Modern Scientific Controversies Part 2: The Great Barrier Reef Wars

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen

 

Prologue:  This is the second in a series of several essays that will discuss ongoing scientific controversies, a specific type of which are often referred to in the science press and elsewhere as “Wars” – for instance, this essay covers the Great Barrier Reef Wars.  The purpose of the series is to illuminate the similarities and differences involved in each.   I apologize to all the Australian readers here – the version I write of this story is from my outsider-looking-in viewpoint which may very different than the story viewed from Down Under.

Warning:  This is not a short essay.  Dig in when you have time to read a longer piece.

 

From The Australian, Saturday June 11, 2016, “Reef whistleblower censured by James Cook University” [paywalled]: (h/t reader Hivemind)

When marine scientist Peter Ridd suspected something was wrong with photographs being used to highlight the rapid decline of the Great Barrier Reef, he did what good scientists are supposed to do: he sent a team to check the facts.

After attempting to blow the whistle on what he found — healthy corals — Professor Ridd was censured by James Cook University and threatened with the sack. After a formal investigation, Professor Ridd — a renowned campaigner for quality assurance over coral research from JCU’s Marine Geophysics Laboratory — was found guilty of “failing to act in a collegial way and in the academic spirit of the institution”.

“His crime was to encourage questioning of two of the nation’s leading reef institutions, the Centre of Excellence for Coral Studies and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, on whether they knew that photographs they had published and claimed to show long-term collapse of reef health could be misleading and wrong.”

[for more on this story see  Climate etc. ]

This rather bizarre sequence of events follows rapidly on the heels of this:

The Guardian (UK),  Thursday 26 May 2016,  Australia scrubbed from UN climate change report after government intervention:

“Exclusive: All mentions of Australia were removed from the final version of a UNESCO report on climate change and world heritage sites after the Australian government objected on the grounds it could impact on tourism.

[Photo caption] The Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of its worst crisis in recorded history. Unusually warm water has caused 93% of the reefs along the 2,300km site to experience bleaching.

Every reference to Australia was scrubbed from the final version of a major UN report on climate change after the Australian government intervened, objecting that the information could harm tourism.

Guardian Australia can reveal the report “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate”, which Unesco jointly published with the United Nations environment program and the Union of Concerned Scientists on Friday, initially had a key chapter on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as small sections on Kakadu and the Tasmanian forests…..”

The UNESCO report, “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate”, introduces itself this way:

“This report provides an overview of the increasing vulnerability of World Heritage sites to climate change impacts and the potential implications for and of global tourism. It also examines the close relationship between World Heritage and tourism, and how climate change is likely to exacerbate problems caused by unplanned tourism development and uncontrolled or poorly managed visitor access, as well as other threats and stresses. Tourism can also play a positive role in helping to secure the future of many World Heritage sites in a changing climate.

The report’s goal is to provide up-to-date information and a basis for action on climate change, tourism and World Heritage in the follow-up to the adoption of the Paris Agreement by the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2015…”

The report itself was not written by UNESCO staff, but rather prepared for it by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS),  an advocacy group originally organized to combat the nuclear arms race, but now a major campaigner for a broad range of energy issues and a major promoter of the consensus global warming/climate change world view, with a Board of Directors of impressive credentials, the vast majority of its members are everyday citizens.  In fact the Lead Author of the report was Adam Markham, the deputy director of climate and energy with the Union of Concerned Scientists who previously directed the World Wildlife Fund’s climate campaign, leading WWF’s international climate team at the 1997 Kyoto Conference.

What exactly did the government of Australia object to in the proposed sections on Australia in the report?  The final version written by the UCS on the GBR:

Higher temperatures and ocean acidification threaten reefs

The biggest threat to the GBR today, and to its ecosystems services, biodiversity, heritage values and tourism economy, is climate change, including warming sea temperatures, accelerating rates of sea level rise, changing weather patterns and ocean acidification. Coral reefs worldwide are being directly impacted by warming waters and ocean acidification, and climate change is exacerbating other localized stresses. Ocean acidification is occurring because of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A significant portion of this CO2 is being absorbed by the oceans and the resulting increases in seawater acidity reduces the capacity of some marine life, such as corals, to build their calcium carbonate based skeletons. Significant drops in coral growth rate have been recorded in the last two decades for massive Porites corals on the Great Barrier Reef.

Worst ever coral bleaching

Other significant threats to the reef include coastal development, agricultural run-off pollution, port-based shipping activities, illegal fishing and outbreaks of the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish. Assailed by multiple threats, the status of the GBR has been assessed as being poor and deteriorating. Half of its coral cover has been lost over the last three decades. Unusually high sea temperatures have caused nine mass coral bleaching events on the GBR since 1979, and until this year, the worst had been in 1998 and 2002 (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2012, Steffen et al 2009, Hughes et al 2015). But higher water temperatures and a severe El Nino have been pushing corals into the danger zone all over the world in 2015-16, and the Great Barrier Reef is currently suffering the most severe bleaching episode ever recorded.

