Last updated March 28, 2018 at 12:43 pm
Polymers inspired by Australian banknotes might save the reef from bleaching.
A calcium-carbonate film just one molecule thick is showing promise as an ingenious way to protect coral from the dangers of excessive exposure to sunlight.
The film, some 50,000 times thinner than a human hair, has been developed through an unlikely collaboration between the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the inventor of Australia’s polymer banknotes, and the US jewellery company, Tiffany & Co.
The polymer film made from calcium-carbonate – the same compound used by corals to build their exoskeletons – was developed by a team of scientists led by banknote inventor David Solomon from the University of Melbourne, and funded by a grant from a foundation operated by the jewellery firm.
The work is still in its developmental phase, but the film, which is designed to float on the surface of the water above reefs, has been tested at the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s National Sea Simulator (SeaSim) near Townsville in Queensland.
There, it was placed above even different species of coral were inside a saltwater a tank, which was then bombarded by ultraviolent light.
“While it’s still early days, and the trials have been on a small scale, the testing shows the film reduced light by up to 30%,” reports Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden.
“The surface film provided protection and reduced the level of bleaching in most species.”
No harmful effects were reported.
Marsden is quick to dismiss the idea that the polymer film could be laid over the top of all 348,000 square kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef. However, she adds, if further testing provides good results, it could certainly be deployed over specific high-risk or high-value sections.