The Great Barrier Reef: Is it dead yet?

bleached coral

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The Guardian claims tour operators are refusing to take people to see coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, for fear it will put tourists off from visiting. My question – if coral bleaching has killed the whole reef, why bother hiding it?

Great Barrier Reef: tourism operators urge Australian government to tackle climate change

Letter calls for rapid shift to renewable energy after natural wonder affected by worst coral bleaching event yet seen.

Tourism operators have broken their silence about the worst crisis ever faced by the Great Barrier Reef, with more than 170 businesses and individuals pleading with the Australian government to take urgent action to tackle climate change and ensure the reef survives.

Many tourism operators in Queensland have previously been quiet about concerns for the reef, fearful that speaking about the mass bleaching event would turn tourists away, lowering their incomes in the short term.

The Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of the worst bleaching event ever seen, with virtually the entire reef affected. Unusually warm water has killed as much as half the corals in the northern sections and scientists have found climate change will make the those conditions normal in fewer than 20 years.

A group has now spoken out, writing to several politicians, including the prime minister, the federal environment minister and local representatives, as well as taking out an advertisement in a Queensland paper.

“Many tourism operators, they don’t want people not to come to the reef, so they’ve been reluctant to speak out” said John Rumney, who has run diving and fishing tours on the Great Barrier Reef for the past four decades.

They are worried it will have a negative impact on the short-term cash flow. But if we don’t take care of this issue we will have no reef in the future.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/07/great-barrier-reef-tourism-operators-urge-australian-government-to-tackle-climate-change

Hangon, does that mean the reef is expected to recover from this episode of bleaching?

Australia’s largest oceanic reef system, Scott Reef, is relatively isolated, sitting out in the Indian Ocean some 250 km from the remote coastline of north Western Australia (WA). Prospects for the reef looked gloomy when in 1998 it suffered catastrophic mass bleaching, losing around 80% of its coral cover. The study shows that it took just 12 years to recover.

Spanning 15 years, data collected and analysed by the researchers shows how after the 1998 mass bleaching the few remaining corals provided low numbers of recruits (new corals) for Scott Reef. On that basis recovery was projected to take decades, yet within 12 years the cover and diversity of corals had recovered to levels similar to those seen pre-bleaching.

“The initial projections for Scott Reef were not optimistic,” says Dr James Gilmour from AIMS, the lead author on the publication, “because, unlike reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, there were few if any reefs nearby capable of supplying new recruits to replenish the lost corals at Scott Reef.

“However, the few small corals that did settle at Scott Reef had excellent rates of survival and growth, whereas on many nearshore reefs high levels of algae and sediment, and poor water quality will often suppress this recovery.

Read more: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/04/07/good-news-about-coral-reefs-they-recovered-from-warming/

What about the future? Assuming global warming occurs, what happens to reefs which are frequently subject to extreme temperatures?

We tend to associate coral reefs with tropical seas of around 28 degrees, where even slight warming can have devastating effects on corals. But in the Arabian/Persian Gulf, corals survive seawater temperatures of up to 36 degrees Celsius every summer, heat levels that would kill corals elsewhere.

In their study, the NOCS team worked closely with NYUAD researchers to select and characterise model corals from the Arabian/Persian Gulf, which will facilitate future molecular-scale investigations into why they can tolerate heat stress.

Read more: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/02/06/some-corals-do-well-in-warmer-waters-researchers-ask-how/

Perhaps there is a protective adaption which helps coral survive extreme temperatures?

That warning about poor water quality near coastlines, near human habitation is a concern – what could humans be doing, which might be stressing the corals of the Great Barrier Reef, causing them to become more vulnerable to warm water?

Swimmers’ Sunscreen Killing Off Coral

The sunscreen that you dutifully slather on before a swim on the beach may be protecting your body—but a new study finds that the chemicals are also killing coral reefs worldwide.

Four commonly found sunscreen ingredients can awaken dormant viruses in the symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae that live inside reef-building coral species.

The chemicals cause the viruses to replicate until their algae hosts explode, spilling viruses into the surrounding seawater, where they can infect neighboring coral communities.

Zooxanthellae provide coral with food energy through photosynthesis and contribute to the organisms’ vibrant color. Without them, the coral “bleaches” — turns white — and dies.

“The algae that live in the coral tissue and feed these animals explode or are just released by the tissue, thus leaving naked the skeleton of the coral,” said study leader Roberto Danovaro of the Polytechnic University of Marche in Italy.

The researchers estimate that 4,000 to 6,000 metric tons of sunscreen wash off swimmers annually in oceans worldwide, and that up to 10 percent of coral reefs are threatened by sunscreen-induced bleaching.

Read more: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/01/080129-sunscreen-coral.html

Sun cream is a big deal in Australia. Schools demand parents apply suncream to children before attending. Sky high skin cancer rates, and decades of government campaigns, ensure a high level of awareness, and a relatively high rate of suncream application – especially when bathing under the blazing tropical sunlight of the Coral Sea. Newer suncreams, spray on nanoparticle creams, as opposed to the old oily white suspension, make suncream more convenient to apply, and less damaging to clothes. Even though applying suncream likely helps to kill the coral.

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136 thoughts on “The Great Barrier Reef: Is it dead yet?

  1. We visited the northern section of the Barrier Reef about 6 weeks ago. This is in the warmer section and the colours of the coral were spectacular. The problems with the coral according to our on-board experts were ascribed to the starfish and chemical run-off.

    • On-board experts? The definitive study on run-off affecting the reef was ENCORE.
      Abstract here: http://epubs.scu.edu.au/esm_pubs/334/

      ‘ENCORE has shown that reef organisms and processes investigated in situ were impacted by elevated nutrients. Impacts were dependent on dose level, whether nitrogen and/or phosphorus were elevated and were often species-specific. The impacts were generally sub-lethal and subtle and the treated reefs at the end of the experiment were visually similar to control reefs.’