Coral bleaching occurs when higher than usual maximum temperatures …[description of coral bleaching mechanism snipped — kh]. All indications are that bleaching events will become more frequent and tropical storms more intense with continued global warming, and that this combined with a continued trend in warming water and ocean acidification will be massively detrimental to the GBR. The current bleaching episode has affected more than 90% of the reef, with the worst damage being in the northern region where surveys have confirmed 50% mortality in some places.  ….”

The Australian Government’s Environment Department officially responded:

“The World Heritage Centre initiated contact with the Department of the Environment in early 2016 for our views on aspects of this report.

The department expressed concern that giving the report the title ‘Destinations at risk’ had the potential to cause considerable confusion. In particular, the world heritage committee had only six months earlier decided not to include the Great Barrier Reef on the in-danger list and commended Australia for the Reef 2050 Plan.

The department was concerned that the framing of the report confused two issues – the world heritage status of the sites and risks arising from climate change and tourism. It is the world heritage committee, not its secretariat (the World Heritage Centre), which is properly charged with examining the status of world heritage sites.”

These events in the GBR War have taken place this month, in the last couple of weeks.  Salvo and response.  Two of these stories have been reported here at WUWT:  here and  here.

The latest round of El Niño coral bleaching events brought headlines:

Coral bleaching hits 93% of Great Barrier Reef: scientists by Madeleine Coorey — April 20, 2016 – Yahoo News online

“Sydney (AFP) – Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is suffering its worst coral bleaching in recorded history with 93 percent of the World Heritage site affected, scientists said Wednesday, as they revealed the phenomenon is also hitting the other side of the country.

After extensive aerial and underwater surveys, researchers at James Cook University said only seven percent of the huge reef had escaped the whitening triggered by warmer water temperatures. 2016

 Is this the end of the Great Barrier Reef? — April 8, 2016  by  Tom Arup — Environment editor, The Age

Study: Over 90% of Great Barrier Reef suffering from coral bleaching by Euan McKirdy, CNN Wed April 20, 2016

“At some reefs, the final death toll is likely to exceed 90%. When bleaching is this severe, it affects almost all coral species, including old, slow-growing corals that once lost will take decades or longer to return.”

 Only 7% of the Great Barrier Reef has avoided coral bleaching.  Media Release  — 20 April 2016 —  issued by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University

“The final results of extensive aerial and underwater surveys reveal that 93% of the reef has been affected. …. “We’ve never seen anything like this scale of bleaching before. In the northern Great Barrier Reef, it’s like 10 cyclones have come ashore all at once,” says Professor Terry Hughes”

 

Massive salvos from the one faction,  to which the response was:

The facts on Great Barrier Reef coral mortality — 03 June 2016 – the results from a survey of the GBR by Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

“We’ve opted to release results ahead of final completion of surveys because of widespread misinterpretation of how much of the Reef has died,” he said.

“Our aim is to bring the information from all scientific monitoring into a single picture in the coming months.

“We’ve seen headlines stating that 93 per cent of the Reef is practically dead. We’ve also seen reports that 35 per cent, or even 50 per cent, of the entire Reef is now gone.

“However, based on our combined results so far, the overall mortality is 22 per cent — and about 85 per cent of that die-off has occurred in the far north between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island, 250 kilometres north of Cairns.

“Another round of surveys is scheduled for August to October to assess survivorship, before a final assessment is published.”

The Australian’s Environment Editor,    Graham Lloyd, launches another strike-back on June 4, 2016, with this piece:  “Great Barrier Reef: scientists ‘exaggerated’ coral bleaching” [may appear paywalled for some]

“Activist scientists and lobby groups have distorted surveys, maps and data to misrepresent the extent and impact of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, according to the chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Russell Reichelt. “

“The political debate and the release of the authority’s survey results highlights a growing conflict between the lead Barrier Reef agency and the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce headed by Terry Hughes.

“Dr. Reichelt said the authority had withdrawn from a joint announcement on coral bleaching with Professor Hughes this week “because we didn’t think it told the whole story”. The taskforce said mass bleaching had killed 35 per cent of corals on the northern and central Great Barrier Reef.

“Dr Reichelt said maps accompanying the research had been misleading, exaggerating the impact. “I don’t know whether it was a deliberate sleight of hand or lack of geographic knowledge but it certainly suits the purpose of the people who sent it out,” he said.       [emphasis mine –kh]

“This is a frightening enough story with the facts, you don’t need to dress them up. We don’t want to be seen as saying there is no problem out there but we do want people to understand there is a lot of the reef that is unscathed.”

