Larry's cool change good for reef

March 22, 2006
Coral reef at Heron Island. Photo: Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
Coral reef at Heron Island. Photo: Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

Cyclone Larry has been a nightmare on land but underwater, it may have helped save the Great Barrier Reef from disaster. University of Queensland coral reef expert Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said Larry's wind had cooled ocean temperatures that had skyrocketed this summer and threatened to bleach the corals of the Reef.

“Cyclones mix the water column and cool things down, so as we move into winter and with cyclones like this, the real threat of a major bleaching event has passed,” Director of UQ's Centre for Marine Studies Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg, who first identified widespread coral bleaching at the southern end of the Reef around the Keppel Islands in January, had feared more than 60 percent of the Reef might bleach as it did in 2002.

So far, he said about half of the coral in 1000 square kilometres of inshore reef from Mackay to Hervey Bay had bleached.

Prolonged coral bleaching can lead to coral death and the loss of coral reef habitats for a wide variety of marine life. This is a worry for scientists and reef enthusiasts because the Great Barrier Reef may house more than a million species.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said Cyclone Larry had left its mark on the land but the cyclone had moved too quickly across the reef to cause major damage.

“It was so intense and moved so quickly that it crossed the Great Barrier Reef in a matter of hours.

“In a way it's fortunate that it didn't linger and for that reason it's unlikely that it had major impacts on reef structure but we still need to do underwater surveys.”

He said the latest bleaching was the worst reef event since 2002 when the Reef around Townsville and Cairns was bleached. This time, bleaching only caused distress on the southern Great Barrier Reef.

UQ researchers are teaming up with NASA scientists to find out why different parts of the Reef have bleached in different events.

“It's prompting some very interesting questions about why it was so low on the Reef this year when it was so central in 2002.

“We're starting to do some projects here at UQ that are understanding how oceanography interacts with the geography of the bleaching.”

Source: University of Queensland

Explore further: Can we really halt the coral reef catastrophe?

Related Stories

Can we really halt the coral reef catastrophe?

November 15, 2017

The third episode of the BBC's Blue Planet II spectacularly described a series of fascinating interactions between species on some of the most pristine reefs in the world. These reefs, analogous to bustling cities, are powered ...

Can corals adapt to climate change?

November 1, 2017

Cool-water corals can adapt to a slightly warmer ocean, but only if global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. That's according to a study published November 1 in the journal Science Advances of genetic adaptation and the ...

Recommended for you

New discovery: Common jellyfish is actually two species

November 21, 2017

University of Delaware professor Patrick Gaffney and alumnus Keith Bayha, a research associate with the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, have determined that a common sea nettle jellyfish is actually two ...

Cassini image mosaic: A farewell to Saturn

November 21, 2017

In a fitting farewell to the planet that had been its home for over 13 years, the Cassini spacecraft took one last, lingering look at Saturn and its splendid rings during the final leg of its journey and snapped a series ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.