'Sun Shield' Creates Biodegradable Shade For Great Barrier Reef

Coral bleaching is occurring at a rapid pace in the Great Barrier Reef thanks to warming water temperatures. Scientists have developed a substance that creates a very thin biodegradable film that helps protects these reefs by lowering temperatures.


May 22 2019, Updated 10:19 a.m. ET

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is suffering from numerous threats, most notably coral bleaching from warming water temperatures. Local scientists have been able to develop a very thin, biodegradable film that’s able to cut off 30 percent of sunlight to lower the heat. While it’s not feasible to protect the entire reef, it could be the best answer to protect high-risk areas.

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Coral bleaching takes place when water is warm enough to the point where algae is ejected from coral colonies, turning them white. The action itself doesn’t cause them to die, but creates stress for them and can lead to it. Terry P. Hughes, who studies coral reefs at James Cook University in Australia, believed “two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead” when overseeing the Great Barrier Reef last March.

Massive coral die-offs have led to some scientists believing that the landmark can no longer be recovered. Even though it’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it was omitted from the endangered list after these reports last summer. They cited that progress has been made with the Australian and Queensland government’s Reef 2050 Plan.

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The Great Barrier Reef Foundation applauds the plan, but believes protection needs to happen at a faster rate. They’ve been studying with the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Marine Science to find a quicker solution. One idea has been to create a “sun shield” to limit sunlight heating up these waters.

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It’s created by spraying a solution into the water, which spreads into a biodegradable film that’s extremely thin - 50,000 times thinner than a piece of hair. During their trials, they determined that it was able to block out 30 percent of the sunlight, which lowered the temperature of the water.

“The ‘sun shield’ is...completely biodegradable, containing the same ingredient corals use to make their hard skeletons – calcium carbonate,” Anna Marsden, managing director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, told The Telegraph. “It’s designed to sit on the surface of the water above the corals, rather than directly on the corals, to provide an effective barrier against the sun.”

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With the substance being so thin, it’s unlikely they can stretch it out to protect the entire Great Barrier Reef, which has an area of over 134,600 square miles. However, they plan on scaling it to specific areas that need the most protection.

Over the last two years, there’s been enough bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef to warrant faster solutions. If successfully applied to the reef in the future, the new biodegradable film that acts as a shade will certainly help with no harm to the environment in the process.

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