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Evolution of Marine Technology and Its Influence on the Great Barrier Reef Ecosystems

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 6038 words Published: 18th May 2020

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STAGE 2 NAVAL ENGINEERING – PERSONAL ENDEVOUR ASSESSMENT                                                                                                                   Evolution of Marine technology and its influence on the Great Barrier Reef ecosystems                                                   

This year in Advanced Naval Engineering, we are studying ocean-going vessels in the maritime world and since I am interested in the Great Barrier Reef, in this research, we will cover modern, future and historic maritime technologies used to aid and protect the Great Barrier Reef. It will also go through more overall strategies on the preservation and the eventual rebuild of the Great Barrier Reef. Lastly, the benefits of sustaining and healing the Reef.

-          History

-          Acts and Treaties and Future plans for the Great Barrier Reef

-          Threats

-          Maritime technologies

History                                                                                                                                                                                Geology:

The geological history of the Great Barrier Reef is significant as it is the largest living ecosystem, largest living structure, but is also the largest coral reef in the world and is ever expansive and changing. The Great Barrier Reef is a massive network that spans across 2,600km. It acts as a natural barrier for the eastern coast of Australia by limiting the wave force, which is generated from the strong water surges that hit the coastline. 

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Geographically, this structure extends from the Torres Strait in the north, to the Fraser Islands in the south. It is made up of almost 3000 individual reefs, and is separated from the coast by about 24 to 128 km of water. The Great Barrier Reef is approximately 20 million years old that changes and shifts constantly, the current reefs age is about 6,000 to 8,000 years old that formed after the last ice age began the recede and water levels/temperatures changed.

The layout of the Great Barrier Reef is thought to be from a pre-existing mountain range that has long been submerged from the shifting landscapes, possibly from the remaining sediments of the Great Dividing Range, which is Australia’s largest mountain range and has formed over 13,000 years ago. Previously the water level was much lower at approximately 61 m lower than current sea level, which the sea level continued to rise during a warming. This caused a submerging of the coastline leaving the coral to remain to form the reefs and islands that are currently present.

Aboriginal History:

-          The Great Barrier Reef region always been extensively protected by the traditional owners; the Aboriginal People & Torres Strait Islanders that have been looking after and caring for the Great Barrier Reef. For at least 60,000 years, their traditional connections have been part of the unique maritime culture. This extensive point of their rich history has allowed their traditional customs and spiritual lore continually to be practiced in their use of sea country and natural resources.

-          Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional owners hold vast knowledge of the marine life and their habitats, marine environments, and marine resources would be used in trading. As sea-faring people, Torres Strait Islanders travelled through the reef’s waters for trade with mainland Aboriginal groups along the east coast, they would use large outrigger canoes that allowed them to travel and navigate to the islands and outer reefs. 

-          This allowed the Great Barrier Reef to co-exist with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders groups as the people had a deep understanding and appreciation of the Great Barrier Reef. A variety of cultural sites occur, including sacred sites, ceremonial sites, burial grounds, rock art sites, middens, fish traps. Cultural resources in these economies have a critical role as part of caring for culture and demonstrating connection to traditional areas.

Foreign Exploration:

-          Captain James Cook and his crew were the first people outside of Australia recorded to have sighted the Great Barrier Reef. Captain Cook sailed up the eastern Coast of the continent and first took notice but the ship sustained damage in the small reef of Cape Tribulation, fortunately the expert crewmen enabled the ship to struggle 70km towards a river where repairs were possible to be made.

-          Matthew Flinders was the person to name the reef the Great Barrier Reef and charted safe passages through the complex networks. He did this by sending small boats to sound the depths and record them to find the safest pathways, today it is called the Flinders’ Passage.

Captain James Cook’s Ship onshore after damage caused by the reef

Acts & Treaties
There are two branches to the protection of the reef:

“The GBRMP Act regulates activities in the marine park to ensure its protection, ecologically sustainable use, and orderly management in a domestic level.”

“The EPBC Act focuses on regulating activities having significant impacts on the environment and nationally protected matters in an international level. Both levels of regulation are needed to ensure the long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.”

The first act to protect the Great Barrier Reef was created in 1975 as a response to mining and petroleum extraction and overfishing. Mining and petroleum extraction have been banned in the Great Barrier Reef but other activities such as fishing are permitted in specified areas.



“The main objective for this act is to provide for the long term protection and conservation of the environment, biodiversity and heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef Region. In order to achieve its objects, this Act: provides for the establishment, control, care and development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.”                                                      (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975)                                                                                                                     Compilation date: 6 March 2018                                                                                                                                                           Includes amendments up to: Act No. 12, 2018                                                                                                          Registered: 27 March 2018

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This is achieved by establishing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), a Commonwealth authority that is responsible for the management of the Marine Park. It will also provide a concise framework for planning and management of the Marine Park, including through zoning plans, plans of management and a system of permissions.

The act was built to construct the beginning foundations for future planning of the protection and sustainment of the reef. The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan is designed to improve the integration the “Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (GBRMP Act)” and “Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 1983” with the national environment law—the “Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)”, so that a single cohesive environmental act system can apply to the overall plan.

The 50-year plan is set to sustain, preserve and reverse the damage to the reef with the Australian Government, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and the Queensland Government will take a bolder response from the pressures the reef faces. This allows more positive impacts on the reef instead of letting the reef recover naturally by itself as it is struggling. The plan sets clear actions, targets, objectives and outcomes to drive and guide the short, medium and long-term management of the Reef which only builds upon, and does not replace, the existing foundation management of arrangements for the World Heritage Area. Although, these plans need to be planned out thoroughly as although the reef possesses a natural resilience, it has a delicate ecosystem and interfering with it can be devastating. Currently Park Rangers and scientists work together with the Aboriginal nations that surround the reef, the Traditional Custodians of the land and work side-by-side on using both traditional and modern techniques, skills and knowledge to establish the rich cultural significance of the Great Barrier Reef and so it recovers.


