The Great Barrier Reef Is Threatened by Ships and Their Cargo
|NASA satellite image of the Great Barrier Reef|
On April 3, 2010, the tanker Shen Neng 1 strayed fifteen nautical miles off course and crashed at full speed into Douglas Shoal, an area of Australia's Great Barrier Reef off of Rockhampton, Queensland. The grounded ship, which was carrying coal to China, leaked several tons of oil that were dispersed with chemicals also toxic to corals. Anti-fouling paint scraped from the ship's hull caused abrupt mortality for many more corals in the vicinity. Before the tanker could be successfully re-floated, tides and currents dragged the ship over the reef, leaving a scar nearly two miles wide. An early assessment predicts that marine life will take twenty years to recover.
In addition to the immediate problems that this accident has caused, it has also raised broader environmental concerns. First of all, coal ship traffic through the Great Barrier Reef is expected to increase by nearly seventy percent in the next six years, and the shipping of natural gas is also slated to jump beginning in 2014. The increased shipping traffic will almost certainly lead to more frequent accidents if better monitoring and safety precautions are not instituted.
What needs to be addressed more fundamentally, though, is the cargo that these tankers carry. The fossil fuels that they are shipping from Australia to Asia will unleash vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change and ocean acidification, which threaten reefs all around the world. We need to move the world away from its dependence on fossil fuels in order to ensure the long-term survival of coral reefs.
Learn more about the incident and its environmental implications in these articles:
Oil Not the Main Threat from the Coal Ship
Source: ABC News, Australia
Reef Faces Double Whammy from Oil, Dispersants
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
Great Barrier Reef at Risk as Coal-Ship Traffic May Jump 67%
Source: Bloomberg Businessweek
Reef May Not Recover for 20 Years
Source: The Press Association
More articles on this topic, as well as other coral reef news, can be found in our Latest Headlines section.