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article imageAustralia's Great Barrier Reef damaged by Yasi but will recover

By Kimberley Pollock     Feb 9, 2011 in Environment
Record floods and Cyclone Yasi have taken a toll on the world's largest living formation but scientists are confident the Great Barrier Reef will recover.
One of the worlds seven natural wonders and with almost five million visitors a year the Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia's most treasured destinations.
Hundreds of kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef were hit by Cyclone Yasi and large chunks of coral have been ripped from the reefs nearer to the ocean surface. However, a high tide has minimised the damage and experts say that the coral will regrow over time.
On the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) website Chairman Russell Reichelt said:
"Because the cyclone tracked across rather than along the length of the Reef, most other parts of the 340,000sq km (133 000sq miles) World Heritage-listed Marine Park are expected to have escaped damage from the cyclone. With good water quality, the Great Barrier Reef can bounce back from severe storms such as Cyclone Yasi. We saw this with the impact of Cyclone Larry which hit the Reef in 2006.”
On the ABC website Mr Reichelt also says cyclones are not as damaging to reefs as the effects of climate change and that the coral will already be regenerating. However, he points out that there could be significant changes to the reef landscape including smashed coral beds, movements of coral boulders, sand and rubble, major disturbance to seagrass beds and maybe even new islands being formed.
In the Brisbane Times World Wildlife Fund's Nick Heath confirms that the coral reefs have co-evolved with cyclones and that the flooding rains would help boost phytoplankton and trigger marine breeding cycles. He is also hopeful that the type of coral that would have been lost is the type that can regenerate most quickly such as Staghorns and that the slower growing more solid coral such as Brain Coral will have withstood the cyclone.
However, Mr Heath also warned that the flood waters would contain a toxic cocktail of pollutants in the form of sediment, pesticides and fertilisers, he said "coral can't really compete with the sort of pollution being generated".
This may have a longer term impact on the coral reefs and seagrass habitats and the marine organisms that depend on them such as the dugong.
The Great Barrier Marine Park Authority estimates it will be five to ten years before the damaged parts of the Great Barrier Reef are significantly recovered and only time will tell what the true extent of the damage will be.
So, while it seems the experts agree the Great Barrier Reef can recover from cyclones they also agree that there are many other threats to the future of this World Heritage Area such as rising ocean temperatures, pollution run-off and overfishing.
My advice is to see this natural wonder as soon as you can.
More about Great barrier reef, Cyclone Yasi, Tropical, Global warming, Climate change
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