Sydney Institute of Marine Sciences, in collaboration with the University of Sydney is developing a ground breaking new technology with the aim of avoiding further coral bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef.
Over two million tourists travel to Queensland, Australia every year from all over the world to enjoy the unparalleled beauty and biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. Unfortunately, the health of the reef is threatened by human activity, and now most severely by ocean warming due to climate change. If we don’t actively intervene to preserve the reef, while at the same time dramatically reducing global carbon emissions it is doubtful the reef will survive in its current form for future generations. Globally coral reefs provide habitat for 25% of all marine species, food and coastal protection for over 500 million people, and are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet.
Although there are many environmental issues the most urgent threat to the integrity of the Great Barrier Reef is coral bleaching, where the water temperature has increased. During hot summers the coral is unable to cope with the heat stress and becomes bleached; if the corals become severely bleached they do not recover and perish.
The El Niño peak in 2016 caused the worst bleaching to the Great Barrier Reef on record, following less severe bleaching during El Nino years in 1998 and 2002. In 2016 alone around 29% of shallow corals which could be surveyed by divers and from the air died due to bleaching. Severe bleaching has occurred again for a second year in 2017, while the full impacts of this second bleaching have not yet been assessed the preliminary reports indicate further severe mortality. Coral loss in 2017 will be exacerbated by cyclone Debbie a category 4 cyclone which crossed the reef near the Whitsunday Islands causing widespread devastation.
While the Paris accord resolved to restrict global average, temperature rise to below 2 degrees C, the emissions of greenhouse gas are currently the highest on record and being released year after year. In just another 10 years, the global temperature experienced in 2016 (around 1.2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial) will be an ‘average’ year, and hot years will be well above that experienced in 2016. While it is absolutely critical for the long-term survival of coral reefs that emissions be reduced and the targets of the Paris Agreement be met, it is now clear that intervention will be required in the short term so that global action is not too late to save the Great Barrier Reef.
The 'Marine Cloud Brightening for the Great Barrier Reef' project aims to utilise cutting edge cloud brightening technology to significantly reduce damage to the Great Barrier Reef from coral bleaching in the short term, while waiting for viable long-term solutions to save the reef. Initially, we are researching the viability of this technique, in order to assess how it could be best implemented and how effective it will be in reducing coral mortality, as well as fully evaluating anyflow on effects due to changes in cloud albedo. We are committed to the best open, transparent and peer-reviewed science. The reef belongs to all Australians, citizens of the world, and the planet itself; only by acting together both locally and globally can we be successful in protecting it.