Next weeks ‘critical’ for reef, Marine Park says
THE Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is encouraging people of the Whitsundays to help collect data on coral after they observed above average water temperatures in the region’s reefs.
The Whitsunday region is currently on a warning level from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meaning that thermal stress is accumulating but a bleaching event is not yet expected.
However, chief scientist from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority David Wachenfeld said the next two or three weeks would be critical.
“What has happened is really quite different over the last week or so (and) most of (the) marine park has really heated up,” he said.
“Whitsunday specifically, over whole of summer so far, it hasn’t been too bad.
“But like most of the southern Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays is currently about two degrees over the average for February, that’s not great for a coral reef and so there is certainly that stress that is accumulating now.
“I would certainly say the Whitsundays are at risk of bleaching but not at much more risk than most places in the southern two thirds of the marine park.
“We are not in a mass bleaching event, it’s just that the conditions are putting us in the position where we need to be careful.”
Volunteer with the Australian Marine Conservation Society Tony Fontes said he had been observing the temperatures rising over the past few weeks but had his “fingers crossed” that the weather would change.
“We’ve noted that the water temperatures are uncomfortably hot in some areas, and if it’s hot for us you know it’s hot for the coral,” he said.
“Coral is like a person, if you sit in the sun you’re OK for a couple of hours but you would eventually get heatstroke and fall over.
Mr Fontes hoped an offshore cyclone or some rain and cool changes would be on their way to help push temperatures down.
“You can do rain dances and go to church and do whatever else you might do to get some rain,” he said.
Mr Wachenfeld encouraged people out and about on the reef to help scientists within the Marine Park Authority collect information on coral through downloading the Eye on the Reef app.
The app can be used to capture, submit and share sightings of the reef, which Mr Wachenfeld said would be useful in observing bleached coral as well as healthy coral.