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Before vs. After: Intense Cyclone Ita Destroys Parts of Great Barrier Reef

By Katy Galimberti, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
July 9, 2014; 12:23 AM ET

The land damage done by tropical storms and cyclones has been well documented and can be easily measured. However, researchers in Australia are trying to understand the extent of damage that occurred underwater after an intense cyclone ripped through parts of the Great Barrier Reef.

Destruction to underwater ecosystems have had little research, but the Catlin Seaview Survey is working hard to change that.

Following the robust April cyclone, Ita, divers investigated the coral reef and found stark differences between pre- and post storm.


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"Cyclone Ita was an extremely powerful and damaging cyclone that caused both damage to manmade and natural structures. Over 900 million U.S. dollars in damage occurred and, just as importantly or maybe more importantly, countless more damage was done to the delicate natural environment of Queensland," said AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Mark Paquette.

The cyclone was the strongest tropical cyclone to impact Queensland, Australia, since Cyclone Yasi three years prior. Ita became a Category 5 at its strongest point.

As Ita moved over the ocean, the forces disrupted parts of the usually colorful, lively reef.

Researchers said that the Ribbon reef area suffered the most as Ita's path was directly overhead. The divers had worked in the region two years prior and were able to use that knowledge to better study the damage. Still, there was limited research on what storms can do.

According to Catlin, "the most striking observation was the huge variance of storm impact and no uniform pattern of damage in the path of the storm."

That path left some adjacent areas in a stark contrast; some areas had little to no damage while nearby areas were extensively hurt.

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As the coral begins to recover, Catlin reported that there are preventative measures to ensure a quicker reformation.

"Ensuring that coral can bounce back from these disturbances is at the heart of the matter. The more we reduce other stressors on the reef (factors such as water quality), the better the chance that coral can bounce back," Catlin Seaview Survey Chief Scientist and Global Change Institute Director, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said in a press release.

"Given the steep decline of coral on the reef, it's clear we have a lot of work to do."

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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