[ASC-media] Media release: lookout for coral bleaching

CRCA Media crca-media at starclass.com.au
Mon Jan 19 22:40:28 EST 2004

Cooperative Research Centres Association Media Release 04/03

20 January 2004			


As summer hots up, researchers around Australia are anxiously scanning the seas for first signs of coral bleaching.

Scientists are hoping that the disastrous coral bleaching of 1998 and 2002 will not be repeated in 2004.

The new Reef Futures website (a joint venture by CRC Reef Research Centre and the Australian Institute of Marine Science) allows every Australian to keep an eye on the condition of the Great Barrier Reef.

"With only a few mouse clicks, viewers can access information normally reserved for scientific publications," says CRC Reef researcher Mr Stuart Kininmonth from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). 

"Although we have a history of reef observation, and have been monitoring continuously for the past thirty years, it is only in the past four to five years that technological advances have enabled us to share it through the internet," says Mr Kininmonth.

"Satellite technology now gives us daily access to sea surface temperatures that, combined with advances in computing, enable us to measure the temperature of the waters bathing the three thousand and more reefs which make up the Great Barrier Reef," he says. 

"At the same time, statistical methods (Bayesian systems) have been developed which allow us to combine data from our historical records with the very latest observations, and to integrate different types of data," says Mr Kininmonth. 

The first topic on the Reef Futures website is coral bleaching. Maps on the Reef Futures website show sea surface temperatures across the Great Barrier Reef. The maps allow users to explore past bleaching events either across the whole Great Barrier Reef or on individual reefs. Web-users can also link from the Reef Futures site to information about current conditions on the Reef.
Web-users can investigate interactive maps of aerial and in-water surveys of coral bleaching from the worst bleaching events on record - in 1998 and 2002. In 2002, up to 70 percent of reefs on the Great Barrier Reef showed evidence of bleaching. 
There are interactive graphs on the Reef Futures website that predict the potential impacts of coral bleaching on corals out to 2050 on the Reef. There are also powerful search engines provide rapid access to publications and links to relevant websites around the world. 

CRC Reef Program Leader Dr Terry Done from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) says that the prospects for coral bleaching this year are not yet clear. 

"The AIMS weather stations and satellite maps tell us that temperatures on the Reef have already been above average. Whether coral bleaching will occur depends on a number of imponderables. If there are too many and more hot days without enough wind to stir cool waters up into the surface waters, coral bleaching could eventuate." 

Future pages on the Reef Futures website will provide interactive information about seagrasses, water quality, biodiversity, crown-of-thorns starfish, fisheries and tourism.

The website is an outcome of extensive research over many years by the Reef CRC and addresses the first of Australia's national research priorities - sustainability.

More information from:
Mr Stuart Kininmonth, AIMS and CRC Reef, 07 4753 4334 or s.kininmonth at aims.gov.au
Dr Terry Done, AIMS and CRC Reef, on 4753 4344 or t.done at aims.gov.au
Ms Chloe Lucas, CRC Reef media liaison on 0408 884521 or chloe.lucas at crcreef.com
Ms Wendy Ellery, AIMS media liaison on 07 4753 4409 or w.ellery at aims.gov.au.

Visit the Reef Futures website at: www.reeffutures.org

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