      It was well buried result and the ‘Anti-everthings’ turned to portraying the evil, by stunts like filming an ex-banana farmer standing in pristine creek proclaiming she could feel the water was unhealthy. I personally saw major bleaching events in the 60’s before widespread use of sunscreens and other such man-made evils, these reefs are now called pristine. One of the more interesting tourists sites was around the effluent outfall at Green Island off Cairns. To the best of my knowledge, the main problem with a re-development was how to preserve this while improving the level of treatment of waste.

      The suggestion that farmers in an educated relatively wealthy society would waste chemicals and poison to destroy the environment is generally a nonsense. However, if the Totalitarian Left operating as Greens achieve their aim of destroying the productive middle class, the resulting poverty may see the reefs plundered to feed the many children impoverished societies produce.

      • “The suggestion that farmers in an educated relatively wealthy society would waste chemicals and poison to destroy the environment is generally a nonsense.”

        Sorry Jon. It’s not complete nonsense. Would that it were. For example, we have a problem on the US-Canada border with phosphate run off from agriculture encouraging the explosive growth of toxic algae in Lake Champlain in late Summer. But there’s a lot of agriculture in the Champlain Valley compared to North Queensland and the worst affected areas are shallow embayments with somewhat limited circulation into and out of the rest of the lake.

        I wouldn’t be shocked to find that corals near the mouths of rivers with lots of upstream farming were in some amount of trouble from agricultural chemicals. The reef as a whole? Not bloody likely.

      • DonK,
        To the best of my knowledge, buying and spreading phosphate is expensive. Why waste. That said Australia is a different beast to the US-Canada being substantially weathered. You would be shocked to find the coral growth occurring in marinas and reefs at the entrance to waterways, just as the reefs mentioned in a recent blog on Anthony’s site regarding the mouth of the Amazon. (Sorry too lazy to link). Read the ENCORE report, it involves one of our favourite snake-oil salesmen.

    • Something that bothers me about claims of massive coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef during El Nino is the trivial issue that El Nino is a dramatic warming of the EASTERN Pacific. The GBR is i the WESTERN Pacific. Indeed when I checked SSTs as the recent El Nino developed, the waters around Hawaii, and Central America, and Northwest South America were much warmer than normal. I’d find temperature induced coral bleaching in those areas quite believable. Temps on the GBR however were hardly elevated at all.

      Not that I think the Guardian would just make stuff up. Heavens no. That’d be irresponsible.

      Anyway, it crossed my mind that really massive coral bleaching should be easily visible from space. I went looking for pictures. Didn’t find any. But I did find this http://www.ospo.noaa.gov/Products/ocean/cb/hotspots/index.html If anyone knows exactly when this massive coral bleaching even took place, we should be able to check the SST anamolies and see if warming was a credible cause.

      • The coral bleaching in the GBR normally associated with El Nino is not because the water in the GBR is too hot for the coral, but because it is too cold. Under typical El Nino conditions (which we certainly did not have) cold antarctic waters funnel north up the East Coast of Australia, killing the warm water corals.

        Personally I’m skeptical that there has been any mass bleaching event in the GBR this year at all. I remember the ’98 bleaching event very well. There were daily flyovers of the reef with clear evidence of the die off. The news media was full of photographs and videos of the event.
        This year? Nothing. Just stories from “green” groups saying it is so, and businesses looking for a free hand out. But we’ll all believe it because it happened during the ’98 El Nino event.

  2. Let’s see;
    Step one: Sound the climate alarm, pointing to the bleached corals, even though they know the connection is completely spurious, and not science-based.
    Step two: Proudly wave their “climate alarm” about, whilst peddling “eco-tourism” where mindless greenie types can go, and self-flagellate, and re-confirm their (and more importantly, others’) “climate guilt”.
    Step three: Laugh all the way to the bank.
    Yes, that’s the ticket.

    • I remember the big scare about tropical frogs being killed by a fungus. All the whining and knashing of teeth, plus the usual blame it on CO2 press releases.

      Then someone made the mistake of actually studying the situation, and they found that the fungus was being brought in on the shows of all those eco-tourists.

      Ooops.

    • I think your five word statement speaks volumes.

      Just as the forests of northwest North America have adapted to drought and forest fires, even to the degree where some conifers have cones that do not drop their seeds unless prompted by fire, it is likely that certain reefs have adapted to El Ninos and over-warm waters.

      We humans tend to see the scorched landscape after a forest fire, or the bleached coral after an El Nino, and feel it is an affront to nature, when actually it is part of nature.

      Next we humans attempt to “fix” the situation, and to prevent forest fires, utilizing garish icons such as Smokey The Bear, and modern equipment like helicopters, and aircraft that drop enormous floods of bright-orange “fire retardents” (largely water).

      Australia needs to invent its own icon, “Salty the Clown-fish”, who warns school children, “Only you can prevent coral bleaching.” Also Australia needs to spend huge amounts on refrigeration units that cool the waters.

      Then, after fifty years, Australians will likely learn what Canadians have learned; IE: The “fix” made things worse.

      By preventing forest fires the forest grew so thick and the under-story was so filled with dead branches and trees, that eventually a fire had so much fuel it was worse than anything nature could have created on its own.

      It is “The Law Of Unintended Consequences” in action.

      How human efforts can make coral bleaching worse than it already is is something I am not sure of. The only way to find out for Australians to invent “Salty the Clownfish.” Get cracking, you slackers! What are you waiting for?

      • + many Caleb but this statement : “even to the degree where some conifers have cones that do not drop their seeds unless prompted by fire’, That survival mechanism has always been there and long before human intervention. Sadly it is being used by environmentalist as a “I told you so” excuse.

  3. The bleaching is undoubtedly an ancient and recurring natural phenomenon. The climate scammers of course use it, just like they do any tornado, hurricane, or wildfire as “proof” of climate change. It is of course just pure voodoo witch doctor religion, as in, give us your sacrifices to appease the climate gods con job, like charlatans (like Al Gore, James Hanson, et al.) have used used for decades for their personal social status.

