The GBR: Before and After a Category 5 Cyclone

Image: The same blue coral - before (left) and after (right) Tropical Cyclone Ita


Tropical Cyclone Ita, a Category 5 storm with winds in excess of 215 km/h (130 mph), moved across the Coral Sea, Great Barrier Reef and the northeastern Australian coastline earlier this year. Project Director Richard Vevers recently led a team of researchers back to some of the sites that had been in the path of T.C. Ita to examine how storms can affect coral reefs. It is the first time the Catlin Seaview Survey has had a chance to revisit areas that have been previously surveyed (we'd already visited these sites in 2012 as part of our major Great Barrier Reef & Coral Sea expeditions).


Creating new data for scientists

The impact cyclones have on coral reefs is quite unpredicatble and still relatively unknown. By comparing imagery captured in 2012 with our post Ita image data scientists will now begin to make comparisons between the conditions of the reef. The most striking observations that our team made was the huge varience of storm impact and no uniform pattern of damage in the path of the storm. 

"We found areas with extensive damage next to perfectly healthy reefs that appeared virtually unaffected by the storm" said Project Director Vevers. "There were differences not just between the sheltered and exposed parts of the reefs, but also differeing levels of damage to areas immediately adjacent to one another". Researchers can now being to investigate how the overall structures of the reefs may have channelled the force of the wave action hitting the reefs, creating this varied pattern of damage.


Understanding the risk of increased storm activity

Also from Vevers, "What's so significant about this work is that we now have the capability, for the first time, to deploy our cutting-edge survey technology quickly and to compare information over time". There is a lot to learn from the data that has just been collected, Mark Newman, Chief Executive of Catlin Group Limited's Asia-Pacific operations said: "Extreme weather increases economic threats such as damage to property, compromising food security and the livlihoods of coastal populations. At the heart of the Catlin Seaview Survey work is the need to determine if tripocal cyclones are causing long-term damage to coral reefs and reducing thier effectivness as protecting barriers for the coastline, its people and thier businesses. Clearly there is a potential risk which we need to understand better".