“Dr Reichelt said there had been widespread misinterpretation of how much of the reef had died.

“We’ve seen headlines stating that 93 per cent of the reef is practically dead,” he said.

“We’ve also seen reports that 35 per cent, or even 50 per cent, of the entire reef is now gone.

“However, based on our combined results so far, the overall mortality rate is 22 per cent — and about 85 per cent of that die-off has occurred in the far north ¬ between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island, 250km north of Cairns. Seventy-five per cent of the reef will come out in a few months time as recovered.”

We see that in just the first six months of this year alone, the Great Barrier Reef has been declared mostly dead and/or doomed by various sources, including a major government reef science group, the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce headed by Terry Hughes.  The government agency with responsibility for the reef and the surrounding protective marine park, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, cries foul, speaks of “deliberate sleight of hand” and misrepresentation and says simply that things are not nearly as bad as portrayed by activists.

Our lead story, featuring Professor Peter Ridd, highlighted his personal attempts at holding the researchers involved in reef studies to a high standard of accuracy and transparency, whistleblowing what are clear (to him) examples of exaggeration and activism-in-place-of-science. He is rewarded by his University, which is also the host of the Terry Hughes’ National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, with censure for “failing to act in a collegial way and in the academic spirit of the institution”.  James Cook University has not announced any intention of investigating charges of scientific misconduct – neither in response to Dr. Reichelt or Professor Ridd.

As we saw in Part 1 of this series, The Salt Wars, on one side of the GBR Wars, we have a number of groups comprising scientists, government groups and agencies (Australian), UN agencies, and outright activist/advocacy groups – many having revolving door membership with one another – whose main message is something along the lines of “The Great Barrier Reef is now or will soon be ruined, a loss to all mankind, and it is the fault of the humans.  Billions must be spent to ensure that it is protected and human activity, of various types depending on the voice,  must be curtailed, including all burning of fossil fuels.”  As is common with all science issues in which advocates see the need for urgent action – the we-must-DO-something approach – every adverse effect is framed as a serious threat that has led or will lead to calamity.  As the GBR fight is deeply embedded in Australian national politics, the GBR Wars get dragged in a wide and dizzying variety of other local and regional issues.

On the other hand, there are reef scientists and marine biologists like Peter Ridd; the calmer head of the GRBMP, Dr. Richard Reichelt; and a handful of Australian journalists critical of advocacy science.  Primarily, this side of the War wants the data to be accurate, evidence-based, non-biased and truly representative of the actualities found across this vast natural ecosystem.  This side riles against calamity-based advocacy reporting.  None of these players are insisting that “all is well”…rather they try to lay out the challenges that face the reef, acknowledge those challenges which could be mitigated by changes in human practices and policies and focus on trying to understand the complex, complicated, intertwined biological system which created the reef over the last 15,000 years and generally accept that the GBR and its protection-by-policy under continued expansion and development of human society onshore represents a “wicked problem”.

And then there are the scientists that study science itself, among them a group headed by Carlos M. Duarte, lead author of “Reconsidering Ocean Calamities” published in the journal BioScience December 2014.

Quoting this paper (which does not specifically address the GBR Wars):

“The  previous  discussion  of  the  forces  that  enter  into   play  to  perpetuate  the  perception  of  anthropogenic  ocean    calamities  identifies  a  failure  of  current  processes  to  fully    comply  with  Merton’s  (1973)  norms  of  science.  In  order    to  progress,  challenges  to  these  calamities  necessitate  a    strong  inference  approach.  Foremost,  a  failure  to  support    organized skepticism, which must be underpinned by a fair   but  rigorous  peer-review  system,  is  largely  responsible  for    the  perpetuation  of  the  perception  of  some  of  the  calamities,  in  cases  in  which  these  may  be  unsupported  by  robust    inference  or  observations.  Organized  skepticism  requires    that  the  scientific  community  concerned  with  problems  in    the  marine  ecosystem  undertake  a  rigorous  and  systematic    audit  of  ocean  calamities,  with  the  aim  of  assessing  their    generality,  severity,  and  immediacy.  Such  an  audit  of  ocean    calamities  would  involve  a  large  contingent  of  scientists    coordinated by a global program set to assess ocean health.   This also requires funding to collect sufficient data and that   they  be  made  openly  available,  because  only  1%  of  ecological  data  are  currently  available  after  the  publication  of    the  results.  The  analysis  illustrated    here  provides  a  model  of  the  elements  involved  in  such  an    exercise.  However,  disinterest  is  also  compromised  by  the    set  of  rewards  that  enter  into  play  for  research  that  identifies or supports calamities, because this is most likely to be   published in top journals that seek media impact from their   content or to receive public funding.”

