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Australia is testing radical ways to save the Great Barrier Reef

According to an announcement last week, Australia is preparing to test progressive new methods designed to save the Great Barrier Reef. Experts will evaluate plans such as covering the ocean with film or shooting salt into the clouds to protect the world’s largest coral reef system from further damage.

Spanning over 1,400 miles of Australia’s coastline, the Great Barrier Reef is so large that it is visible from space. But now, after two years of unprecedented bleaching, some of the reef’s colorful display has completely vanished.

Ecologists have found that the reef has lost about half of its corals in the last two years due primarily to climate change. Rising ocean temperatures caused a historic bleaching event in 2016 that was followed by another major bleaching event in 2017.

Experts are saying that the damage caused by these back-to-back bleaching events may be irreparable. The Australian government has committed to methods of mitigating climate change, but is also looking for more immediate ways to protect the reef.

The capital city of Canberra offered funding at the beginning of the year to attract ideas they can potentially be used to protect the site. In addition to climate change, the Great Barrier Reef is also threatened by agricultural runoff and a coral-eating starfish.

Out of 69 proposed short-term solutions, six will be tested for feasibility. One of the ideas that has been selected is a method of brightening clouds by firing them with salt crystals from seawater. This would make the clouds more reflective and they could potentially bounce the Sun’s rays back toward space.

David Mead is a researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.  

“The team have been looking at using a very fine nozzle to pump small droplets of salt water at the rate of several billion per second,” Mead told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

“The water vaporizes and you’re left with a salt particle which will float around, and if you can introduce those into the system you can increase the amount of sunlight reflected back.”

Another proposed solution is a biodegradable “sun shield” in the form of a thin film with light-reflecting particles that could be placed across the ocean waters covering the reef.

Andrew Negri from the Australian Institute of Marine Science told the ABC: “The great thing about the film is it is only a molecule thick so you can swim straight through it and it’ll just keep self-forming.”

The Great Barrier Reef is critical to the nation’s economy, bringing in an estimated A$6.4 billion a year to the Australian economy. The reef is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, with more than 2 million visitors every year.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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