Aussie scientists begin trials for Great Barrier Reef 'sun shield'

Updated 2018-03-28 11:19:01 Xinhua

Marine scientists are currently developing a new weapon to protect Australia's picturesque Great Barrier Reef from coral bleaching, and so far early laboratory tests have shown extremely promising results.

"We have an ongoing, roving brief with all the country's leading science institutions to consider out of the box techniques, tools and ideas that could give our reef a fighting chance in the face of challenges like climate change," Great Barrier Reef Foundation, managing director Anna Marsden told Xinhua on Tuesday.

"The 'sun shield' is 50,000 times thinner than a human hair and completely biodegradable, containing the same ingredient corals use to make their hard skeletons -- calcium carbonate."

"Essentially what it would do is protect the inhabitants under the water by cutting out a lot of the UV light and reducing the water temperature, acting almost like a big umbrella."

Designed to sit on the surface of the water, rather than directly on the corals, researchers believe the material could sit in place for around two to three days during periods of extreme heat.

While very unconventional, the ultra thin film has proven to reduce UV light by up to 30 percent and been shown to have no adverse effect on marine life.

Although it would not be possible to use the film across the entire Great Barrier Reef, Marsden said, "it's something that would be very localised, very focused and it would be something you would do ahead of or during a coral bleaching event."

"How it would work in the future is, through modeling scientists would predict hot days coming and they would be able to look at key reefs that are either a high-value from a tourism perspective or highly productive as a habitat," she explained.

"They would then be able to go out on boats and put this solution over the water and it would hang there over an important part of the reef."

Scientists will now look to conduct more testing on a larger scale to see how the surface material dissipates.

The next phase will aim to take the "sun shield" into the ocean to study how it behaves.

"Potentially it could go around the world to help protect coral reefs in hot summer periods," Marsden said.

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