Film 50,000 times thinner than hair could protect Great Barrier Reef

SYDNEY: An ultra-fine biodegradable film 50,000 times thinner than a human hair could be enlisted to protect the Great Barrier Reef from environmental degradation, researchers said yesterday.

The World Heritage-listed site, which attracts millions of tourists each year, is reeling from bouts of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change.

Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Biology have been buoyed by test results of a floating "sun shield" made of calcium carbonate that has been shown to protect the reef from the effects of bleaching.

"It's designed to sit on the surface of the water above the corals, rather than directly on the corals, to provide an effective barrier against the sun," Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said.

The trials on seven different coral types found that the protective layer decreased bleaching of most species, cutting off sunlight by up to 30 per cent.

Researchers from a breadth of disciplines contributed to the project, which was headed by the scientist who developed the country's polymer bank notes.

"In this case, we had chemical engineers and experts in polymer science working with marine ecologists and coral experts to bring this innovation to life," Ms Marsden said.

Ms Marsden said it was impractical to suggest that the "sun shield" - made from the same material found in coral skeletons - could cover the entire 348,000 sq km reef.

"But it could be deployed on a smaller, local level to protect high-value or high-risk areas of reef," she added. - AFP