Coral reef is an important part of ocean ecosystem. It is home to so many kinds of marine creatures that it can even become a whole ecosystem by itself. Just like how cities are important to human, coral reef formations are as important for marine creatures.
One of the most famous coral reef formations on earth is the Great Barrier Reef. Not only it is the biggest coral reef formation on earth, but also because it provides housing to thousands of species of marine animals.
Having that much responsibility, things are not always good for the biggest coral reef formation on earth. The Great Barrier Reef is now under a big threat which may bring it to the end of its story, also the end of its service.
In one of our articles we have mentioned how Great Barrier Reef is dying from bleaching. Bleaching is a situation when coral reef is heavily damaged turns into white. The reef may recover from this situation, but only if the condition is supportive. Other than that, they will die.
Fortunately, the bad news is going to end here as newest innovation meant to save coral reef from dying seems to give positive result. What is it? Let us introduce you to the sun shield.
Before talking about the innovation further, firstly let’s talk about the effect of sunlight to coral. As we know that the sun provides us the warmth to live in this planet. All the warmth is radiated through the space in the form of sunlight.
Yes it is good that the earth is not a cold dead planet because of the support that the sun gives us by making it warm. But nowadays the warmth we get from the star is ‘a little bit too much’, and we cannot blame the sun.
The temperature of the earth is rising, not because the sun is getting hotter but because we have changed this planet to be a warmer place by ourselves. Destruction of nature and carbon emission as a result of our activities gives this planet a disastrous condition called global warming.
Never a good thing for any living being on this planet, global warming also takes its toll on coral reefs. The reason of the bleaching is most likely the rise of ocean’s surface temperatures, caused by global warming.
What’s worse about this thing is, global temperature doesn’t show any signs of stopping to increase, let alone cooling down. Thus, every single coral reef formation nowadays is under the threat of bleaching, including the Great Barrier Reef.
The Sun Shield
How to protect coral reefs from bleaching while this planet keeps warmer and warmer every day? Researchers from University of Melbourne used simple logic to find a way to save coral reefs from latent threat of bleaching: put a shade on them.
A new innovation called the ‘sun shield’ is proposed by those scientist. It is first meant and used to protect Great Barrier Reef from bleaching by simply reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the surface of the coral reef formation.
Finding a way to make this earth cooler by fighting global warming can take a very long time, while to save Great Barrier Reef we have to do immediate action. Thus, while other researchers concentrate on making this earth cooler, the scientists on University of Melbourne tried to find a more practical way to be used in much more immediate time.
“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,” said Anna Marsden, managing director of Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
The ‘sun shield’ itself is a thin layer designed to sit on the surface of water above coral reef formations. This layer is so thin, 50,000 times thinner than a human hair yet able to prevent sunlight to reduce the light that pierces the surface up to 30%.
So, what can this ‘sun shield’ offer other than being so thin and giving shade to corals? Why don’t those researchers use woods or plastics to cover up the Great Barrier Reef which will give better cover than the thin layer?
One thing to be noted about this ‘sun shield’ is that it is totally biodegradable. Along with its ability to give shade to the coral reefs, another thing that the researchers were working on was how to avoid any unintended consequences like littering the ocean.
“ This is a great example of developing and testing out-of-the-box solutions that harness expertise from different areas. In this case, we had chemical engineers and experts in polymer science working with marine ecologists and coral experts to bring this innovation to life,” Marsden explained.
The shield is made of calcium carbonate, which is the main component that coral skeletons are made of. Thus, when the shield used in long term, it will not litter the ocean and might become one with coral itself.
The invention of sun shield is not intended to cover the whole Great Barrier Reef, let alone the whole ocean, but rather to give corals in specific areas an umbrella that partially blocks sunlight. The reason is because covering the whole ocean is not practical.
The researchers said that this invention is intended to protect some areas with high value. “It’s important to note that this is not intended to be a solution that can be applied over the whole 348,000 square kilometres of Great Barrier Reef that would never be practical,” said Marsden.
Another thing that the researchers noticed during the testing of this sun shield was that lower exposure to sunlight can prevent coral reef from becoming stressed. “it created an opportunity to test the idea that by reducing the amount of sunlight from reaching the corals in the first place, we can prevent them from becoming stressed which leads to bleaching,” she said.
Thus, it seems that rising temperature is not the only cause for bleaching, but there are many other causes. Further investigations might be able to sort those other things and help us to know better about coral bleaching, and how to prevent it.
However, at least this innovation can give us more time in this race. Remember that more time means more lives are saved from coral reef destruction. At least Nemo can still live in his home with his father for longer time.