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The Effects of Cyclone Debbie on the Great Barrier Reef

When 'Cyclone Debbie' hit Airlie Beach on March 28th 2017, she brought with her strong winds which stormed through the town and surrounding areas. While Airlie Beach is bouncing back, continuing on with business as usual, it has sparked a debate about the long-term effects this natural disaster will have on the reef system.

The Great Barrier Reef has the capacity to regenerate after it has been damaged. For thousands of years, reefs have been exposed to a natural cycle that involves storms and cyclones. When storms happen frequently — along with other impacts — it can result in a decline in coral cover. The growth patterns of some corals provide them with an ability to bounce back from storms. For example, when pieces break off branching corals during storms or cyclones, the fragments are able to regrow and create whole new colonies. It’s all part of a complex balancing act in the ecosystem. It’s like when a storm goes through a forest; each time a tree comes down, it makes space for other trees to grow. There appears to be greater diversity of species of corals in areas prone to cyclones because the corals that tend to dominate - like plate and branching corals - are also quite fragile. They are easily knocked about by pounding waves, which ultimately makes room for other corals.

Marine scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies have documented the spectacular recovery of coral reefs damaged by coral bleaching. In 2006 the coral reef at Great Keppel Island in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef was severely bleached following high sea temperatures. The damaged reef was then smothered by a single species of seaweed. However, scientists found abundant corals were re-established within a single year. This rapid recovery was attributed to exceptionally high re-growth of fragments of surviving coral tissue, unusual seasonal dieback in the seaweed and a highly competitive coral that was able to outgrow the seaweed.

While Cyclone Debbie is considered to be one of the worst disasters to hit Australia in recent years, leaving behind repairs and renovations for a lot of the mainland and islands, the Whitsundays is still alive and well. Several charter boats, as well the some of the resort islands have moved up their annual maintenance to coincide with repairs to ensure they are back to their best in no time.

Great Barrier Reef Whitsundays

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