Sub to probe Reef for cyclone damage
A ROBOT is taking a deep sea voyage on the Great Barrier Reef to see if corals have recovered after being sandblasted by cyclone Yasi.
A $500,000 robotic yellow submarine left Townsville this week to photograph areas of the Reef damaged in the category 5 storm last February.
Sirius, a robotic autonomous underwater vehicle, will dive to depths of 150m, revisiting some of the areas that it examined about five years ago to check the level of cyclone recovery.
Yasi caused severe damage to parts of the Reef, whipping up seas that were so powerful they managed to topple some of the coral bommies which were up to 4m wide.
Tom Bridge from James Cook University's ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies said previous underwater surveys by Sirius had revealed some outskirting reefs had been sandblasted clean, with no sign of coral or rubble for several kilometres.
"We did see damage quite deep which we saw the first time we surveyed it in July last year. I was quite surprised," Dr Bridge said.
"It wasn't everywhere. There were some patches were it was OK.
"We're really looking at areas around Myrmidon Reef which was one of the heavily impacted by Yasi.
"We did see some areas that had escaped damage that we looking pretty good and then some areas that were pretty severely damaged, so that was quite surprising for us."
Even though there was some damage on corals as deep as 60m, Dr Bridge believed they would have already started to regenerate.
"They'll be very different dynamics at play down there," he said.
"A lot of the deeper reefs will be less susceptible to disturbances such as bleaching and stuff like that, than the shallower reefs."
Siriusis capable of taking thousands of photographs with high resolution cameras at each site it visits.
When the robot returns on Friday, scientists will compare this to previous data collected, to determine whether there have been any significant changes.
This information will help them better understand the impact that cyclones have upon the Great Barrier Reef.
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Going down: Professor Sandy Tudhope, from the University of Edinburgh, with Sirius the $500,000 robotic submarine, which will see how well the Reef has fared after cyclone Yasi.