A new investigation from The Australian National University (ANU) has shown the influence phosphate mining is having on coral reefs.
The study observed at coral reefs around Christmas Island, the place there’s been boundless phosphate mining for around 100 years.
Dr. Jennie Mallela, the lead researcher, says in areas close to the island’s mining ‘hot spots’ the reef revealed high levels of pollution.
This pollution has triggered a slowing growth of reef and diversity.
The main problem is sediment pollution from the phosphate mine. On a healthful reef, the sediment will be made from reef organisms including worn down shells and bits of coral, Dr. Mallela mentioned.
“If you have a lot of runs off and air pollution, the sediment turns into a dark and quite sticky. It truly smothers and sticks to the reef organisms, and can kill them.
“It additionally clouds up the water column, so it stops the sunshine from penetrating down. Coral is a part plant, part animal—the plant component needs to photosynthesize, so if the pollution reduces the light levels on the reef, it takes away part of its feeding regime.”
At heavily polluted sites, the researchers also found fewer ‘branching’ coral species.
“They’re the coral species that juvenile fish prefer to dwell in; they’re those that give a lot of structural complexity to the reef. They have been missing at the polluted sites,” Dr. Mallela stated.
“There’s also a kind of hard, pink algae that is vital for the recruitment of baby corals. The levels of that algae were low if it was there at all.”
Dr. Mallela says mine operators want to look at higher storage and waste management choices.
The results of this examination may hold some vital classes for different mine sites across Australia as well.
The research has been published within the journal Science of the Total Environment.