World renowned diving location the Great Barrier Reef has become the latest victim of Australia’s floods, with murky freshwater running-off into its ecosystem. The reef – which is becoming increasingly fragile from pollution and warm seas – is a haven for marine life and a popular tourist destination for divers of any level. Researchers say it is too early to know how much damage has been caused by the floods, which created a wide path of destruction on land before draining off the north-east coast.
At the moment, it appears that only small portions of the reef – which stretches more than 1,800 miles along the coast – have been affected. A narrow band of the reef was battered by a massive cyclone that passed overhead earlier this month and struck the coast with winds of up to 170 miles per hour, though the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that manages the area said damage such as coral breakage was probably limited. More worrying than the cyclone are the effects of the recent floods, which sent huge plumes of muddy fresh water over coastal portions of the reef, said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a reef expert from the University of Queensland. Floodwater can hurt reefs in many ways, as coral becomes stressed when the level of salt in the water drops, the high concentration of soil nutrients in floodwater provides food for coral competitors such as certain types of algae, and pesticides in the water can kill the coral outright.