Scientists in Australia have developed an ultra-thin “sun shield” that could float on the water surface in the Great Barrier Reef to protect its coral from further bleaching.
Created from a biodegradable film that is 50,000 times thinner than a human hair, the shield has reduced sunlight by up to 30 per cent without damaging the coral.
The shield is sprayed onto the water as a solution and forms a white floating film, which keeps the water cooler and darker.
Scientists believe it could potentially help to prevent further bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest marine reserve, which has come under threat from warmer water temperatures and increasing ocean acidity.
“The ‘sun shield’ is… completely biodegradable, containing the same ingredient corals use to make their hard skeletons – calcium carbonate,” said Anna Marsden, from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
“It’s designed to sit on the surface of the water above the corals, rather than directly on the corals, to provide an effective barrier against the sun.”
In recent years, scientists have observed widespread bleaching across the Great Barrier Reef, a famous 1,500-mile stretch of reefs and cays along the Queensland coast. The United Nations has threatened to list the world heritage-listed site as “in danger”.
The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has been working with researchers from the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Marine Science to develop ways to prevent further bleaching.
The sun shield has only been tested in a small-scale research trial, but scientists believe the initial results demonstrated a significant reduction in sunlight exposure.
"Scientists tested the effectiveness of the one molecule thick film on seven different coral species in simulated coral bleaching event conditions,” said Ms Marsden.
"It’s important to note that this is not intended to be a solution that can be applied over the whole 348,000 square kilometres of Great Barrier Reef – that would never be practical.
But it could be deployed on a smaller, local level to protect high value or high-risk areas of reef.”
The reef is home to about 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 varieties of molluscs and attracts millions of tourists each year.
Aerial surveys of the reef last year found severe bleaching across large swathes of the reef due to record-breaking water temperatures.
Two mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 damaged an estimated two-thirds of the reef. In some areas, as much as 50 per cent of the coral was wiped out.
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