The XL Catlin Seaview Survey team has returned to the Capricorn Bunker group in the southern Great Barrier Reef (GBR) to resurvey coral reefs previously visited in 2012 and 2014. Not only will we be re-surveying previous sites, we will be capturing additional sites to increase our data set for the region.
This survey comes at an interesting and integral time in terms of coral reef monitoring, as towards the end of our austral summer, scientists, government agencies, and the marine park authority began to observe widespread coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. The bleaching has become more critical over the past couple weeks, particularly in the northern GBR, resulting in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority elevating the threat level to the highest and most severe ‘Level 3’. Scientists around Australia are joining together, increasing survey efforts to capture the full extent of the bleaching due to elevated ocean temperatures associated with the third recorded global mass bleaching phenomenon underway. This week the XL Catlin Seaview Survey team is based at Heron Island Research Station to survey around 20km the coral reefs in the southern GBR, with a trip to resurvey the reefs in the northern section to take place in the months to come.
Heron Island Research Station, owned and operated by The University of Queensland, was the first marine research station established on the Great Barrier Reef, providing access to coral reef ecosystems to researchers, students, and filmmakers from all over the world. For anyone who visits the research station, it’s hard to miss the semi-permanent fluorescent blue tubs adorning the aquaria deck. Inside these tubs, principle investigators Sophie Dove and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg are investigating the effects of elevated temperatures and ocean acidification on entire representative coral reef ecosystems, or ‘mesocosms’. This unique mesocosm experiment investigates multiple stressors on entire coral reef communities, encompassing not only coral and algae, but fish, sea cucumbers, and sand, on the timescale of years. Already in its second rendition, this current experiment aims to tease out whether predicted end-of-the-century “business as usual” ocean acidification or elevated temperatures has the greater effect on future coral reef communities. This experiment has shown us firsthand how, if humans continue to emit greenhouse gases at the current rate, coral reefs as we know them will look very different in the future, particularly due to increased ocean temperatures. With the third mass coral bleaching event taking place right now, our reefs are sadly becoming our laboratory, turning white and dying before our eyes.