This isn’t the first time the Great Barrier Reef has been damaged. First, it was the coral bleaching, and now, the iconic reef could be facing a new threat.
In January earlier this year, billions of bits of plastic waste are lodged in coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific, with potentially devastating results, a new study published in the Journal Science has found.
The massive amount of plastic rubbish, located in 159 reefs from Thailand to Australia, is a huge concern for the marine environment and especially coral, according to the research. That’s because the debris, like plastic bags, straws and bottles, stresses coral through ‘light deprivation, toxin release, and anoxia, giving pathogens a foothold for invasion’.
It’s even worse once coral is entirely draped in plastic, causing the risk of coral disease to surge by a staggering 20-fold, the research also found. The situation gets more severe, the study forecasted amount of plastic scattered across the Asia-Pacific to surge by 40 percent to 2025—that’s around 15.7 billion plastic items stuck on coral reefs.
In August, a cruise ship spilled 27,000 liters of food waste and grey water into the Great Barrier Reef marine park., a Senate estimates hearing has heard.
The Greens senator Larissa Waters told the hearing a report from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority—which is investigating the incident—had been supplied to her anonymously.
The report says the spill occurred in 26th of August after food waste was transferred to the Pacific Explorer’s galley holding tank due to a shortage in capacity in its food waste tanks.
The waste from the galley tank was then discharged by engineers in the marine park. The report says the vessel became aware of the incident late on 27th of August.
The hearing heard P&O reported the spill to Amsa but the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority was not informed until 4th of September.
“We were advised by Amsa that there had been a spill and that they were taking action with respect to that particular spill,” Simon Banks, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s general manager of reef protection, told the hearing.
The authority said it would supply more information on notice, including whether the incident had been made public and if environmental impact had occurred.
“The public have the right to know about pollution breaches in our Great Barrier Reef and the government should be upfront about such incidents.”
A spokeswoman for P&O said the company had “self-reported’ to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) that it was suspected there had been an unintentional discharge of a limited amount of pulped and sieved food waste while Pacific Explorer was off the coast of Queensland on August 26”.
She said it was an isolated incident and the cruise line was cooperating with Amsa’s investigation. “P&O Cruises is commited to the protection of the marine environment and this is supported by very strong fleet policies and operating procedures.’