News

New research shows barrier reef being eaten from within

A new study has found microborers are eating away at the Great Barrier Reef.
A new study has found microborers are eating away at the Great Barrier Reef. Darren Jew

CORAL samples from Heron Island have found the Great Barrier Reef may be being eaten away from within by microscopic organisms.

Biologists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the University of Queensland have found evidence that algae and other organisms that reside within dead coral will erode the skeleton at an increasing rate, as oceans continue to warm with climate change. 

Spokeswoman Catalina Reyes said the phenomenon, combined with a slower growth of coral reefs because of ocean acidification, may make reefs more vulnerable to storms and cyclones.

"So fish, turtles, sharks, lobsters and other reef organisms may lose their homes, threatening reef biodiversity and the livelihoods of tens of millions of people," Ms Reyes said.

She said corals used calcium carbonate, or limestone, to build the reef structure.

As they accumulated carbonate and extended their skeleton, the old, dead parts were eroded by waves, currents, fishes, sponges and by tiny plants that lived inside the reef.

"There is a fine balance between accumulating and losing carbonate, and healthy reefs are the ones that gain more than they lose," Ms Reyes says.

"Anything that disrupts this balance puts coral reefs in danger."

Associate Professor Sophie Dove said coral reefs were already threatened by ocean acidification, caused by human carbon emissions dissolving into the oceans, because this process reduced the amount of carbonate in the seawater, causing the corals to build the reef at a slower pace.

But in the latest study, researchers found the lack of carbonate to build coral reefs wasn't the only challenge these ecosystems faced.

"Our research shows that when seawater is both acidic and warm - which is predicted to happen under future climate scenarios - coral reefs could be made more fragile by microborers, such as algae, blue-green algae and fungi that inhabit reefs and bore tiny holes in it that undermine the strength of the coral skeleton."

Ms Reyes said the most abundant type of algae identified in the study was also the world's most common photosynthetic microborer, capturing sunlight to fuel its activities.

It inhabits 85% of the world's corals and has an extraordinary ability to cope with low light conditions, allowing it to penetrate deep into coral skeletons.

Topics:  environment, great barrier reef, heron island, university of queensland




Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

3 easy dinner recipes your kids will love, and so will you

No Caption

THERE is a middle ground! Dinners fit for kids and adults.

How to reduce your child's risk of food allergies

ABOUT 90% of food allergies are caused by just seven foods.

5 good mental health habits for kids (and parents)

CRYING OUT FOR HELP: The demand for counselling support for children and young people is increasing.

FORMING good habits early is critical for your child's mental health.

Smack or no smack - where do you stand?

THE debate is reignited - is smacking acceptable?

Susie O'Neill: Why I stopped smacking my children

Swimming legend Susie O'Neill says she has stopped smacking her kids.

“I (smacked) because that’s what I knew growing up."

Introducing a step-parent into the family

Introducing a step-parent into the family can be stressful for the children, as well as the new parent.

THERE is no easy way to introduce a step parent into the family.

Tourist reports croc sighting at Boyne river

Never smile at a crocodile!   Photo Colleen Delaney

"Decent sized" croc sighted on Boyne River

Star-struck Gladstone man seeks selfie with Pauline Hanson

Pauline Hansen in Gladstone June 24, 2016. Pauline and Fraser Anning.Photo Mike Richards / The Observer

FLYNN voter visits his favourite pollie.

Gladstone stalwart backs Ken’s tax cuts for business

Owner of a Gladstone electrical company Ken Corfield with LNP member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd.

Two Kens agree that businesses would benefit from LNP's tax cuts

Latest deals and offers

Mt Larcom Show's 67-year-old chain saw champ

Philip Waters was dragged into chain sawing by his former girlfriend.

Justice Lucy McCallum

Justice Lucy McCallum

Justice Lucy McCallum says she reduced Oliver Curtis's sentence due to comments...

Is this state’s cheapest house?

BARGAIN BUY: Is this North Bundaberg property the cheapest home in Queensland?

Becoming a real estate mogul is all about risk and reward

Cheap, cheap rental in Gladstone

$150/week for 6 Drynan Dr, Calliope

Cheap cheap rental in Gladstone