The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority recently urged a prompt response to solve the Great Barrier Reef’s bleaching crisis. Now, researchers from the Australian Research Council of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the Australian Institute of Marine Science warn that the Barrier Reef is facing another problem from coal shipping.

The study, published on May 13 in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, states that coal dust contaminated in sea water not only impedes the growth rate of seagrasses and fish, it also kills corals. The researchers found that those corals contaminated with the highest concentration of coal dust died within two weeks.

However, those corals least exposed still died four weeks after contamination. In comparison to fish and seagrass in cleaner water, the marine life living in corals exposed from coal dust experienced stunted growth by half.

coal shipping

Coral killed by coal. Photo credit: Kathryn Berry

“Risks to the Great Barrier Reef posed by large coal spills depend on the probability of an accident and the potential impacts to marine life,” adds study author Andrew Negri. “While the likelihood of a major spill on a coral reef or seagrass meadow is low, we are now beginning to understand the likely consequences.”

The team explains that coal dust can get into sea water when blown or washed away during ship transport and shipping accidents. Mia Hoogenboom, one of the study’s authors, wants the authorities of coal shipping activities not only in Australia to realise the risks that can harm the environment.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) also warned that coal mining activities place the Great Barrier Reef at risk of destruction. Moreover, in a statement released on March 2, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) reveals that the largest coral reef system in the planet also faces a threat from coral bleaching brought on by climate change.