    There is now new reporting that baby starfish are returning to the US Pacific northwest in such high numbers after several years of die-off due to a virus. The climate scammers tried to invoke their Climate god wrath schtick for that die-off too. But scientists who studied how the starfish died found the die-off was much more intense during the cooler water winter months, a clear clue that the die-off wasn’t due to higher water temps.

    The climate scammers have abandoned any notion of shame when their dubious claims are debunked. Like with the Artic Sea ice level and Greenland mass balance false claims, they just move on to the next natural phenomenon for their next con job claim.

  4. I notice that the earlier serious coral bleaching occurred in 1998 which is also when the previous El Niño influenced land and sea temperatures all over the world to the same extent as the current El Niño does.
    Is it known if the water temperatures around the Great Barrier Reef were similarly high during the two El Niño events and lower in between?

    • Claes:

      Is it known if the water temperatures around the Great Barrier Reef were similarly high during the two El Niño events and lower in between?

      Given Brent definitive, yet unsubstantiated, affirmative response, the second part of you question should be, “Was there a similar level of bleaching documented after the ’98 El Nino?” Which may then lead to notions of causation and effect.

  5. “Unusually warm water has killed as much as half the corals in the northern sections and scientists have found climate change will make the those conditions normal in fewer than 20 years.”

    Have found?? How have they found? Or is it just more projection, surely they mean think or maybe hope!

    • Nope! They have found the future. No doubt they have placed bets on future sporting events as well and probably already spending their future winnings.

    • And it’s worse than we thought! This is the reef’s third death this year! We’re past the tipping point!

  6. This the third year now without the usual heavy rainfall on the northern Queensland coastline, probably due to El nino which is receding. And the locals in Cairns think this has more to do with it than alleged global warming. It has received a lot of publicity due to the current political situation and up coming election. The curious thing is that it’s the start of Winter and temperatures are dropping and some bleaching was first noticed a couple of weeks ago. Most locals think the algae will return in due course.

    It is the end of the cyclone season as well and this year there weren’t any on the Queensland coast.

  7. Perhaps there is a protective adaption which helps coral survive extreme temperature?
    ====
    Corals have evolved to swap their zoox/dinos…
    If bleaching wasn’t normal, they would not have adapted to cope with it.
    Change in light intensity is a more common reason.
    ===
    Zooxanthellae provide coral with food energy through photosynthesis and contribute to the organisms’ vibrant color
    ===
    They are military green…..corals have other pigments to protect them from UV….that and the Tyndall effect is the bright colors people see.

  8. The sunscreen ingredient being flagged as affecting coral is called benzophenone-3. It’s also a very impressive estrogen receptor (ER) stimulator. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240241/pdf/ehp0109-000239.pdf , where it is abreviated as Bp-3.

    Corals might have some similar steroid receptor that has other effects. Here’s the thing, despite Bp-3 being very impressive as stimulating steroid receptors and possibly killing corals, the chemical is extremely lipophilic (likes to dissolve in fats & skin), which means it’s very likely to diffuse into us, or fish, or anything it comes into contact with that is organic. Combined with the fact that this particular reef is way out in the ocean, and you have to ask how is it possible that a lipophilic compound makes it in sufficient concentration way out there in the ocean when there are so many more places that it can be sequestered? That’s unlikely. Where is the on-site testing that says this compound is relevant?

    Keep your eye on the pea. If one compound can do this, nature can produce 20 others that do the same or worse. Since we know this is a naturally occurring event in some cases, who is to say that some other species of plant or animal isn’t producing a compound that stimulates corals to allow virus to reproduce, or whatever it’s doing?!? Once again, where is any of the on-site testing for any of this?

    • The whole sunscreen scare is like peeing in the ocean and then wondering if you made it saltier. Do the math on volumes to derive concentrations, then factor in currents and tides circulating fresh seawater. Parts per trillion quickly becomes parts per quadrillion.

      • I don’t know about that. I’ve seen oily patches on calm seas 100′ in diameter from one person in the water. When a few people are in the water the whole area is covered. That can’t be good.

    • The Great Barrier Reef is 2300 kilometres long.
      It comprises an area of 344,000 square kilometres. This area is bigger than the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Holland combined. Or is half the size of Texas
      Is between 60 and 250 kilometres in width
      Has an average depth of 35 metres in its inshore waters, while on outer reefs, continental slopes extend down to depths of more than 2000 metres

      I doubt if a bit of sunscreen or pee will have a discernible affect on that.

      And given the large divergence in reef depth I can hardly see that smallish surface water temperature differences have much influence either.

  9. The Worshipful Guild of Sun Screen Manufacturers refutes this allegation and will lobby the Australian PM accordingly, together with Health Officials, Skin Surgeons and other controlling influencers until the effects of the current, now naturally diminishing El Nino abate.
    Another Groundhog day revisited.

  10. and eventually moving back to the source of more sunblock, all caused by the fatuous assertion of an ozone hole, based on no evidence what so ever. Imposed by the coercion state.

    • Honestly, we’ve become a society of hysterics: fearful of the sun, of germs, of allergens, of saturated fats, of gluten, of being outdoors, of being indoors, etc. etc. Much of it is market-driven, of course. Big Health and Big Pharma also contribute, since they benefit.

      • We are right to be fearful of the sun, speaking as a fair-skinned Australian bloke who for much of his career had partially outdoors work and years of that career was without sunscreen apart from greasy zinc oxide. While some of that exposure was from the beach as a child, it’s worth noting that sunscreens weren’t even made available to sailors exposed on deck in the navy. Long story short, I have had skin cancers from my mid-20s and regularly have surgery to remove new ones nearly 40 years later.

  11. What happens to the coral when sea level drops 300′ during the glacial periods, ie 90% of the time.

    • The Great Barrier Reef first began to grow about 18 million years ago. Since this time, various geological events, such as Ice Ages and low seawater levels have interrupted reef growth. The reefs we see today have grown on top of older reef platforms during the last 8000 years – since the last Ice Age.

