Recovery strategy in place to help restore corals damaged by Cyclone Debbie
by Elizabeth Finney
As Cyclone Debbie continues to rip across the north-east Australian coast, a plan of action has been put in place to recover areas of coral, as experts are concerned that the storm will cause damage to the Great Barrier Reef.
Though it is not possible to know what damage has been done to the reef until the storm has passed, Dr Mark Read from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has stated: “A cyclone like Debbie — large, intense and slow moving — can damage islands, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass and other marine systems. The extent and severity of the damage is not yet known.”
Recovery plans to protect coral have already been put in place in the form of a special four-week authorisation to assist reef recovery for Whitsunday tourism operators, who will reposition corals that have been flipped by Cyclone Debbie, as there is a very small window of time when they can be successfully turned back over and still survive.
“Once tourism operators return to their sites they may see reef damage caused by the cyclone, including overturned coral colonies in some places,” Dr Read said, adding: “Touching and moving coral is not normally allowed, but given the circumstances, we’ve provided operators with the ability to restore coral colonies.
Given the decline in coral cover, the severity of coral bleaching and the crown-of-thorns outbreak, maximising reef recovery is a priority.”
Abell Point Marina is situated minutes from Airlie Beach, which was one of the worst-hit locations, alongside Proserpine, Bowen and the islands of Hamilton, Hayman and Daydream.
Luke McCaul, managing director of Abell Point Marina, said: "Whilst it will be a short while to get our services and facilities up and running to our normal standard, our focus is in ensuring our customers are free to explore the beautiful Whitsundays this season.
Whether it is chartering a superyacht or basing yourself in the Whitsundays this winter, we are determined to have our first class services and facilities ready for your welcome."
Though it was suggested by Australian charity OceanWatch that the cooling effect of Cyclone Debbie could potentially reduce coral bleaching along the reef, it transpires that this will not be the case.
Professor Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, tweeted: “Unfortunately, Cyclone Debbie came a month too late and in the wrong place to prevent bleaching on the central and northern Great Barrier Reef.”
In the wake of the storm, heavy rainfall and severe flooding means that thousands of people in New South Wales and southern Queensland have been evacuated, while the emergency services have already save the lives of more than 85 trapped residents.