[ASC-media] ASC - media alert

Wendy Ellery w.ellery at aims.gov.au
Mon May 17 10:32:09 EST 2004


Cyclone damage to reef shocks marine scientists

Australian Institute of Marine Science researchers have seen first 
hand the spectacular damage tropical Cyclone Fay reaped on reefs off 
north west Western Australia.

AIMS Scientist-in-charge in Western Australia Luke Smith said cyclone 
Fay's powerful wind gusts uprooted many large coral colonies, and 
tore huge reef boulders up to five metres in diameter from the reef's 
edge, and thrust them up the slope onto the reef flat.

"The degree of destruction observed at Scott Reef is extremely rare, 
at most, a one in 100 year event," Mr Smith said.

Scientists had initially planned to further document reproduction and 
recruitment in corals, describe patterns of surface water currents, 
and to exchange temperature and tide loggers on their trip to Scott 
Reef, but were faced with the shocking aftermath of mother nature at 
its wildest.

Fay was the last cyclone of the 2003-2004 season, at category 5 she 
had a central pressure of 905 Hpa, with maximum wind gusts of 
approximately 300 kilometres per hour when she passed directly over 
Scott Reef.  

Coral Communities at exposed sites were obliterated. The sand cay was 
completely submerged with more than half of the cay being washed 

During the 1998 mass coral bleaching event that hit tropical reefs 
all over the world, Scott Reef was one of the worst affected losing 
80 percent of coral down as deep as 30 metres. Scientists fear this 
latest blow has shattered all recovery since the bleaching.
" Massive porities corals that survived the mass bleaching event were 
pushed up the reef slope onto the flat, or deposited into gullies in 
the reef," said Mr Smith.

"Many of the corals that survived the cyclone were severely damaged, 
their branches removed leaving only their bases. Even colonies down 
to 20 metres were damaged and buried under rubble."

A green algae now dominates areas once abundant with coral. The few 
coral survivors are only remnant stumps Mr Smith said.

Apart from a tide gauge, most of the scientific equipment deployed in 
the region was lost during the gale force winds. 

Research will now focus on assessing how coral reefs recover in the 
face of major disturbances such as coral bleaching (associated with 
global warming), and cyclones.

AIMS scientists have documented the damage caused by cyclone Fay, and 
will make their video footage and still images available to the media 
on request (contact Luke Smith for footage).

Media Contact:
Luke Smith: AIMS experimental Scientist, Ph 08 9433 4440, 0407 130 
464, Email: l.smith at aims.gov.au
Wendy Ellery: AIMS Media Liaison, Ph 07 4753 4409, 0418 729 265 
Email: w.ellery at aims.gov.au

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