    • I wonder about coral islands during glacial periods from time to time when there is nothing better to think about. Obviously the living corals move downward with the water level. The “Darwin Line”(s) poleward of which water is too cold to support reef corals presumably move toward the equator somewhat. What I’m not sure about is how fast exposed dead corals erode under the influence of rain and wind. i.e. Before the continental glaciers started to melt 20000 years ago, were all the low coral islands 400 foot high limestone platforms?

    • As long as the rate of change is only a few mm per year, the coral adjust by either colonizing waters that were once too deep (if levels are falling), or building onto the top of the existing coral and moving into waters that were once too shallow (if rising).

      PS, a few mm per year is all that is likely, even in the worst case global warming scare scenario.

  12. Sensible people on the reef do not cover their bodies with sunscreen, using that just for the areas, such as face and hands, that must remain uncovered. For the rest of the body, wear a long sleeved skivvy and long johns so as to potect the skin from UV light.

  13. No, but in 50 years it may be. Not in 2066, but in 50 years. The profits have spoken.

  14. Increase use of sunscreen lead to less skin cancer but more colon cancer. That the trader off no one wants to talk about. The reality is you are swapping one cancer for another when you use sunscreen.

  15. I have well meaning Australians on other fora literally weeping great salty tears over this. One of them just hysterically proclaimed that the frequency and intensity of El Niño are monotonically increasing owing to anthro co2 meaning ultimate doom for the reef unless we all stop breathing now and there was literally nothing I could do to dissuade him of this patently lunatic unevidenced conclusion. Australian greens are in a wackadoodle class all of their own for my money.

  16. JOURNALIST: Bring out your dead!
    ENVIRONMENTALIST: Here are some — propaganda piece please.
    CORAL POLIPS: We’re not dead!
    JOURNALIST: What?
    ENVIRONMENTALIST: Nothing — where’s my propaganda piece.
    CORAL POLIPS: We’re not dead!
    JOURNALIST: Here — they says they’re not dead!
    ENVIRONMENTALIST: Yes, they are.
    CORAL POLIPS: We’re not!
    JOURNALIST: They aren’t.
    ENVIRONMENTALIST: Well, they will be soon, they’re very ill.
    CORAL POLIPS: We’re getting better!
    ENVIRONMENTALIST: No, you’re not — you’ll be stone dead in a moment.
    JOURNALIST: Oh, I can’t take them like that — it’s against regulations.
    CORAL POLIPS: We don’t want to go in the propaganda article!
    ENVIRONMENTALIST: Oh, don’t be such babies.
    JOURNALIST: I can’t take them…
    CORAL POLIPS: We feel fine!
    ENVIRONMENTALIST: Oh, do us a favor…
    JOURNALIST: I can’t.
    ENVIRONMENTALIST: Well, can you hang around a couple of minutes? They won’t be long.
    JOURNALIST: Naaah, I got to go on to Canada’s — they’ve lost ninety thousand hectares today.
    ENVIRONMENTALIST: Well, when is your next round?
    JOURNALIST: Thursday.
    CORAL POLIPS: We think we’ll go for a swim.
    ENVIRONMENTALIST: You’re not fooling anyone y’know. Look, isn’t there something you can do?
    CORAL POLIPS: We feel happy… We feel happy.
    [whop]
    ENVIRONMENTALIST: Ah, thanks very much.
    JOURNALIST: Not at all. See you on Thursday.

    (After Monty Python.)

  17. If you have light skin, virtually every skin tumor, benign or malignant, skin wrinkles, and even white hair, is caused by solar damage. You have to be brain damaged to expose white skin to the the UV light around Australia. Add since many of those people are descended from Irish who were shipped there as punishment, you have a skin disease disaster.

    If you nave black skin, your fingernail beds are still pink, and that is where you will get your melanoma.

    And, yes, coral bleaching seems to be part of the life cycle of coral. Get over it.

  18. Ignoring the silly claims about global warming destroying reefs that have survived far greater changes in the past. I’m interested in the sunscreen claims which, at least to my thinking, has some potential validity. Are there studies showing the concentration of these sunscreen chemicals at the reefs and that those concentrations actually have an effect – or is this more of the if you feed a rat a pound of a chemical each day then eventually it gets cancer?

    • I refer you to joelobryan at 8:31 am

      “The whole sunscreen scare is like peeing in the ocean and then wondering if you made it saltier. Do the math on volumes to derive concentrations, then factor in currents and tides circulating fresh seawater. Parts per trillion quickly becomes parts per quadrillion.”

      Even thinking that sunscreen could have an effect is to make a colossal error of scale. I recall a physics teacher a long time ago talking about the dangers of computational devices and how people will make an error and write down the speed of light as 3 m/s because that’s what the calculator is telling them and it’s never wrong. It’s important to develop an intuitive feel for the general scale of things. We only have so much time for researching stuff and my recommendation is to not waste that precious time on something so very clearly stupid.

      • It’s also important to use the observations we have to start the investigative process. If high sea temps are regularly coincidental with “bleaching ”, then high temps are a likely cause. The oceans are large and local conditions are changed by weather, currents and upwellings. Sometimes changes will be too fast for the local organisms. I live in Western Canada, where hard winters, dry summers, late frosts, early frosts, etc. have the same sort of effect on the land ecosystem. The oceans are not an alien world. Life is life. Resilient to some things and vulnerable to others, but very resilient overall.

      • Well, that’s poor thinking as well. His calculations are not data and based on an assumption that the sunscreen is evenly diluted throughout the oceans. I’m sure some reefs (most reefs) have the parts per trillion or less exposure. However, undoubtedly some reefs near swimming beaches will have significantly higher concentrations. I’m interested in data, observations and experiments. Let’s not go down the non-science path of global warmists and assume some unproven model or calculation provides data.

