A giant raft of rock floating in the Pacific could help heal Australia's Great Barrier Reef

A Manhattan-sized "raft" of floating pumice rock is heading towards Australia, and it's bringing along marine life that could help rebuild dwindling coral reefs.

Posted: Aug 28, 2019 7:50 AM
Updated: Aug 28, 2019 7:50 AM

A "raft" of floating pumice rock the size of Manhattan is drifting towards Australia, bringing along with it new marine life that could help with the recovery of the Great Barrier Reef's corals, half of which have been killed in recent years as a result of climate change.

Experts say that if the pumice makes it to the Great Barrier Reef, it could help replenish some of the lost marine life. The raft is believed to be home to organisms like crabs and corals.

The massive floating sheet of volcanic rock was first spotted by sailors on August 9, days after an underwater volcano is believed to have erupted near the Pacific Island of Tonga, according to NASA Earth Observatory.

Days later, Australian sailors heading towards Vanuatu on the ROAM catamaran said they encountered volcanic rocks "made up of pumice stones from marble to basketball size such that water was not visible."

ROAM crew Michael and Larissa Hoult told CNN that they had been at sea for 10 days before coming into contact with the gray floating matter one evening.

"It was quite eerie, actually," Larissa said. "The whole ocean was matte -- we couldn't see the water reflection of the moon."

"The rocks were kind of closing in around us, so we couldn't see our trail or our wake at all. We could just see the edge where it went back to regular water -- shiny water -- at night," Michael added, saying they could see the rock from every direction.

"It was a bit of a mystery, we didn't know how deep it was, if we were sailing over a volcano that was active at that moment. It looked almost like there was more coming up, bubbling up from underneath," said Larissa.

The pumice, which is filled with holes and cavities, floats like an iceberg does, with about 90% underwater and 10% above water, the pair explained.

That pumice is expected to drift with the current down to the Australian coast over the next seven to 10 months, they said, where scientist believe could have a positive affect on the microorganisms there.

Scott Bryan, a professor at Queensland University of Technology specializing in geology and geochemistry, said the current pumice raft is moving at around 10 to 30 kilometers (six to 19 miles) per day. Its speed and direction is largely a result of surface currents, waves and wind, Bryan said.

Bryan said events like this happen every five years and involve trillions of pieces of pumice as small as a marble and as big as a basketball.

In 2012, research by Bryan and others following a similar underwater volcanic event found that pumice rafts are one way that the ocean can redistribute diverse sea life.

This month's eruption could have similar positive effects, Bryan said, though there's also a risk it could introduce invasive species to the region.

When the pumice makes its way to the Great Barrier Reef, the sea life attached will travel too, potentially bringing diverse new colonies of barnacles, corals and more.

"Each piece of pumice is a vehicle for something to attach and grow and be transported across the ocean," Bryan told CNN. "We will have millions to billions of individuals of tens of different species all arriving en masse along our coastline, all healthy and potentially finding a new home."

Bryan said there are challenges in replenishing the coral, as they cannot jump off and find a new habitat as easily as more mobile animals like crabs can.

Generally, Bryan said, corals "need to reach a reproductive age when they can start to spawn and release their larvae in the Great Barrier Reef."

But if new corals are catching a ride on the pumice stone, they can end up replenishing the reef. "The pumice gets waterlogged or negatively buoyant and sinks to the sea floor and gets logged and stuck there, then those plants and animals and sea life can then continue to grow and grow in this new location," Bryan said.

In 2016 and 2017, marine heat waves caused by climate change resulted in mass bleaching, which killed about half of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef, along with many others around the world.

West Lafayette
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 74°
Kokomo
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 71°
Rensselaer
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 68°
Fowler
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 68°
Williamsport
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 73°
Crawfordsville
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 67°
Frankfort
Overcast
73° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 73°
Delphi
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 73°
Monticello
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 73°
Logansport
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 70°
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 47432

Reported Deaths: 2687
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11546683
Lake5104242
Elkhart321144
Allen2737129
St. Joseph190866
Cass16389
Hamilton1538100
Hendricks1390100
Johnson1256118
Porter72037
Tippecanoe6948
Madison65564
Clark64044
Bartholomew58244
Howard56557
LaPorte56326
Kosciusko5354
Vanderburgh5026
Marshall4823
Jackson4693
Noble46928
LaGrange4677
Hancock44035
Boone43743
Delaware43150
Shelby42325
Floyd37144
Morgan32731
Montgomery29320
Grant29126
Clinton2882
Monroe27628
Dubois2666
White26010
Henry25815
Decatur24932
Lawrence24225
Vigo2318
Dearborn22823
Harrison21222
Warrick21229
Greene18532
Miami1822
Jennings17411
Putnam1688
DeKalb1604
Scott1607
Daviess14216
Orange13623
Wayne1366
Steuben1282
Perry1279
Franklin1248
Ripley1157
Jasper1142
Wabash1122
Carroll1102
Fayette987
Newton9810
Starke923
Whitley905
Randolph784
Huntington742
Jefferson722
Wells711
Fulton691
Jay680
Washington681
Gibson672
Knox640
Pulaski641
Clay604
Rush563
Adams501
Benton480
Owen471
Sullivan441
Brown381
Posey380
Blackford372
Spencer371
Crawford300
Fountain302
Tipton301
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike100
Unassigned0193

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events