Courier Mail, 5th April 2008

Southeast Queensland’s coral reefs are set to get regular health checks under a worldwide United Nations program. The better known coral ecosystems on the Great Barrier Reef have been kept under the UN’s watchful eye for the past seven years but until now equally important reefs around the southeast have missed out.

Renewed threats from pollution and global warming have prompted Reef Check to turn its goggled sights on the vast marine wonderland stretching from the NSW border to the Sunshine Coast. Marine biologists and volunteer divers will measure and study the reefs around Moreton Bay and off the Gold and Sunshine coasts to help determine the impacts of climate change, nutrient run-off and over-fishing.

“A lot of people aren’t aware that we have some great coral reefs, even off the Gold Coast here,” Griffith University marine biologist Jonathan Werry said.

Mr Werry, who was at Sea World yesterday to launch the extended Reef Check monitoring program, said there were already signs of destructive coral bleaching on southeast Queensland reefs. He said, however, the biggest threat so far still came from land-based pollutants washing into the ocean.

“Our reefs are very important for biodiversity off the coast. You lose your reef and you lose a good chunk of biodiversity from the area,” he said.

Sea World marine sciences director Trevor Long said he had seen some worrying changes in the decades he has spent diving the southeast’s reefs.

“There’s far less diversity of marine species now than there used to be.”

Mr Long said Reef Check would yield scientific “ammunition” to help in the fight to save the reefs. About 20 volunteer divers have been recruited for the campaign and will be trained at the artificial reef at Sea World’s Shark Bay.

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