Major threats towards the Great Barrier Reef have negatively impacted the health of the reef and one of these issues us climate change. This has led to major coral bleaching (coral bleaching is when water is too warm, corals will expel its symbiotic algae, the main source of energy) occurring more often and the severity increasing. This has drastically changed weather patterns and have caused a rise of extreme weather events such as a rise of ocean water acidification which is caused by a decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Another threat to the reef is poor water quality that affect the health and sanitation of the ocean water. This is caused from land-based run-offs of pollution; a negative by-product is the crown of thorns starfish. They feed on coral while normal numbers are an important part of the ecosystem. However, when in outbreak proportions, the impact on coral reefs can be disastrous as they can become one of the leading causes of reef destruction. Man-made costal development is affecting coastal habitats that support the Reef and producing damaging urban run-off, litter and marine debris.

Maritime Technologies

To prevent and combat the destruction of the reef, there have been developments of technologies that can relieve stress, one example would be a sun shield, an ultra-thin surface film that would sit on the ocean’s surface and effectively cool parts of the Great Barrier Reef. This would be especially effective for severely damaged reefs as it gives them time to recover, but this technology cannot be used on a large scale for the entirety of the massive reef.

Development of the Sun Shield net

Other technologies are also being used to solve this issue such as using genetics to better understand the genetic makeup/DNA of coral to see what some of it more resistant to tough conditions than others. The ‘Sea-quence project’ is the largest coral genomics sequencing effort ever, and has genetically sequenced a whole coral organism for the first time. There is the possibility of the Genetic change having a negative impact as interfereing with the reef could cause severe to even permenant damage to the delicate ecosystem and overall structural integrity. Another aespect is using coral seeds to plant them in heavely damaged reefs to recover and regrow them naturally with a helping hand. Although this research is fairly recent and there have been any known recording of negative impacts of these test as so far they have shown promising results.

There are over 600 types of coral

Autonomous underwater drones are being used to help monitor and protect the reef. The RangerBot Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, can provide reef managers and researchers eyes and hands in the water to control pests, monitor health indicators like bleaching and water quality, and map underwater areas. The bot is able to do the work of human divers with greater efficiency and having humans and technology work in tangent provide better protection for the Great Barrier Reef.

The RBAUV or RangerBot Autonomous Underwater Vehicle


Over the course of protecting the Great Barrier Reef, we have made enormous progress in reversing the stress on the reef and developing technologies that can make a positive impact for the future. The history of the Great Barrier Reef has been significantly culturally important towards the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and deeply cared for the land, but until now, the reef was doing not have any major action taken to protect it. Previously there were no known technology used but with the combination of the acts and development of scientific technology. But with the support of the public, government and scientist, we’ll be able enact the 50-year plan and restore the Great Barrier Reef in the future.


I have used three types of capabilities, which is Information and Communication Technology, Critical and Creative Thinking and Intercultural Understanding. I have utilised I.C.T by using Microsoft Word as it is on a computer program document and I would use cross-referencing and understanding to correctly use referencing online to check the legitimacy of the information and to display the source of the information. Another aspect is selecting what is important to my research and what information I need to discard, as it requires critical thought on referenced information. Critical and Creative Thinking required me to plan out the layout of the assessment and organise all of the collected information. It would also relate to how I would find information online, comparing websites and deciding what information I would need. I used Intercultural Understanding to display the significance of how the Aboriginal people viewed and cared for the reef and how the reef plays an integral role for tourism, environment, history, culture, economy and how we view the Great Barrier Reef.


  • Author Kim Zimmermann                                                                                                                                                                           Article title: Great Barrier Reef: Facts, Location & Animals                                                                                                         Website title: livescience.com                                                                                                                                                                  URL: https://www.livescience.com/6290-great-barrier-reef.html
  • Article title: Department of the Environment and Energy                                                                                                               Website title: Department of the Environment and Energy                                                                                                       URL: http://environment.gov.au/epbc/publications/factsheet-great-barrier-reef-marine-park-protection-legislative-changes-faqs
  • Article title: Marine proteCted area ManageMent – ANU Press – ANU – MAFIADOC.COM                                                          Website title: mafiadoc.com                                                                                                                                                     URL: https://mafiadoc.com/marine-protected-area-management-anu-press-anu_5996bad61723ddca69548274.html
  • Article title: Department of the Environment and Energy                                                                                                               Website title: Department of the Environment and Energy                                                                                                                 URL: https://www.environment.gov.au/marine/gbr/long-term-sustainability-plan
  • Author Peter Ward                                                                                                                                                                        Article title: The Technologies Protecting the Great Barrier Reef                                                                                                Website title: Culture Trip                                                                                                                                                       URL: https://theculturetrip.com/pacific/australia/articles/the-technologies-protecting-the-great-barrier-reef/
  • Article title: The history and future of protecting the Great Barrier Reef                                                                                 Website title: Radio National                                                                                                                                                                   URL: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/rearvision/history-and-future-of-protecting-great-barrier-reef/7649840
  • Article title: How Was The Great Barrier Reef Formed? Read Right Here                                                                                        Website title: ScienceStruck                                                                                                                                                                            URL: https://sciencestruck.com/how-was-great-barrier-reef-formed
  • Article title: Great Barrier Reef Foundation                                                                                                                                        Website title: Great Barrier Reef Foundation                                                                                                                                         URL: https://www.barrierreef.org/


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