Human activities are not the only thing that impacts the reefs, recently natural disasters have had a large impact. Cyclone Yasi recently hit patches of the reef causing damage. However Yasi hit only some patches, leaving others perfectly healthy. This gives hope to a fast recovery since the healthy corals can bud new polyps, creating new reefs to replace the damaged ones. Currently there is also an outbreak of the “Crown of Thorns Starfish” which used the corals as a food source. Management practices are underway to prevent further destruction. Yasi also impacted the surrounding grass beds that make up the main diet of turtles and dugongs. GBRMPA is now getting involved by educating people of this issue.They hope to prevent injury of the animals as they search for food in different areas.
GBRMPA is responsible for a number of educational programs around the area, in fact education about the reef is part of the school curriculum all through primary school. To prevent illegal fishing GBRMPA has posted flyers of local fish species in order to educate visitors of species and to prevent under size fish removal. They also offer rewards and incentives toward local tourist operators that go above and beyond. These reward include longer permits and promotion of the business by word and by website.http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/corp_site
After lunch we were able to visit a biodiesel plant. Here they take used cooking oil from restaurants and turn it into a fuel or biodiesel. Tallow ( animal fat) can also be used but more work is required to get the final product. What was really interesting to me was that the plant is waste free. The glycerol by-product is sold or used for heating purposes. The plant is run on solar power which actually produces more than it uses!
The processes starts by “Degumming” which used water and sometimes an acid to clean the oil. The mixture is then aggregated and heating to sort out the impurities. The mixture is then centrifuged to physically separated out the impurities. then the mixture is put into one of three silver tanks called the cation exchange resin which acts as a filter causing chemical separation by charge. Positive charges such as water or potassium remain in the filter while the neutral flow through producing pure biodiesel.
Steve Welsh, the owner has another plant in New Guinea that uses copra (coconut flesh) to provide the diodiesel. This uses the same process but it is much cleaner. The byproduct of this can actually be sold as soap! 60% of the island uses the renewable resource while only 2% of the biodiesel make up the Cairns fuel market.http://nqpacificbiodiesel.com
Our final stop of the day was to Reef Teach. Here we learned a lot about the reef and the species that exist there. As it turns out the Great Barrier Reef is made of 2,900 reefs and is 2,300 kilometres long! Glen, our speaker, told us about the different types of corals including patch reefs and ribbon reefs. There are two types of corals that make up the reefs, hard coral with 360 species and soft corals with 50 species. The corals are characterized by their shape such as boulder, branching, plate, cabbage, and mushroom. We also discussed current threats to the reef such as coral bleaching and ocean acidification. Coral Bleaching is caused by increased water temperature making the corals release their algae inside with is also their food source. Ocean Acidification causes insufficient carbonate to produce their protective calcium carbonate skeleton making the corals weaker.
After enjoying a cuppa we then saw the species we would likely be encountering on the reef including ones we should avoid. Lucky it is winter here so Box Jelly and Irukandja are not in season. however there are plenty of species to see including 1500 fish species!