles it could be eaten by the plankton and even the coral polyps and would kill them.
Research is needed for this one as it could be major and effect the whole food chain.
Personally, I would like to see all plastic bottles banned. We don’t need to buy drinking water when we have good water from the tap, unlike in Asian countries.
If people saw the huge piles of plastic bottles along our northern beaches they would be horrified, and 90 per cent comes from our mainland, not foreign vessels.