Quantcast

300 Miles of Great Barrier Reef Threatened by Muddy Runoff From Queensland Floods

Climate
A NASA worldview image showing runoff from Queensland, Australia floods heading towards the Great Barrier Reef. NASA

Muddy water from historic flooding in Queensland, Australia is now flowing out of rivers into the sea, threatening even the outer shelves of the Great Barrier Reef some 60 kilometers (approximately 37.3 miles) from the coast, Australia's ABC News reported Friday.

Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) water quality team leader Dr. Frederieke Kroon told ABC News that the runoff covered "an extraordinarily large area." Researchers said it is likely filled with nitrogen pollution and pesticides, and poses a risk to the health of a reef already damaged by back-to-back coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017.


Researchers told BBC News that up to 600 kilometers (approximately 372.8 miles) of outer edges of the reef could be impacted. The nutrient-rich water poses two main threats to the coral:

1. Reduced Light: The flood plumes encourage the growth of algae, which blocks light from the coral.

"The biggest concern at the moment is this reduced light—if it persists for much longer, in some cases we can actually see a smothering of the system," James Cook University's TropWATER research unit scientist Jane Waterhouse told BBC News.

2. Encouraging Predators: The growth of algae also attracts crown-of-thorns starfish, a major predator of coral, AFP reported. Runoff from agricultural pollution had increased the starfish population even before the floods, which have only made the problem worse.

"This provides a brilliant food source to allow those populations to thrive," Waterhouse told AFP.

The threat posed by the muddy water has been exacerbated by relatively calm weather.

"Generally a bit of wind and wave action can break the plumes up quite quickly, but we have literally had no wind so they're just sitting there hanging," Kroon told BBC News.

Scientists told AFP that they would not know the full impact the flood plumes have had on the reef until they have completed studying the area over the next few months once the runoff disperses.

The Queensland flooding occurred after some areas saw a year's worth of rainfall in 10 days, BBC News reported. Extreme rainfall events are expected to increase in Australia due to climate change, the country's Bureau of Meteorology's (BOM) State of the Climate 2018 found.

Since coral bleaching is linked to warmer ocean temperatures, the flood runoff could represent another climate-related threat to the iconic reef. However, the cooler flood waters could also potentially protect the reef from marine heatwaves that were forecast for March, according to ABC News.

But Kroon cautioned ABC News against looking too much on the bright side:

"If you want to have a flipside to the story that would be one, yes, but it's still a huge disturbance to the reef [after] the bleaching and the cyclones that we've had over the last couple of years," she said.

"The reef doesn't even really get time to recover from any of these disturbances because it gets hit with something pretty much every year."

Kroon noted that the last flooding event to impact the reef significantly was Cyclone Oswald in 2013, then the first such incident in recent memory.

"At the time, that was unheard of and so to have that happen again not that long afterwards is highly unusual," Kroon told ABC News.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Makayla Meixner

Black pepper is one of the most commonly used spices worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Many common snack foods have been expertly engineered to keep us addicted. Karen M. Romanko / Photolibrary / Getty Images

By Melissa Kravitz

Can't stop eating that bag of chips until you're licking the salt nestled in the corners of the empty package from your fingers? You're not alone. And it's not entirely your fault that the intended final handful of chips was not, indeed, your last for that snacking session. Many common snack foods have been expertly engineered to keep us addicted, almost constantly craving more of whatever falsely satisfying manufactured treat is in front of us.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Hannes Kutza / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Kim Knowlton

A new paper just out in The Lancet Planetary Health provides the first global indication that recent temperature increases, propelled by climate change, are in fact contributing significantly to longer and more intense pollen seasons.

Read More Show Less
Jordan Siemens / Taxi / Getty Images

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its second photo contest! Earth Day is happening on April 22nd, and this year's theme is "Protect Our Species." With that in mind, we want EcoWatchers to show us your photographs of creatures that inhabit Earth. Send us your best photos of species you value.

Read More Show Less
A new study based on data from the Energy Information Agency found that coal plants are now far more expensive to run than wind and solar power projects. reynermedia / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

In propping up the coal industry, the Trump administration is not only contributing to dangerous pollution, fossil fuel emissions and the climate crisis, it is also now clinging to a far more expensive energy production model than renewable energy offers.

That's according to a new report from renewable energy analysis firm Energy Innovation, showing that about three-quarters of power produced by the nation's remaining coal plants is more expensive for American households than renewables including wind, solar and hydro power.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Cars piled up in the Iranian city of Shiraz after flash flooding swept through the city. AMIN BERENJKAR / AFP / Getty Images

At least 19 people have died and more than 100 have been injured in flash flooding in the south of Iran, the country's semi-official Tasnim News Agency said. The city of Shiraz in Fars province was the worst hit by the flooding, which occurred after a month's worth of rain fell in a few hours, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.

Read More Show Less
Two Sherpa descending from Everest Base Camp, Himalayas, Khumbu, Nepal. Joel Addams / Aurora Photos / Getty Images

Climate change is having a grizzly effect on Mount Everest as melting snow and glaciers reveal some of the bodies of climbers who died trying to scale the world's highest peak.

Read More Show Less
Navajo Generating Station, Arizona. Wolfgang Moroder / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Navajo Nation has decided to stop pursuing the acquisition of a beleaguered coal-fired power plant in Arizona, locking in the plant to be taken offline and its associated coal mine to close later this year.

A Navajo Nation Council committee voted 11-9 last week to stop pursuing the purchase of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station, which with the Kayenta coal mine provides more than 800 jobs to primarily Navajo and Hopi workers as well as tribal royalties.

A coalition of utilities that own the plant said in 2017 it would cease operations due to increased economic pressure, and the plant's future has proved a flash point for national and regional energy policy and raised larger questions on how Native communities will handle ties to fossil fuel industries as the economy changes.

For a deeper dive:

Arizona Republic, Indian Country Today, AP, WOKV, Farmington Daily Times

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.