Posted by: reefrescue | April 13, 2010

Barrier Reef damage ‘severe’ from ship grounding

Initial assessments by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority found a scar 1.9 miles long and up to 820 feet  wide along the world’s largest coral reef.

By KRISTEN GELINEAU (AP)

SYDNEY — A coal carrier that ran aground and leaked about 3 tons of oil on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef completely pulverized parts of a shoal and caused damage so severe it could take marine life 20 years to recover, the reef’s chief scientist said Tuesday.

Initial assessments by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority found the 755-foot (230-meter) Shen Neng 1 left a scar 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) long and up to 820 feet (250 meters) wide along the world’s largest coral reef, said scientist David Wachenfeld, who is coordinating the authority’s assessment of the ship’s impact.

“We were expecting some fairly severe damage to this location, and our observations to date confirm that expectation,” he said.

The Shen Neng 1 slammed into a shoal on April 3, and coral shredded part of its hull, causing a leak of about 3 tons of oil. That oil was dispersed by chemical sprays and is believed to have caused little or no damage to the reef.

The vessel was successfully lifted off the coral reef on Monday after crews spent three days pumping heavy fuel oil from the ship to lighten it. Salvage crews later towed it to an anchorage area near Great Keppel Island, 38 nautical miles (44 miles, 70 kilometers) away.

Damage to the reef was particularly bad because the vessel did not stay in one place once it grounded, Wachenfeld said. Instead, tides and currents pushed it along the reef, crushing and smearing potentially toxic paint onto coral and plants, he said.

In some areas, “all marine life has been completely flattened and the structure of the shoal has been pulverized by the weight of the vessel,” Wachenfeld said.

It will be at least another week before the full extent of the damage is known, but the area’s recovery could take up to two decades, he said.

(Read more)

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