After heavy rain caused hundreds of thousands of kilometers of flooding, environmentalists are now concerned about run-off containing fertilizers, pesticides and sediment that could negatively affect the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
Queensland, home to large sugar and coal production industries, borders the 2,600 km of coastline where the Great Barrier Reef is found. The large agricultural presence in the state could be creating algal blooms that could cut the amount of sunlight reaching the coral turning it white, an effect called bleaching.
Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence Canada, told Canada AM that the potential for an environmental disaster is huge.
“These algal blooms from the fertilizer are cutting down on the sunlight depriving the coral of nutrients,” said Smith. “Then when you have a huge flood like this they pour into the ocean.”
Environmental Defence Canada is an organization that hopes to inspire change by tackling environmental issues that impact everyday life, championing such causes as the removal of bisphenol A from plastic baby bottles and the creation of the Greenbelt in Ontario.
Algal blooms, large concentrations of algae, are sometimes known as ‘red tides.’ Although most are harmless, some can create toxins that could kill birds, shellfish and marine mammals.
The Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef system in the world, is home to 400 different types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, and more than 200 different bird species. The reef covers 344,000 km and has been designated as a heritage site since 1981.
“It’s an incredible amount of water pouring off this land and the rivers are flooded and the Great Barrier Reef, this incredible globally significant eco system, is right off shore,” said Smith.
Peter Sale, assistant director of the United Nations University water institute, told CTV.ca that people should be aware of the damage water run-off can have on underwater life.
“There’s really not much people can do except hope the water washes away soon,” said Sale, a professor and author on the subject of coral and their ecosystems.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has been aware of the ill affects for more than a decade, he said, and has been dealing with the problem in a responsible way.
However, because of the large volume of water heading to the coast people may be powerless to stop any damage the run-off may cause.
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