      • Alas Patrick it is still your own thinking which is poor. Joel has used perfect mixing and therefore constant dilution as the theoretical maximum concentration at the reef to give the very worst case condition. The source of contamination is at the bathing beaches and the average distance out to the reef is around 96 km. There will of course exist a concentration gradient between the source and any point out in the ocean so what Joel has done is to assume that perfect mixing has taken place in order that the gradient is reduced to zero for worst case. He’s also assumed a closed system so that no ongoing dilution occurs from water incoming from the pelagic side of the reef. Neither of these extreme things could in practice ever happen but even a rudimentary look at these extreme hypothetical worst case numbers, along with absurdly high sunscreen-basted human bather packing densities, places worst case concentrations in the parts per trillion range.

        If there were data indicating that bleaching occurs predominantly at close inshore reef sites opposite popular bathing beaches then you’d have cause to investigate further. As it is – there isn’t – and the numbers indicate evanescently homeopathic tiny pollutant – if such it even is – concentrations. To pursue this line of enquiry further is simply bad science and entirely consistent with the way in which modern co2 climate pseudoscience operates. In other words, generate a ridiculous unscientific a priori conclusion and then go out looking for things to support that. But please, by all means, don’t let us hold you up …

      • While fun to poo poo every statement made, it might be better to actually look at the evidence. ..

        One sample

        http://phys.org/news/2015-10-lathering-sunscreen-cancerkilling-coral-reefs.html4

        Oxybenzone also caused coral bleaching, which is a prime cause of coral mortality worldwide. Corals bleach when they lose or expel the algae that normally live inside them, thus losing a valuable source of nutrition. In addition, coral larvae exposed to increasing oxybenzone concentrations suffered more DNA damage.

        Cells from seven species of corals were killed by oxybenzone at concentrations similar to those detected in ocean water samples. Three of the species that the researchers tested are currently listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act.

        The team concluded in the published paper that “Oxybenzone poses a hazard to coral reef conservation, and threatens the resiliency of coral reefs to climate change.”

        Others on the research team included scientists from Haereticus Environmental Laboratory; the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the National Aquarium in Baltimore; the University of Hawaii; and Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.

        IIRC the needed concentration was ppb to ppt level. Hormonal effects don’t take much…

        All it takes is one guy on a boat taking a dive to looky loo and a large area can have issues. Now look at the tour bouts of dozens of kids per load… (my son was on one, nice photos of his dive). As a pale blond surface diving, he was lathered up… (prior to the article date).

  19. Coral bleaching is to reefs what burning is to forests.

    Ocean rock with coral skeletons is the basis for great diversity and flourishing life on a reef, if corals didn’t bleach regularly reefs would be much less diverse.

    I’ve built many a reef tank starting with rock that has algae and deal corals on it, called live rock. This here is the start of a reef. Looks awful doesn’t it…

    yet it is the foundation for this

    Corals die and the home the deal skeletons provide create an even more diverse environment for reef life to thrive.
    As long as the waters are not polluted and the reef is not being hacked up for the reef aquarium trade as other reefs have been, then they will be fine because every die seeds even more life than was lost in the die-off

    • Mark.
      Thanks for the info and photos, you prove what I always think when reading WUWT it’s readers, contributors and commenters like yourself are the smartest group of people in the world, facts always fly in the face of warmist and always will!

      • TG I think you’ll find the common denominator here is people rooted in reality not concept. You are also a member of the sane gang :D

      • I’ve ripped into NAT GEO over their reporting on reefs these past two years via any means I had, email facebook twitter. Their “marine biologists” they cite are idiots.

      • It depends, it takes a few weeks to properly cure and mature your live rock, then you can start adding corals and fish when your reef’s parameters are on the money and stable.

        You can probably buy matured live rock, which lets you get to adding corals and fish SLOWLY a bit at a time after 2 or 3 weeks.

        There is a lot of work in building your own reef, and cost, but it is really rewarding when you have built it and see the results.

  20. Good discussion. I do wonder just how much sunscreen is really being used, and if it is toxic to corals at that level–greens have a problem with math.

    • No doubt when they studied this, they put a large amount of the ingredients tested into a small closed water body with corals in it, like their acidity tests, and could only cause mortality with ludicrously high ppm.

      Busy beaches near reefs and reefs that see a lot of water activity would mean direct delivery of sunscreen ingredients into reefs.

      Still, its always amusing that life is allegedly static and never changing until “humans change things”.

      Cos you know, if man wasn’t around 99.999% of all the species that ever lived EVAH would be here today.. :D

  21. Life is simple for a green activist…
    Who done it? (all things bad)

    If it happened in nature, mankind done it.
    If it happened in the human social/political world, Bush, the US, and evil capitalists done it.

  22. Where man does not go-

    “Fifty years after the atomic blast that devastated the Bikini Atoll, vast expanses of corals in the area seem to be flourishing once again, much to the surprise of scientists”

    “I didn’t know what to expect — some kind of moonscape perhaps. But it was incredible, huge matrices of branching Porites coral (up to 8 meters [25 feet] high) had established, creating a thriving coral reef habitat,” said study team member Zoe Richards of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University. “Throughout other parts of the lagoon it was awesome to see coral cover as high as 80 percent and large tree-like branching coral formations with trunks 30 centimeters [12 inches] thick.”

    http://www.livescience.com/2438-bikini-atoll-corals-recovering-atomic-blast.html

  23. The Great barrier reef is also on the border of the hi UV range zone, and with El Nino UV conditions can rather quickly (relatively speaking) go up.

    “When a strong El Niño occurs, there is a substantial change in the major east-west tropical circulation, causing a significant redistribution of atmospheric gases like ozone”
    http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4791

  24. Today is the great Dickie Attenborough’s ninetieth birthday. Such a pity that he was conned by the BBC to say that Adelie penguins were declining and Antarctic ice shrinking when neither was true. His recent TV programmes about the Barrier Reef were full of warmist alarmism. Such a pity.

    • Attenborough at least admitted he has no clue about “global warming” even though he believes it. He’s at least got some integrity, much to the annoyance of many environmentalists who cited his support as a reason to believe.

