Steve Dalton.
Steve Dalton. Trevor Veale

Scientists pursue funding for urgent bleaching assessment

MARINE scientists are pursuing urgent State Government funding in response to the worst outbreak of coral bleaching ever recorded off the Coffs Coast.

Water temperatures as high as 27.5 degrees have been registered at South Solitary Marine Park this month, causing widespread bleaching on corals growing as deep as 20m.

Solitary Islands Underwater Research Group's Steve Dalton said a $10,000 application was this week lodged to the Office of Environment and Heritage to allow scientists to assess the scope of damage.

"We're trying to source funding to conduct surveys of the reef to complement baseline surveys that were done in 2012-15," he said.

"That would enable us to survey sites around the five main islands where corals commonly grow."

The research would also ascertain the types of corals that are bleaching, and the impact on the marine life it supports.

"If they are the dominant types of corals, that means there can be a massive change in the community composition of the reef," Mr Dalton said.

"Branching corals provide protective habitat for species and they tend to bleach more easily.

"If that habitat dies, then coral will erode and it will take a few years for that community to return."

Data from marine buoys have revealed surface temperatures have not dropped below 26 degrees this month, and 13 days have remained above 27.5.

"Temperatures have never gone over 27.7 degrees before and it's the duration of that over a month that has really caused this," Mr Dalton said.

"Over an extended period, you tend to see a see a shift in the composition and migrating tropical fish will begin to dominate the area."

Factors impacting the higher temperatures include dominant winds bringing the East Australian Current closer to shore and unusually warm southern currents.

With research under way into expansive coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, Mr Dalton said a co-ordinated government response was required.

"There is no denying that climate change is having an impact on sensitive marine habitat," he said.

"This is a global issue that we need to have solid outcomes on."

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