Dredging Adversely Affects Coral Reefs

A Great Barrier Reef study points to dredging as a contributing factor in coral disease.

Written by
John Virata

As if coral reefs aren’t suffering enough, a new research study points to dredging as yet another factor that contributes to the decline of coral reefs. The study, conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the Australian Institute of Marine Science says that dredging near coral reefs doubled the incidence of coral diseases in those locations.

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The researchers studied corals that were subjected to sea floor sediment plumes during an 18 month dredging project off Western Australia’s Barrow Island and found that the area, once pristine with corals, is negatively affected by the 7 million cubic meters of seabed that was removed to create a channel for ships to transport natural gas. One of the diseases that affected the corals is white syndrome, a disease that infects a coral and slowly turns the coral white, effectively killing it. 

“White syndrome is like if your flesh fell off at the fingertips leaving just bone, and then kept going on up your arms and then the rest of your body,” Joe Pollock, lead author of the study, told Guardian Australia.

White Syndrome coral disease eventually kills the entire coral. Photo by F. Joseph Pollack


Pollock said that when corals become bleached, a coral can recover. A coral afflicted with white syndrome leaves little chance the coral will recover as the coral tissue is eaten away.  The sediment does two things that kill corals; It blocks out the sun which the corals rely on to survive, and it also clogs their mouths that they use for feeding, both which stress the corals.

The effect of dredging on coral reefs has become a rallying cry for local environmental groups in Australia. The North Queensland Conservation Council has legally challenged the project in hopes of mitigating its effects on the Great Barrier Reef.

John B. Virata has been keeping fish since he was 10 years old.  He currently keeps an 80 gallon cichlid tank, a 20 gallon freshwater community tank and a 29 gallon BioCube with a Percula clown, a huge blue green chromis, and a firefish all in his kitchen, and a 55 gallon FOWLR tank with a pair of Ocellaris clowns, two blue green chromis, a six line wrasse, a peppermint shrimp, assorted algae and a few aiptasia anemones in his living room. Follow him on Twitter
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