      • Hi Mark, can you point me to where he says he has no clue? I have a relative who would benefit from that. Thanks

    • David Attenborough. Dickie (Sir Richard) was his brother, the actor and film director.

  25. The Current iteration of the Great Barrier Reef is only 8000 years old as sea level was a lot lower before the current inter-glacial. It’s very hard for coral to grow out of water especially when it’s nearly 400ft above sea level.

    • The very reason corals can keep up with sea level is because they die and more grow atop the dead ones.
      The greenies and marine biologists either forget or willfully ignore that fact.

      Reefs cannot grow upwards without coral mortality, it is essential

      • So logically, as coral grows toward the surface it can only get within a certain distance of the surface. Perhaps UV is the limiting factor. Perhaps different corals have different tolerances. In a mature reef the various types of coral will all have grown to the limit of their proximity to the surface and become vulnerable to any increase of UV?

  26. Iffen, ….. iffen, …… ifffen, ….

    The Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of the worst bleaching event ever seen,

    What about all of these other coral reefs?

    Major coral reef sites are seen as red dots on this world map. Most of the reefs, with a few exceptions are found in tropical and semitropical waters, between 30° north and 30° south latitudes.” Read more @ http://www.coris.noaa.gov/about/what_are/

    • What are those red dots well inland in central Australia? There also appear to be coral reefs inland in Madagascar, along the border of Chile and Argentina, and south of the Amazonian delta in Brazil.

  27. We need to see some balance here.

    What is not being highlighted, except in some obscure research publications, is the new reefs and reefs growing at extraordinary rates, including OTHER PARTS of the Great Barrier Reef itself!

    Another topic being avoided, is the vast devastation of Virgin reefs by China as they develop islands for airports and harbors in the South China Sea.

    • Shhh China according to Di Caprio are “heroes of climate change”. We must ignore any harm to actual ecosystems.

  28. ” These coral reefs are complex beautiful creatures, not only providing shelter for marine life but also providing a critical system for storing excess CO2. They have colonized on the ocean floor, forming iconic “banks” that define the FGBNMS, as well as on the surrounding oil and gas platforms, giving additional (and unexpected) environmental value to the steel structures”

  29. And I was just a pondering, ………………………

    Has anyone ever considered the possibility that the aforesaid Coral Bleaching, ….. aka: mass die-off, ….. is nothing more than an inherited genetic function whereby the individuals within the species just up and dies after “X” number of months or years of surviving?

    If so, it wouldn’t surprise me ….. simply because there are quite a few different species that are “destined” to comply to a predetermined life expectancy. The most well-known of said species is surely the Salmon ….. with the “13 year” and “17 year” Locusts (cicadas) in 2nd place.

    • Samuel,

      Which salmon do you have in mind? The different species of Pacific salmon have life cycles of different durations.

      Some Atlantic salmon don’t die after spawning, but return to the ocean and do it all over again.

      • @ Bye Doom ( I love that one!), On the West coast that species of salmon is known as a “Steel Head” must be from bunking their heads against rocks as they move up-stream and so they survive as their cousins are silly and die off as soon as they get “screwed”. I though that there were “Steel Heads” on the Atlantic coast as well but maybe they are called “New Foundlanders’? :) .

      • Which salmon do you have in mind?

        Bye Doom,

        If you really think it matters …….. then here are two (2) you can select from.


        Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spec.),.


        Columbia River sockeye salmon

        Or, Bye Doom, maybe you could choose a species of Mayfly. There are over 3,000 species of mayflies worldwide, grouped into over 400 genera in 42 families most with different “dying times”.

    • There must Ave been a few natural events in Earth’s history that converted reefs into atolls, islands, and sand…. It’s the height of human arrogance to believe we are more powerful than Mother Nature. She laughs at us for our puny lifespans and pec kings. We are barely gnats to her. When we are gone, she will just wipe it clean, and start over if she wants to.

  30. Just a note about the scale of ocean swimming in Far North Queensland for those who imagine that our beaches are crowded like Surfer’s Paradise with thousands of people. The reef starts several hundred kilometres north of Surfer’s Paradise. The biggest tourist part of the reef is here in Cairns which is over a thousand (closer to two thousand) kilometres north of where the reef starts. Here the number of people in the water is at least an order of magnitude less. Where South East Queensland is home to perhaps 3 or 4 million people. Cairns has around 150,000. The centre of the biggest bleaching incident is Lizard Island which is a couple of hundred kilometres north of here. Yes folks. The rumours are true. The Great Barrier Reef is really, really big.

    Along with the smaller numbers of people in the water, swimming near the shore in the wet season is almost always in stinger nets to protect swimmers from potentially deadly jellyfish. There are people covered head to toe in suncreeen, but they tend not to go in the water. Swimming near the reef is almost all from tour boats and in neck to toe swimmer suits. Such tours are popular but numbers are measured in the hundreds per day rather than tens of thousands.

    I am therefore dubious about claims that sunscreen is a significant factor in the health of the reef. Although the region has a range of attractions, a significant part of the local economy is reef tourism. If coral bleaching was affecting the tourist trade then it would be the talk of the town. As a local I can assure you that it is not.

    There was a story recently that tour operators refused to take alarmist greens politicians to bleached parts of the reef because they feared publicity. Maybe this story had that as its origin and then morphed and inverted as stories invariably do in the hands of journalists.

    By the way, if anybody can tell me what the climate of Cairns was 30 years ago and how it has changed since, I’d be pleased to know. All I ever seem to get when I ask the question is misdirection and abuse.

    • I agree with what you say to be honest, as I said above, the study\s done on this involved corals in a tank and someone putting in enough of the suspect chemicals in until it causes bleaching and then they wonder.. idiots.

      meanwhile as we can see here, OA is a valid hypothesis… not

  31. Only one man is cited in the article
    A “conservationist” John Rumney who runs a tour business and doesn’t seem keen for competition
    He has been predicting the collapse of the reef for some decades now

  32. The moment I was old enough to be frightened, I was told the Great Barrier Reef had limited days because it was dying due to mankind’s evil influence. I’m sure the scare was around long before that too.

