Great Barrier Reef could be saved from the brink with ultra-thin sun shield

27 Mar 2018

The Great Barrier Reef. Image: JC Photo/Shutterstock

Materials science could help save the Great Barrier Reef from irreversible destruction with a floating ‘sun shield’.

The fate of the Great Barrier Reef is very much in the balance as repeated studies and analysis of the delicate ecosystem show that climate change is bleaching the coral en masse.

While steps have been taken to prevent human interference in the reef from a pollution standpoint, it might not be enough to save it.

Future Human

However, a new technological solution could offer a way for the reef to carry on, with help from a ‘sun shield’.

According to AFP (via, scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science have developed and deployed a floating biodegradable film made from calcium carbonate that is 50,000 times thinner than a human hair, but has shown itself to be a great protector of coral.

The protective film has been tested on seven different coral types and, across the board, results showed that it decreased the intensity of the sunlight on the coral by up to 30pc.

“It’s designed to sit on the surface of the water above the corals, rather than directly on the corals, to provide an effective barrier against the sun,” said the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s managing director, Anna Marsden.

“[The project] created an opportunity to test the idea that by reducing the amount of sunlight from reaching the corals in the first place, we can prevent them from becoming stressed, which leads to bleaching.”

A selective process

Marsden admitted the idea that the material could cover the entire 348,000 sq km area that makes up the reef would simply not be practical, but it could be deployed on a targeted basis to areas that are most at risk or are highly prized by scientists.

“The concept needs more work and testing before it gets to that stage, but it’s an exciting development at a time when we need to explore all possible options to ensure we have a Great Barrier Reef for future generations,” she said.

Sadly, reports from earlier this year suggest that coral reef bleaching may have already made a full recovery impossible. A study found that the time between bleaching events in coral reefs has dropped dramatically by a factor of five in the past 30 to 40 years, bringing it to an unsustainable level.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic