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Coral reef thriving in sediment-laden waters
Date:7/31/2012

Rapid rates of coral reef growth have been identified in sediment-laden marine environments, conditions previously believed to be detrimental to reef growth. A new study has established that Middle Reef part of Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef has grown more rapidly than many other reefs in areas with lower levels of sediment stress.

Led by the University of Exeter, the study by an international team of scientists is published today (1 August 2012) in the journal Geology.

Middle Reef is located just 4 km off the mainland coast near Townsville, Australia, on the inner Great Barrier Reef shelf. Unlike the clear waters in which most reefs grow, Middle Reef grows in water that is persistently 'muddy'. The sediment comes from waves churning up the muddy sea floor and from seasonal river flood plumes. The Queensland coast has changed significantly since European settlement, with natural vegetation cleared for agricultural use increasing sediment runoff. High levels of sediment result in poor water quality, which is believed to have a detrimental effect on marine biodiversity.

The research team collected cores through the structure of Middle Reef to analyse how it had grown. They used radiocarbon dating to map out the precise growth rate of the reef. Results show that the reef started to grow only about 700 years ago but that it has subsequently grown rapidly towards sea level at rates averaging nearly 1 cm per year. These rates are significantly higher than those measured on most clear water reefs on the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere. Most intriguingly, the periods of most rapid growth averaging 1.3 cm a year occurred when the accumulation rates of land-derived sediment within the reef structure were also at their peak. They discovered that, while the reef faced high sediment levels after the European settlers arrived in the 1800s, these same conditions were also part of the long-term environmental regime under which
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Contact: Sarah Hoyle
s.hoyle@exeter.ac.uk
44-013-927-22062
University of Exeter
Source:Eurekalert  

Page: 1 2

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