    I was 12 and the year was 1970 – 46 years ago!

    • Environmentalists seem to have a sixth sense regarding the apex in the survival curve of any given species. They always seem to know. Yet somehow..

      Look at this outlandish claim. Seriously… there is no hope for these idiots
      “Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. This is nearly 1,000 times the “natural” or “background” rate and, say many biologists, is greater than anything the world has experienced since the vanishing of the dinosaurs nearly 65m years ago”

      Estimation has replaced science, empirical data are anathema to these people. The rue the fact Polar Bears are not dying like they predicted

      • Exactly! They pluck figures from the air, every catastrophe is “just around the corner” but nothing ever happens. At some point we as a society have to deal with this kind of repeated deceit. It’s bad enough when it just worries a few, but this one has shaken the whole world and raked in trillions of dollars, causing incredible damage to the environment and massive hardships to people who should have received cheap abundant energy decades ago. This is a crime and they should not be let off the hook this time. It is too deliberate – they have blood on their hands.

  33. There is increasing evidence that lack of Vitamin D is a very bad thing. Search for Dr Malcolm Kendrick. He seems to be a kind of WUWT for diet/cholesterol/heart disease. Also Vitamin D.
    Seems while sunscreen may prevent skin cancers, it may possibly kill up to 10 times as many people in other ways due to low Vitamin D.

  34. “The Guardian claims tour operators are refusing to take people to see coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, for fear it will put tourists off from visiting.”

    This statement by the leftist Guardian is patently untrue!!!!!!

    The tour operators refused to take a group of Greens politicians to look at only the bleached portions of the reef because they (the Greens politicians) wanted to use the footage that they took in anti coal mining propaganda. The tour operators offered to give them a tour of the reef.

    If I can find a link to an interview with one of the tour operators, I will post it here.

    • @ TedM , + many!!!. And thanks for the link and the truth. The more of these scams are shown in the true light of day the better. Thanks again, I am sharing!

  35. Here’s the truth on the reef. A tour operator in Cairns has refused to take Greens senators to view coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef because negative publicity would be detrimental to the local tourism industry.

    Mr McCarthy: “I made if perfectly clear that I wouldn’t have any part of a day on the reef that was going to further build this bloody hysteria story that the reef is dead and all these outlandish claims that is doing a massive amount of damage to the reef’s reputation and to the tourism industry’s reputation around the globe,” he said.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-29/tour-operator-refuses-greens-senators-barrier-reef-bad-publicity/7370336

    • Did you listen to the interview with the tour operator. I would suggest not. that is where you will get the truth.

  36. Wonder if Ningaloo reef off the NW coast of WA is suffering bleaching? No reports of bleaching has been seen in MSM. Surely if AGW is truely global all reefs should be suffering.

  37. Bleaching is caused by very low tides which in turn are caused by El Nino. The corals in the Red Sea don’t bleach even at 34 degrees – there’s very little tide there.

  38. “…and that up to 10 percent of coral reefs are threatened by sunscreen-induced bleaching.”

    Whether or not that’s really true, what the hell’s wrong with getting a suntan for protection? As someone who’s had psoriasis all his life I’m prepared to argue that, um, ‘suggestion’ with anybody. And, furthermore, what’s wrong with a little vitamin D?

  39. You don’t have to go to the Red Sea, Indonesia or the Persian Gulf to find 36 degree (Celsius) water.

    At high tide on a calm hot summer’s day, the water on top of the reefs of the GBR is as hot as a warm bath. Uncomfortably so….. and at low tide it runs off and bathes the top few meters of the surrounding fringe of each reef. As a commercial crayfish (tropical spiny lobster) diver, I used to see this all the time.

    The corals have adapted to these conditions…. and it isn’t just one sort of coral, there are numerous species that take advantage of each area. The coastal area is different from the outer reef. The reef fringe is different from the reef tops. The fringe is different from the shallow sunken reefs. The shallow sunken reefs are different from the deeper bottom corals. The northern end of the GBR is different from the southern end of the GBR…..etc.

    After a cyclone or extremely heavy flooding, huge lengths of the Queensland coastal area has so much fresh water that the sponges in 25 meters of water and up to 5 miles off the coast are dead and dying…. As a commercial trawler owner we observed this quite stinky fact several times.

    The whole bottom was nuked. Nothing was down there alive except fish with high tolerances for fresh water, pony fishes, etc. A week or so later you’d be back there catching good catches of prawns (shrimp)… The sponges that did survive now have a large hole in their center….. The reefs fringing the coastal islands, rocks and shoals still manage to weather these obviously catastrophic salinity, pH and temperature changes.

    The GBR is a lot more resilient than people give it credit for…. The Ecofascists have turned it into a funding cash cow by turning every little event into some sort of cataclysm.

  40. Quote “Tourism operators have broken their silence 170 businesses and individuals pleading with the Australian government to take urgent action to tackle climate change and ensure the reef survives.”

    Oh yeh everyone, don’t worry – China’s, India’s & Asia’s growing emissions don’t affect our reef.
    Nothing to see there

  41. Further to J.H. Comments on types of reefs and exposure to UV at low tide, the water temp range from the bottom of the GBR at say Bundaberg to the tip of Cape York at Thursday Island can be 4-6*C (BOM charts 26-32*C winter/summer) but still way below the Arabian Gulf waters 34-36*C and with El Niño warming being in the order of +1*C. the bleaching, which is on a mass of different coral types, it ain’t just anthro or even ENSO warming.

  42. This is probably an answer to my email to the Grauniad, in which I berrated them for not mentioning that the tour operators (and the tourists) were all saying that the reef was in great condition. Check out the website of the Quicksilver tour operator, working out of Cairns.

    There are two separate threats to the reef, stress bIeaching and Crown of Thorns (CoT) starfish decimation.

    Interestingly, this item from the Oz government marine department says that bleached corals are not dead. They are bleached but still alive, and take up to two years to die after a bleaching event. Which is why bleached corals can recover quickly, because they only need to recolonise with zooxanthellae algae and everything is back to normal.

