January 18, 2011
The floods ransacking the Queensland coast have cost 31 lives and $30 billion worth of property damage. Now, huge volumes of water are pouring into the ocean, threatening the Great Barrier Reef, which extends for thousands of kilometers off the coast. Although it may take years to know the full consequences of the flooding, Australian scientists are already warning of serious damage. For now, the biggest problems are concentrated on the southern part of the reef, where three overflowing rivers—the Burdekin, the Fitzroy, and the Burnett—have released millions of gallons of heavily polluted water into the sea. So far, prevailing winds have confined the majority of the floodwaters to within 65 kilometers of shore. But in time, the damage may grow to affect the entire reef system.
|Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.|
The floods are yet another piece of bad news for the already vulnerable reef, which was damaged by a different set floods that occurred in 2008-2009, and which is already threatened by coastal development, climate change and ocean acidification.