Anti-barnacle paint from the Chinese coal tanker that tore a 3-kilometer (2-mile) gash in the Great Barrier Reef last week is continuing to kill corals even though the ship has been towed away. Initial reports indicated that the primary threat to the reefs was the oil leaking from the tanker’s hull. That may not be the case.
Quick Recap of the Chinese Tanker Takes Illegal Shortcut, Crashes into Great Barrier Reef Story
If you missed this story, and it got less coverage in the United States than I would have hoped given the massive amount of damage done to a World Heritage site, you might not have heard about how a Chinese coal tanker ship 12 kilometers off course from established, legal shipping lanes crashed into the Great Barrier Reef off Australia.
The crash damaged the hull, causing a fuel leak and threatening to sink the vessel. In the days the tanker was stranded on the reef while rescue operations tried to figure out how to safely tow the boat away without leaking more fuel or causing the ship to break apart, the tanker was dragged two miles along the reef, tearing up coral and leaving paint scrapings behind.
Environmental Implications of Tanker Crash on Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef covers about 346,000 square kilometers from Cape York in northern Queensland, Australia to Bundaberg in the south. Much of it is marine reserve and shipping is prohibited in the area.
“Its ecosystem supports the greatest concentration of life on this planet with its resident marine life including 1,500 species of fish, 350 different kinds of coral, 4000 species of molluscs and 10,000 species of sponges. It also provides breeding areas for humpback whales, sea turtles dugong and seabirds. Hundreds of species of algae, including seaweeds, also live on the reef as a vital part of the reef system.”
Under even the best circumstances, a 3-kilometer gash in the reef would take decades to heal. Add in the effects of global warming, general pollution, and poison deposited on the reef by the tanker, and the situation is grim.
Initial reports on environmental consequences of the crash focused on the leaking fuel, but that may have only minor impacts. Officials used “dispersants” to keep the fuel off the reef life, but couldn’t prevent the paint scrapings from falling on the corals. The anti-barnacle paint from the ships hull may continue to kill corals along the 3-kilometer crash scar for weeks or months. CNN’s headline writers sufficiently captured the gravity of the situation with: “Ship’s paint brings instant death to Great Barrier Reef.“
Australia to Prosecute Crew and Shipping Company in Reef Disaster
In an example of extremely inadequate headline writing, the Sydney Morning Herald reported “GPS error led to reef disaster.” Um. The global positioning system warning alarms didn’t go off because the pilot/crew didn’t put their little shortcut into the system. That’s not a GPS error.
Australia arrested three crew members and will fine both individuals and the company for their actions here. But that hardly seems adequate now does it?
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