    Quote:
    Acute or prolonged stressful environmental conditions cause a breakdown in this symbiotic relationship (with zooxanthellae algae), first revealing the fluorescent pigments and then leaving the white calcium carbonate skeleton visible through the coral tissue. Bleached corals can no longer gain energy from photosynthesis, and if bleaching persists for an extended period, corals will starve and die.

    http://www.aims.gov.au/docs/research/climate-change/coral-bleaching/coral-bleaching.html

    And in 2012, they were still saying that the greatest threat to the GBR was the CoT starfish, not stress bleaching. And it is thought that CoT blooms are enhanced by agricultural fertiliser runoff.

    Quote:
    In conclusion we can state unequivocally that CoTS remain the greatest threat to the coral of the GBR and thus also indirectly to coral reef fish, although obviously of lesser threat to seagrass, dugongs, and some other megafauna.

    http://theconversation.com/great-barrier-reef-dying-beneath-its-crown-of-thorns-6383

    • When there is an imbalance in nature and the CoT is such (they only feed really on fast growing corals and not slow growing corals) then nature takes a while to adjust, with increasing numbers of CoT, this will lead to an increase in predators of CoT like the Giant Triton snail and the Stars and Stripes pufferfish.

      Those populations will increase and address the imbalance eventually

      We should mind our own business :D

      • Right you are, Mark, …… just like the cycling “foxes n’ rabbits” population use to be in different areas in North America. A decrease in foxes = increase in rabbits. An increase in rabbits = increase in foxes. An increase in foxes = decrease in rabbits. A decrease in rabbits = decrease in foxes.

        But many humans didn’t mind their business and they introduced a “wild card” that is detrimental to both the above “foxes n’ rabbits”. And that “wild card” is the house cat, ….. both the household “pets” that are permitted to freely roam the neighborhoods and the feral cats that were set free to reproduce and survive on their own in both the neighborhoods and countryside.

        Those cats are deadly predators of both rabbits, songbirds and other gamebirds ….. and the cats only predator is the eastern US is the Coyote or Coy dog which might as well be “no predator”.

      • The ‘experts’ say that CoT larva has a better survival rate when fertilizer runoff helps increase plankton counts. While this sounds plausible, is it true? Do most CoT larva die under ‘normal’ plankton levels, then mostly survive when plankton levels are higher?

        The other explanation seems more likely. When the number of CoT predators are reduced from over fishing etc., then CoT becomes a problem.

        I got this from Stanford’s Microdocs:

        Predators of Crown-of-thorns starfish larvae
        •sponges
        • bivalves
        • sea squirts
        • coral

        Predators of juvenile Crown-of-thorns starfish
        • Fireworms
        • Harlequin shrimp
        • some marine snails

        Predators of adult Crown-of-thorns starfish
        • Pufferfish
        • Triggerfish
        • Pacific Triton

        Apparently Trigger fish and the Pacific Triton are often over fished.

      • “and the cats only predator is the eastern US is the Coyote or Coy dog which might as well be “no predator”

        I would say (partly from personal experience) that the Bobcat is a considerably more efficient cat predator than the Coyote.

  43. For what it’s worth.

    I spent quite a few years sailing my yacht around New Guinea, the Solomons & other pacific islands. In quite a few areas at the time, little charting had been done. Much that had was based on much dodgy navigation by naval people during the Pacific war.

    In places, even the coastline of islands was dotted, & there were many notations such as, this island reported 7 nautical miles southeast of its charted position, 1944.

    In this environment I used my knowledge of coral to find passages through local barrier reefs. Rather than any product of human habitation, [not much of that in many areas in the islands], it is freshwater runoff from rivers that is toxic to coral, it can not survive in low salinity. Add the very large loads of silt that issues from rivers occasionally & you develop the usual pattern of a coral free band along the coastline, with a few entrances at river mouths.

    The same thing occurs in mature lagoons. These can develop very low salinity within the enclosed area during more extreme rainfall years, which dramatically inhibits the coral growth with in a lagoon. Growth concentrates on the outer wall of the reef/islands that form the lagoon, in the full salinity of the open ocean.

    It really is a pity that most researchers would rather play in a pond, with excess synthetic levels of CO2, than go outside, & look at the broad picture.

  44. If warmer water caused bleaching / death of coral, there would be no coral in the warmest seas such as the Indian Ocean and the furthest West part of the Pacific (Gulf of Thailand, Western part of the South China Sea, etc). Bbbbbbbbbut … there’s lots of coral in such places.

    • no no no, the environmentalists have collectivised corals under their banner, red banner. Lenin speaks for corals now.

  45. Fake pictures of bleached coral have been shown on hundreds of websites. The original picture had nothing to do with bleaching, and has twice been altered to look bleached.

    Every picture needs its origin checked.

  46. The headlines read ‘97% of the Barrier Reef affected by coral bleaching’, in the usual alarmist way trying to paint a picture of the Barrier Reef on its last legs.
    What a legitimate scientist could have written is that ‘coral bleaching could be detected on 97% of the ‘number#1’ sites examined. Of these sites, only ‘number#2’, or x%, showed moderate bleaching. Only ‘number#3′ sites, or y%, showed severe bleaching.’
    But this would not be as effective in beating the drum.

  47. Apparently there was no measurable amount of the chemicals in the water, but the effect is not dose dependent (just like homeopathy):

    “Under normal situations on a coral reef, corals would not be subjected to these high concentrations because of rapid dilution,” van Woesik said.

    But according to study author Danovaro, the effect is not dose dependent—so coral’s exposure to a very small dose of sunscreen is just as dangerous as a high exposure.

  48. “there were few if any reefs nearby capable of supplying new recruits to replenish the lost corals at Scott Reef.”

    Er… coral larvae are planktonic and drift with the ocean currents. Note that no tropical island in the Pacific or Indian ocean, no matter how isolated, is without corals.

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