As flood waters start to recede from the streets of Queensland, Brisbane and other cities hit hard by the weeks of relentless rain, experts are saying that the Great Barrier Reef–the world’s largest natural reef system–could be in danger.
Plumes of dirty, fresh water from the Burdekin, Fitzroy and Burnett rivers are flowing into the ocean off the coast of Queensland, carrying with it a toxic mix of nutrients, sediment and pesticides from agricultural run-off as well as unknown amounts of trace metals from flooded mines that could be lethal to the living organisms that make up the reef.
According to NewScientist, the inundation of silt introduced by the fresh water threatens to clog the delicate coral reef, while the drop in salinity may also be problematic for the stenohaline organisms.
The AP reports that weeks of relentless rains and flooding across Australia’s northeast have already resulted in the deaths of 26 people, and an additional 20 people are still missing.
For years extreme drought conditions have threatened both the people and wildlife of Australia, but recent torrential downpours caused flooding to reach over 14 feet in some urban areas.
CNN.com reports that currently the biggest plumes of fresh water reach about 200 kilometers (124 miles) north from the mouths of the Fitzroy and Burnett Rivers, and stretch around 70 kilometers (43 miles) off the coast.
“These are extraordinary events. The whole of the inner-shore reef lagoon filled with river water,” Jon Brodie, Principle Researcher for the James Cook University’s Australian Center for Tropical Freshwater Research told CNN.
As for the cause of the sudden flooding? Brodie with other experts about what triggered the heavy rain: “It was predicted. It certainly fits the pattern of severe weather events from climate change modeling.”
Image: Fed by the Burdekin River, the waters around Cape Bowling Green turn muddy brown, and a thick plume of sediment nears the Great Barrier Reef.
Credit: Flickr - Nasa Goddard Photo and Video