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Deep Impact

A remote-operated vehicle explores the deep reef. © Catlin Seaview Survey

A remote-operated vehicle explores the deep reef. © Catlin Seaview Survey

By Christopher Doyle

The shallow reefs of the Great Barrier Reef are under stress, with a recent report estimating that half of the coral cover has been lost within the past three decades. However, scientists are now discovering healthy coral communities lying in deeper waters adjacent to these disturbed areas. Could these deep reefs hold the key to the survival of the Great Barrier Reef?

Christopher Doyle is an environmental biologist and freelance writer based in Sydney.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

A recent report by the Australian Institute of Marine Science estimated that half of the coral cover on the shallow reefs of the Great Barrier Reef has been lost within the last 27 years. Storm damage and infestations by crown-of -thorns starfish were responsible for the greatest losses, with coral bleaching also contributing to a lesser extent. The report warned that if the current rate of loss continued, the amount of coral cover could be halved again within the next decade.

However, scientists exploring the deep water of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea have recently made an important discovery. They have found that at depths well beyond the normal reach of scuba divers, coral communities are flourishing. The discovery was made as part of the Catlin Seaview Survey, an ambitious project designed to assess the condition of deep coral communities that until now have gone largely unexplored by scientists. The survey is being sponsored by Catlin, a global insurance company.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Chief Scientist for the Catlin Seaview Survey and Director of the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, said the findings are shedding new light on the health of the Great Barrier Reef. “Up until now our knowledge was limited to the shallow reefs accessible by scuba diving. In reality that provided us with an incomplete picture. Now, using...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.