We all can pretty much figure out the Chinese tanker that got caught up on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef did some massive damage; exactly what the ecological damage done is the current focus of a research team led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science AIMS) that embarked to the location last week. The AIMS research vessel RV Cape Ferguson will provide the platform for the team’s investigations at Douglas Shoal, where the ship ran aground. The goal of the research according to the press release issued by AIMS will be to assess the scale and severity of the physical damage of the grounding; as well as the level of contamination from anti-fouling paint.
The team led by Dr. Andrew Negri will employ a multi-beam sonar to map the sea floor to quantify physical damage to the structure of the reef. The scientists will get a closer look as well diving down to the reef to document and assess the impacts on reef organisms such as corals, sponges and algae.
“This instrument can resolve the seabed to less than 10 centimeters, which means it will accurately record the damage caused by the ship’s hull,” said Dr. Negri. “In the areas that are too deep for divers, we have specialised cameras that can be towed by the ship.”
As we previously reported, the Chinese tanker’s hull was coated with an anti-fouling paint to reduce the growth of algae and barnacles and this contains toxic chemicals, heavy metals and herbicides that can cause secondary damages to the reef aside from the physical scar left by the tanker. The team will grab samples of the sediments for analysis to provide the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority with a rapid baseline contamination assessment of the site.
Dr. Negri said previous ship groundings had contaminated up to one hectare of the reef. Movement of the Shen Neng 1 since it was first grounded on Easter Saturday, means the area of physical damage and contamination may be much larger.