With the world’s coral reefs endangered by man-made climate change, Australian researchers have devised a way that might protect the surviving parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from the effects of global warming — a form of “sunscreen” designed to shield the reef from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
According to a report from NBC News MACH, the sunscreen is a biodegradable substance that, once sprayed on the water’s surface, creates a layer of film so thin that it measures only one molecule thick, or about 50,000 times thinner than a single strand of human hair. The protective layer is reportedly capable of reflecting as much as 30 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet light, allowing the water to remain at an optimum temperature to prevent further damage to the Great Barrier Reef. The ultra-thin film created by the sunscreen is also capable of reforming once the water settles, and is safe for birds, fish, and other creatures, allowing them to pass through without issue.
The sunscreen is made out of calcium carbonate, and as noted by Outer Places, this material can also be found in coral, which could potentially mean that reefs will be free of “nasty side effects.” While the sunscreen was described as a stopgap, rather than a permanent solution to save the Great Barrier Reef from global warming’s effects, the publication added that it could facilitate an “easier transition period” as the Great Barrier Reef “[builds] up its defenses” against the man-made threat.
“Our aim is to give the coral time to adjust to the changed conditions of high temperature and doses of UV light so that the coral forms different chemical structures that can survive,” said University of Melbourne professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering David Solomon, who served as a senior advisor to the researchers behind the planned sunscreen.
Aside from the plan only serving as a temporary solution, NBC News MACH pointed out that there are other limitations, such as the impracticality behind protecting the entire Great Barrier Reef from global warming with the calcium carbonate sunscreen. As the reef covers over 130,000 square miles of water, the plan would only cover “tiny areas,” and that would only be contingent on the chemical remaining stable and not drifting away, said James Cook University Arc Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies director Terry Hughes, who was not involved in the research.
Despite the limitations mentioned above, the researchers are aiming for some sort of progress in shielding the Great Barrier Reef from further global warming-related damage, including damage related to coral bleaching. According to Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden, the sunscreen might be best used on “important” tourist attractions or other parts of the reef that are considered to be of “high conservation value” at a given time.