SCIENCE SHIP: This vessel carries bauxite and answers to the ocean acidification on the Great Barrief Reef.
SCIENCE SHIP: This vessel carries bauxite and answers to the ocean acidification on the Great Barrief Reef. Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto ships reef saving venture

RIO Tinto has shipped bauxite along the entire length of the Great Barrier Reef for more than 50 years and now it is using this trip to understand the reef further.

Rio has teamed up with CSIRO and Great Barrier Reef Foundation to study the ocean acidification along the entire stretch of the reef, the only study that does that.

The monitoring program uses advanced equipment onboard the Rio Tinto vessel RTM Wakmatha, which travels between Weipa and Gladstone carrying bauxite for Gladstone's alumina refineries.

"This allows us to have access to the entire reef," said CSIRO ocean carbon research scientist Dr Bronte Tilbrook.

He said the Future Reef 2.0 project that started in 2013 and will continue for at least another three years would analyse how carbon emissions were affecting the reef.

"The CO2 reacts with the seawater and consumes the carbonate irons. The corals don't grow as well with fewer carbonate irons available," he said.

"We are getting some foundation data for the reef and what the current exposure and water chemistry is and how it is changing."

He said the study was the first comprehensive look of the entire reef and he didn't say it was better than reef-specific studies but was vital as one piece of the puzzle to understand the reef.

"We need the big picture before we can progress, we need to know the stresses on the reef and what it is exposed to," he said.

"You can look at one part of the reef and only 1km away it is completely different."

Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said the Future Reef project was a remarkable first for the Great Barrier Reef and the foundation was delighted to be extending the successful partnership for another three years.

"It means that scientists and reef managers will be able to access vital information about the reef's water chemistry, which is critical, particularly in light of the extra pressures created by the recent bleaching event," she said.

"Scientists and managers are telling us that, in the long term, ocean acidification is likely to be one of the most significant impacts of a changing climate."

Rio Tinto managing director Australia Joanne Farrell said the partnership with the foundation and CSIRO demonstrated Rio Tinto's commitment to helping preserve the Great Barrier Reef.

"This is allowing the researchers to build up a unique picture of the health of reef waters with recurring data from along its length over an extended period of time," she said.



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