[ASC-media] ASC-media: Media Alert

Wendy Ellery w.ellery at aims.gov.au
Thu Jan 15 09:55:26 EST 2004


  MEDIA RELEASE	January 15 2004

   
Lost research washes up on north Queensland beach

A sea temperature recorder thought to be long lost has been found 
washed up on a beach at Home Hill, complete with data critical to 
helping scientists understand the heat stress killing coral on the 
Great Barrier Reef.

Australian Institute of Marine Science researcher Dr Ray Berkelmans 
had given up on ever finding the device that was attached to the 
Abbot Point coal-loading jetty in October 2001. It came adrift six 
months later.

"We thought we had lost a huge gap in data and knowledge that could 
never be retrieved," he said.

Local Home Hill resident Jason Andrews was walking his dog along 
Wunjunga Beach when he stumbled across the temperature logger, quite 
unaware of the impact his find would make on science.

Dr Berkelmans said the loggers are usually deployed for about 6-12 
months. "I can't believe the batteries were still live after 2 and a 
half years." 

The Ports Corporation of Queensland had enlisted the expertise of Dr 
Berkelmans to monitor their sea temperature recorder, which is part 
of their environmental program. The AIMS coral bleaching monitoring 
team also uses the data to examine signals of climate change and 
large-scale disturbances like coral bleaching.

The logger has provided data about the hottest summer on record 
experienced on the Great Barrier Reef, which resulted in mass coral 
bleaching and mortality. The Bowen region suffered the greatest 
intensity losing up to 80% of coral during the blistering summer of 
2001-02.

Dr Berkelmans said there is little wonder why the corals died with 
sea temperatures soaring to 32 degrees. Normally the region's water 
temperature wouldn't rise above 30 degrees he said.

"Preliminary evidence indicates that once the corals have bleached it 
only takes an increase of around one degree to kill coral. This one 
degree increase above the bleaching threshold may be the factor 
consistent across all coral reefs," said Dr Berkelmans.

Scientists are now able to feed this information into climate change 
models and work out how the Great Barrier Reef will cope with future 
heat waves.

"If we know the amount of thermal stress coral can handle we're able 
to predict how the Great Barrier Reef will cope with the projected 
climate change," Dr Berkelmans said.

"The message for reef managers everywhere is that corals live 
precariously close to their upper thermal limits making climate 
change a crucial issue worldwide."

Armed with this new insight AIMS researchers will be able to use the 
information gathered from their 100 plus temperature loggers on the 
Great Barrier Reef to forewarn the reef's government guardian (The 
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) of a coral bleaching event. 

Media contacts:
Dr Ray Berkelmans, AIMS Scientist, Ph: (07) 4753 4268, Email: 
r.berkelmans at aims.gov.au
Wendy Ellery, AIMS Media Liaison, Ph (07) 4753 4409, Email: 
w.ellery at aims.gov.au
Simona Trimarchi, Ports Corporation of Queensland, (07) 3224 4344
Jason Andrews, Mobile: 0428 821 331 

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