Scientists set sail to find new reef species
SCIENTISTS are setting sail this week for the most extensive survey of reefs within the Coral Sea, in history.
Parks Australia staff and researchers from James Cook University will depart Gladstone, bound for the Coral Sea Marine Park, to improve our understanding of coral reef health and fish communities.
The voyage will also aim to discover new marine species and measure levels of ocean pollution.
National Parks director Dr James Findlay said the project would monitor 20 large reef ecosystems within the marine park during the next three years, with the current voyage setting its sights on the region's most remote and isolated reefs.
He said this expedition would focus in particular on Mellish Reef, about 2130km southeast of Cairns' coastline.
"With a management plan coming into effect for the Coral Sea for the first time in July this year, it is very important that we monitor the health of these isolated coral reef ecosystems and increase our understanding of these amazing places," he said.
"The voyage will also be assessing microplastics in the Coral Sea Marine Park and removing marine debris from the islets and cays."
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has placed the natural wonder on "bleach watch" this summer, following forecasts of above average sea temperatures.
Voyage leader, JCU coral reef scientist Professor Morgan Pratchett said, said this voyage would increase knowledge about how reefs were connected, the impact of coral bleaching, and reef recovery.
"Our last voyage showed that some reefs have been affected by bleaching, but we saw some signs of recovery," he said.
"If no further bleaching occurs, these reefs will continue to recover and may play an important role in the broader recovery of our tropical reef systems."
This will be the third voyage in the first year of the project to survey reefs within the Coral Sea, following an October trip where scientists found coral species never before recorded in Australian waters.
The Coral Sea Marine Park covers 989,836 square kilometres off the coast of Queensland, and is one of the world's largest marine parks.