Groundwater polluting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef?

In a study that could have ramifications for policymakers who are focused on reducing pollution from river catchments, scientists claim they have discovered that enormous volumes of pollution are reaching the Great Barrier Reef after soaking into subsurface water. This discovery was made by the scientists.

According to the latest research, roughly one third of the dissolved inorganic nitrogen and two-thirds of the dissolved inorganic phosphorus in the waters surrounding the Great reef come from subsurface sources. This is a quantity that had not been previously observed.

Scientists believe that if water quality is improved, corals will have a greater chance of recovering from bleaching events induced by global warming. This has been a significant priority for governments and organizations, who have been working diligently to reduce the amount of pollution that runs off of farms and into the Great reef.

The UN’s scientific experts have voiced their concern on multiple occasions that the rate of improvement in water quality has been too slow. If the problem is not addressed concurrently with the climate catastrophe, there is a possibility that the reef may be added to a list of world heritage sites in the entire world that are in jeopardy.

Southern Cross University, Australian Institute of Marine Science, as well as Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) all contributed to the research that was eventually published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The investigation was carried out over the course of ten years.

The researchers collected samples of water and analyzed them for the presence of radium isotopes, which are a marker for contamination. The study did not pinpoint the origin of the pollution; rather, it focused on locating the path that it followed on its way to the reef.

According to Dr. Douglas Tait, an expert on the chemistry of coastal waters at Southern Cross University and the lead author of the research, it could take decades for the pollutants to move from farms to underground aquifers before emerging from springs at the coastline and from underwater springs, also known as wonky holes, within the reef lagoon itself.

According to him, there were two possibilities: either “this could just be the start of the front [of pollution] that is coming through” or “this could be the tail-end.”

According to what he had to say, “we could have a significant problem realized in the coming decades.”

According to Professor Damien Maher of Southern Cross University, who was also a co-author of the research, “Groundwater discharge accounted for approximately one-third of new nitrogen and two-thirds of phosphorus inputs, indicating that nearly twice the amount of nitrogen enters the reef from groundwater compared to river waters.”

According to Tait, an excessive amount of nutrients could result in algae blooms, encourage the proliferation of starfish that feed on coral, and make fish more susceptible to disease.

According to him, this “underscores the need for a strategic shift in management approaches” to lessen the damage that might be caused by pollution.

According to Tait, there are a variety of possible routes that the pollution could follow via the groundwater. These routes include the pollution moving through fissures and cracks in the rocks below the top soil as well as the pollution pouring through porous rocks.

It is going to be necessary for us to have a conversation about the way in which these nutrients are controlled. He stated that in order for us to be able to control this process in the future, we need to have a much greater grasp of it.

The local, state, and national governments have collectively committed hundreds of millions of dollars to the effort to restore the water quality of the Great Barrier Reef.

The assertions made in the study were unexpected, according to Dr. Stephen Lewis, a reef water quality expert from James Cook University’s TropWATER research group who was not involved in the research. Dr. Lewis, who was not engaged in the research, said he appreciated the opportunity to investigate the results more closely.

There had only been a little amount of research done into the role that groundwater plays as a pathway for nutrients to reach the reef, but this role was thought to play a very insignificant role. On the other hand, he explained that the problem was a “knowledge gap” that needed to be closed.

“This study suggests [the contribution from groundwater] could be much larger,” said Lewis, who was involved in the research.

He stated that water samples were collected from all around the reef, and that the presence of nutrients would be found both directly and indirectly regardless of whether they entered the reef from rivers or groundwater.

According to Lewis, the findings of the study would not alter the necessity of assisting farmers in making more efficient use of fertilizers; nevertheless, they might help to better target reef funding in the future.

We collaborate with a large number of farmers, and a good number of them are making significant advancements in nutrient management.

Tanya Plibersek, the federal environment minister, stated that “This is welcome research – the better we understand the threats to the Great Barrier Reef, the more we can do to protect and restore it.”

Plibersek stated that the government was investing $1.2 billion to conserve the reef, including “over $232 million in practical projects to improve the quality of water flowing to the reef.” Plibersek’s statement was made.

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