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The state of the Great Barrier Reef after Cyclone Debbie

Cyclone Debbie was a category 4 cyclone that stormed through the Whitsundays on 28 March 2017. Before hitting the Whitsunday Islands and Airlie Beach, the tropical cyclone made its way over the Great Barrier Reef and inner fringing reefs, causing stormy waters and crashing waves, which in turn affected the reef and its inhabitants.

The damages incurred during the cyclone have sparked the debate as to whether or not the reef itself will bounce back or if it permanently changed. The answer to both is yes. The Great Barrier Reef has survived countless cyclones throughout its lifetime, and has always come back strong, vibrant and healthy, but each time grows back different with different coral families and formations. As is the nature of an ecosystem like the reef, it is constantly changing, with some parts dying in order for newer organisms to flourish.

Some argue that cyclones are nature’s way of clearing large coral formations in order to make room for new growths, allowing the life cycle of the reef to continue. Coral death is a part of that life cycle, with cyclones there to help it along. This means that when natural disasters hit the reef, it’s really just cleaning out the old to make way for the new. While it may alter the landscape for a while, in the long run, it will make its comeback as it had for a millennia.

In hopes of aiding in the recovery of the reef, The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has authorized tour operators to restore overturned colonies, which is normally disallowed, as it’s encouraged to let the reef live its natural life. However, by allowing this, operators and conservationists will help damaged corals to resume their normal life cycle and get the reef healthier, faster in the wake of the cyclone. However, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park covers over 344,000km², and while we have seen some parts of it affected from Tropical Cyclone Debbie, the park, the Whitsundays and reef continue to flourish as a whole and hopefully will continue to do so for many generations.

Nicola
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