The Great Barrier Reef is among the most valuable natural treasures in the world. However, it continues to face quite a number of challenges that threaten its overall health and condition. With this, scientists persistently pull out all the stops to help save this one-of-a-kind international wonder.

According to the Report Card 2014 released by the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, the Great Barrier Reef has exhibited signs of improvement. As per analysis, the extent of pollution in the reef waters have declined over the last five years. Aside from that, majority of the pollutants look as if it is on track with the reduction goals set for 2018.

Despite the good news regarding the reef waters in terms of statistics, the general status of the areas near the shore remains unfavorable. Among these problems that scientists are continuously devising solutions for include increased nitrogen levels and reef destruction caused by Crown of Thorns Starfish (CoTS).

The various methods that are being used and proposed by experts to enhance the salvation of the Great Barrier Reef include:

Nitrogen Fertilizer

Land pollution continues to ensue, particularly the inorganic nitrogen build-up that only exuded 17 percent decline in the Report Card 2014 - a number that is far lower than the 50 percent target by 2018.

Nitrogen is harmful to the reefs as it increases the amounts of phytoplanktons, which is associated with the outbreak of the destructive CoTS. The levels of nitrogen are said to be six times more than its natural amounts.

To respond to this, new fertilizers are being devised and analyzed by experts. These NextGen fertilizers are comprised of sorber agents that can help to balance the nitrogen absorbed by and released to the environment so natural destructions would not continue. Aside from that, these fertilizers will be able to recycle the organic wastes of sugar mills, enhance the health of crops, decrease the effects of pathogens and improve soil conditions.

Another problem that is causing the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef is the increased presence of CoTS or Acanthaster planci. These species are known to be the culprit behind the 40 percent decline of coral reef cover in the said reef system. Battling these species has been very difficult for experts. Nonetheless, some groups were able to devise proposals to get rid of it; these include:

CoTSBot

CoTSBot is a mechanical device invented by robotic scientists from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) to catch CoTS and prevent the further loss of corals. The mechanical arm of the said robot is said to be the most interesting part of the invention, as it is equipped with a pneumatic portal that can inject CoTS with ox bile, which is the current agent being used to kill it.

Vinegar

In a recent study, experts were also able to discover that CoTS may be killed effectively using a typical household agent, which is vinegar. According to the results of the experiments, 100 percent of the CoTS injected with vinegar died after 48 hours. This method is said to be cheaper, safer and more convenient that the currently used agent.

Science-based approaches to help save the Great Barrier Reef have sprouted over the years. Through these experiments, experts are looking forward to finally devising one or multiple groundbreaking technologies to halt the various problems impeding the reef system's health.

Photo: Paul Toogood | Flickr

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