Scientists: Great Barrier Reef Threatened by Toxic Flood Debris

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Environmentalists in Australia are calling for a review of land management practices following Queensland's recent devastating floods. They say the floods have flushed toxic, pesticide-laden sediment into the Great Barrier Reef.

Australia's worst floods in 50 years in December and January have left a trail of environmental devastation. Riverbanks have been eroded, farmland has been destroyed, and the state's mining industry is still struggling to recover.

What concerns environmentalists and scientists now are the tons of sediment and toxic sludge they say have been carried along with the floodwaters.

A scientist says there's evidence that run-off has already caused damage to sensitive coral areas off the coast.

[Michelle Devlin, Scientist, James Cook University]:
"What we've done is we have changed the quality of the water, so our activities on the catchment through increased agriculture and through urbanization is that we've changed that quality of water - there's high nutrients in there, there's higher sediments, there's pesticides that could potentially impact on the reef."

Experts say they expect to see coral bleaching because of the flooding that swept across central and southern Queensland.

Bleaching occurs when the tiny plant-like coral organisms die, often because of high temperature and poisoning, leaving behind only a white limestone reef skeleton.

[Michelle Devlin, Scientist, James Cook University]:
"We need to really understand the impact of that amount of fresh water plus combined with the other pollutants that are in the water and as we have said we are starting to see some aspects of bleaching and potentially mortality in those inshore reefs."

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