Coral rebirth - Baby corals are blooming on the Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef - Australian Government logo
. .
Amid the wreckage left behind by cyclone Yasi baby corals are blooming on the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service have carried out their second inspection of a series of reefs between Townsville and Tully, located near the centre of the category five cyclones that swept through in February 2011.

GBRMPA climate change and ecosystems manager Roger Beeden said more than two years on, individual reefs were showing signs of recovery from the strong waves and currents that were generated by wind gusts of up to 285 kilometers per hour.

'The legacy of cyclone Yasi is still plain to see, and some of the affected areas continue to look like a moonscape,' Mr. Beeden said.

'But the good news is there are plenty of baby corals in the 11 reefs that we looked at, particularly in shallow waters, while the algae that smothered the rubble after cyclone Yasi have disappeared.'

'While the new corals are still relatively small, it was great to see these pockets of colour rearing their head amid large areas of destruction. And with the right conditions, these reefs will continue to bounce back.'

'Some corals will take five to 10 years to fully recover, but others will take decades. Branching corals will be the first to grow back, along with plate corals, as these are fast growing. However, others such as the massive boulder corals could take a century or more to be replaced.'

'During these surveys, we also noticed that fish tended to aggregate in the shelter provided by pockets of reef structure that survived the pounding waves and fierce currents.'

The 11 reefs surveyed are located on the outer continental shelf, as well as on the inner shelf.

In the months after cyclone Yasi, surveys of 76 reefs found an estimated 15 per cent of the total reef area in the Marine Park sustained damage to coral colonies, while six per cent was structurally damaged, meaning there were severe impacts to the underlying substrate.

Mr. Beeden said the findings of the recent survey underlined the importance of producing favourable conditions for coral regrowth where possible.

'Coral reefs have a natural resilience to disturbances such as cyclones, and parts of these reefs can recover relatively quickly if they’re free from other stresses,' Mr. Beeden said. 'While we can’t stop severe weather events, there are actions we can continue to take such as improving the quality of water that enters the Reef from the catchment, and controlling crown-of-thorns starfish where possible.

'In addition, fishers should take extra care in deciding where to put down an anchor to avoid damaging remaining pockets of coral cover. These are vital for supporting fish populations. Complying with green zone regulations will also support the recovery of associated fish stocks.

'Anything we can do to support the Reef’s resilience will produce a better outcome for the future.'

..............

Letter from reader:

Sender: Lynne Boyce

Message: My husband and I are one of the first operators to be granted a permit to conduct commercial charters in this Water Wonderland. We were conducting our charter operations before permits were required so our permit issued by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), contains a 'grandfather clause' enabling us to visit locations where no other commercial operator can visit.

Our company 'A Whitsunday Luxury Sailing Holiday' www.whitsundayluxurysailing.com.au conducts week long expedition voyages to remote and remarkable locations as well as visiting the iconic places regularly seen in tourist brochures.

We have been diligent in keeping photographic records of coral condition at the locations we visit for nearly 30 years, and have can confirm the findings described in this article. The corals of the Great Barrier Reef at locations we visit are recovering from devastating damage caused by cyclones, very quickly. A good analogy is to compare the coral recovery with that of the Australian outback after devastation from bush fires.

Soon after the seeds have been released from the pods due to the heat of fire, green shoots can be seen emerging through charred black landscape. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that corals need cyclones (they certainly don't), but what I have observed is that from the coral rubble (equivalent of black charred landscape) due to cyclone, new shoots of fast growing stag-horn coral can be seen emerging within 2 years of destruction.

We also observed that there was also a huge regeneration of soft sponges. There is great hope, where the wonder of nature and healing is indeed a miracle.

We have for years been 'drowned out' by those who say the Great Barrier Reef is dying. There was a time when Aristotle was the source of all knowledge - if he said all swans were white, it would be so and the black swans that inhabit Western Australia would be wrong. Let's keep our eyes open and see what nature is telling us.