Fake clouds, shade cloth in $444m save the reef plan

 

MAN-MADE clouds, mist and shade cloths are the "best option" to manipulate solar radiation and protect the Great Barrier Reef from climate change, according to a $444 million federal program.

Coral replanting and seeding to restore coral cover is another idea but is labour intensive, expensive and only proven at a small scale, experts say.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation, mired in uproar over the handling of its $444 million grant, will publish a 113-page outline of how it plans to spend the money to protect the living wonder.

It comes as the latest Australian Institute of Marine Science report, also out Friday, shows a general decline in coral cover due to "crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, cyclones and coral bleaching events in the past five years".

"The Great Barrier Reef is still beautiful and it is resilient, but it is facing unprecedented challenges,'' AIMS chief Paul Hardisty said.

Australian Institute of Marine Science report shows hard coral cover in the northern region of Great Barrier Reef has stabilised.
Australian Institute of Marine Science report shows hard coral cover in the northern region of Great Barrier Reef has stabilised.

Hard coral cover increased by 3 per cent in the northern GBR and was at "moderate levels" of between 10 per cent to 30 per cent across most of the 2300km-long reef system, the AIMS study shows.

Some healthy coral reefs had high coral cover of up to 50 per cent but others were dead standing skeletons covered in turf algae, it said.

The GBR Foundation, in partnership with a consortium of 100 Australian and international experts, has devised a Reef Restoration and Adaptation plan for an era of innovation that is "not afraid to look outside of the box".

This follows criticism by Sir David Attenborough who on Tuesday told of his horror at the decline of the Reef and how "we cannot be radical enough" to protect the $6.4 billion natural asset and prevent a climate crisis.

"This is a defining moment for the reef,'' foundation chief executive Anna Marsden said.

Planting heat-resistant coral would take 700,000 divers working around the clock, at a cost of trillions of dollars to simply match the present rate of loss of coral reefs worldwide, the GBRF report said.

"(But) the preliminary conclusions of this study are that, with the proper research and development effort, there is a reasonable prospect that we can help the Reef recover from, and adapt to, the effects of climate change," it said.

"Preliminary modelling indicates that the best option for reef-wide protection lies in large scale solar radiation management.

"The concept of creating shade through clouds, mist, fog, or surface films assumes that decreased solar radiation protects corals from bleaching.

"RRAP model predictions indicate that keeping existing corals alive at a large scale would have the biggest impact of all considered interventions."

Saskia English, 24, from Sydney explores Walker Reef on the outer Great Barrier Reef northeast of the Palm Island. Picture: Lachie Millard
Saskia English, 24, from Sydney explores Walker Reef on the outer Great Barrier Reef northeast of the Palm Island. Picture: Lachie Millard

Crown-of-thorns starfish control ($57.8m); water quality ($200m); reef monitoring; and "citizen science" have all been slated for investment over the next five years.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society has welcomed the latest plan as the data showed "underwater heatwaves had clobbered" the World Heritage listed Reef.

"Australians love our Great Barrier Reef and we must fight to protect its future,'' AMCS's Shani Tager said.

"This is a burning red flag for our Reef and our nation."



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