Bar­rier Reef may be­come ‘un­der­wa­ter waste­land’

New Straits Times - - World -

SYD­NEY: A pow­er­ful cy­clone that smashed into north­east­ern Aus­tralia could have caused fur­ther dam­age to the Great Bar­rier Reef, turn­ing parts of it into an “un­der­wa­ter waste­land”, sci­en­tists warned yes­ter­day.

There are fears for the sur­vival of corals in the cen­tral and north­ern ar­eas of the marine ecosys­tem that stretches 2,300km off the coast of Queens­land, af­ter two con­sec­u­tive years of mass bleach­ing from warm­ing sea tem­per­a­tures.

While storms can bring re­lief to corals suf­fer­ing from heat stress, Trop­i­cal Cy­clone Deb­bie, which bar­relled through the re­gion this week, struck the reef’s south­ern parts, which have not been se­ri­ously im­pacted by bleach­ing.

The cy­clone was down­graded to a trop­i­cal low de­pres­sion on Wed­nes­day, but was yes­ter­day driv­ing squalls with tor­ren­tial rain across a 1,200km stretch of the east coast, swelling rivers, caus­ing flash floods and prompt­ing au­thor­i­ties to tell 40,000 peo­ple to evac­u­ate.

“It has hit parts of the reef which half-es­caped (the mass bleach­ing) this year.

“It could have done a lot of dam­age in the cor­ri­dor that it came through, per­haps over a range of some­thing like 100km, quite a sub­stan­tive area,” James Cook Univer­sity marine bi­ol­o­gist James Kerry said.

The World Her­itage-listed reef is un­der threat from farm­ing runoff, devel­op­ment, the crown-of-thorns starfish and bleach­ing.

When de­struc­tive Cy­clone Yasi struck north­east­ern Aus­tralia in 2011, fol­low­ing ma­jor flood­ing, it badly dam­aged the reef, de­grad­ing water qual­ity and de­plet­ing over­all cover by 15 per cent.

On­go­ing in­clement con­di­tions mean the ex­tent of the dam­age from Deb­bie is not yet known.

Re­searchers said the im­pact of pre­vi­ous se­vere cy­clones sug­gested de­struc­tion could be patchy.

REUTERS PIC

Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull sur­vey­ing dam­aged and flooded ar­eas from aboard a he­li­copter near Townsville, Queens­land, yes­ter­day.

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