, Volume 6, Issue 3-4, pp 139-148

Halimeda bioherms of the northern Great Barrier Reef

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Abstract

The reefless tract directly behind the ribbon reefs on the outer shelf off Cooktown supports a luxuriant growth of Halimeda that, during the Holocene, has developed into bioherms. These mounded biodies of unconsolidated sediment have formed banks that vary in height between 2 and 20 m. Combined shallow, high-resolution seismic reflection profiles and side-scan sonar have diferentiated three areas of biohermal complexes behind the ribbon reefs of Cooktown. Observations by SCUBA and submersible plus the sedimentology of the bioherms indicate that they are in situ accumulations. Evidence from dating of cores suggests that the Halimeda bioherms began to grow about 10 000 years B.P. and their growth has continued to the present time, even though their tops are presently restricted to a depth of -20 m. It is suggested that the origin and morphology of the bioherms are related to a specific hydrodynamic phenomenon, involving jets of nutrient-rich, upwelled oceanic water intruding onto the outer shelf via the narrow passes between the ribbon reefs, and forming eddies behind the ribbons.