Lonely Planet Writer

This ambitious new project may help to save Australia's Great Barrier Reef

Researchers have come up with a potential solution to save the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, which is in peril due to the effects of climate change. They have invented a floating “sun shield” to protect the World Heritage-listed site, which attracts millions of visitors each year.

Aerial view of coral formations at Hardys Reef, Great Barrier Reef Marine, Australia. Image: Andrew Watson

Something has to be done as huge sections of the 348,000-square-kilometre reef in Queensland died in 2016 alone. This was because the heat of the sun combined with increasingly warm waters to bleach the corals and caused some to completely die out. As part of the efforts to find a solution, scientists from the University of Melbourne and Australian Institute of Marine Biology have invented a “sun shield” made of ultra-thin calcium carbonate, which will create a barrier between the reef and the sun.

The Great Barrier Reef attracts millions of visitor annually. Photo by chameleonseye/Getty Images

In laboratory testing on seven different coral types, the shield was found to reduce the amount of light being absorbed by up to 30%. It is 50,000 times thinner than a human hair and will sit on the surface of the water, above the corals.  The scientists hope that this will protect areas of the reef from the effects of bleaching, and their research has also shown that the film had no harmful effects on the coral.

The news of a potential solution is sure to make the Great Barrier Reef’s turtles happy. Image: Michael Smith ITWP/Shutterstock

While the idea needs more work and testing, it is a potential solution that is intended to be used to protect “high-value or high-risk” areas of the reef. The research project is being headed by the scientist who developed the country’s polymer bank notes, and it involves chemical engineers, experts in polymer science, marine ecologists and coral experts.

Aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Image: mevans/Getty Images

Aside from the environmental benefits, it’s important for the Australian economy to save the reef as according to Deloitte Access Economics, it is worth Aus$56 billion (US$43 billion), which includes its tourism revenues.