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Ultra-thin sun shield could protect Great Barrier Reef

An ultra-fine biodegradable film, some 50,000 times thinner than a human hair. could be enlisted to protect the Great Barrier Reef from environmental degradation, researchers said Tuesday. Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Biology have cheered up by test results of a floating “sun shield” made of calcium carbonate that has been shown to protect the reef from the effects of bleaching.

The World Heritage-listed site, which attracts millions of tourists each year, is reeling from significant bouts of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change. “It’s designed to sit on the surface of the water above the corals, rather than directly on the corals, to provide an effective barrier against the sun,” Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said.

The trials on seven different coral types found that the protective layer decreased bleaching of most species, cutting off sunlight by up to 30 percent. “It (the project) created an opportunity to test the idea that by reducing the amount of sunlight from reaching the corals in the first place, we can prevent them from becoming stressed which leads to bleaching,” Marsden said.

With its heavy use of coal-fired power and relatively small population, Australia is considered one of the world’s worst per capita greenhouse gas polluters, with advocates urging Canberra to do more to protect the environment. The reef is also under threat from predatory coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, as well as farming run off.

Hard corals, also called reef-building corals, produce a rock-like skeleton made of the same material as classroom chalk — calcium carbonate.Soft corals produce smaller amounts of calcium carbonate. A report last year from Deloitte Access Economics valued the Great Barrier Reef as an asset worth Aus$56 billion (US$43 billion), which included its tourism revenues and indirect value for people who have not yet visited the site but know it exists.

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