Overall, in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef issue is nearly always seen being used as a “political cudgel” – by both sides —  something with which to hit “the other side” over the head in attempts to achieve some  political/social/environmental goal.  The green leaning advocacy groups use the threat of “threats to the GBR” in their attempts to stop development in Queensland (which adjoins the GBR), particular of the coal industry and Big Agriculture there.  Environmental groups latch on to the “global warming causes high sea surface temperatures which bleach reefs” message to carry forward their political and social goals.  Scuba diving associations straddle the fence—they want to “save the reef” but must admit, from personal experience, that it is in pretty good shape, albeit harmed by recent coral bleaching.

This has been going on for years and years – all of the above occurs in a period of only three or four months, and represents a  very small fraction of the thrust, parry, and counter-thrust in even that short time period.  Every study or report about the reef is the subject of argument and controversy, the proffered facts are questioned and countered, opinions are presented as fact, fact claimed to be opinion and  personalities are  besmirched.

In the GBR Wars, we find a single government agency — the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority – charged with the protection of a natural phenomenon the size of the US State of Vermont New Mexico which stretches approximately 2300 km along the coast of Queensland in north-eastern.

The official map clearly shows the scope of the situation.  What you can’t see here in this smaller version (click the link to see the original in a new tab or window) is that the GBR Marine Park boundary has little exclusion zones extending out from the harbors of the major population centers….had it not, every single action and decision regarding harbors, shipping, port  development and the like would come under the scrutiny and regulations of the Marine Park.  As it stands, those decisions and actions all have to take into account any and all possible effects on the marine park and the reef and local actions become “causes” – in short, simple things can become very complicated.  Part of the Park Authority’s responsibility extends to the entire Catchment Area, the land area from which water flows to the same body of water, in this case the GBR Marine Park, giving the Authority an interest in activities on land as well as in the sea.

GBRMP_map

Link to full sized map. (added 10:27 Eastern time, 20 June ’16)

As Australia attempts to manage and protect the reef, its scientists and scientific bodies carry on a seeming endless battle over even the basic facts concerning the condition of the reef and marine park – leaving policy makers and the public to 1) pick one or the other polarized viewpoints regardless of the facts or 2) scratch their heads in bewilderment, or 3) dismiss science and scientists are just another tool of politicians and advocacy groups.  Naturally, the on-the-ground situation is much more complicated, with individuals and groups staking out positions and viewpoints spread across a broad spectrum of understandings and approaches.

Australia has done a very commendable job in establishing the GBRMP, laying out reasonable and science-based long-term plans and goals and  establishing monitoring mechanisms to judge progress and effectiveness.  Even the sometimes-overzealous UNESCO acknowledged this and declined to list the GBR World Heritage Area as “in danger” (as an In-Danger listing would have been a huge embarrassment, the Australian government lobbied long and hard, and successfully, to avoid it).

 

What We Know About The Great Barrier Reef:

  1. The Great Barrier Reef, and the surrounding protective Marine Park, covers an area of 344,400 km2 or 134,000 mi2, about the size of the State of Vermont New Mexico or the nation of Italy, stretching 2300 km/14,500 1,430 mi [h/t reader marchesarosa] from the north-eastern tip of the Australia continent south along its eastern shore, approximately the same distance as from Canada to Mexico along the western shore of the United States.
  2. Like all tropical reef systems, it is a complex mixture of life forms associated with calcifying corals and the structures they build over time forming a ridge of living coral, coral skeletons, and calcium carbonate deposits from other organisms such as calcareous algae, mollusks, and protozoans.
  3. Like all other coral reefs, the GBR is adversely affected by tropical cyclones which do physical damage to near-surface reefs, coral bleaching events, coral diseases, sedimentation from shore or surrounding sea beds, invasive species, disturbances caused by tourism, outbreaks of competitors or predators (such as the Crown of Thorns starfish, a major problem in some areas of the GBR), over-fishing and depletion of reef-beneficial species, destructive fishing practices (dynamite, cyanide, targeting species for the saltwater aquarium trade), pollution of various kinds and from various sources (mostly man-made) and ship collisions (any contact is physically destructive and serious collisions often cause local pollution – fuels, oils, and ship contents — and leave wrecks that over time become incorporated into the reefs and thus become tourist attractions).   Some of these factors can be avoided, reduced, or mitigated by proper management policies.   Some cannot.
  4. The establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and its associated bureaucracy, regulations, rules, long-term management plan and an effective system of monitoring the reef system represents an encouraging level of engagement by the Australian government.
  5. While many believe that global warming/climate change/ocean acidification will cause unavoidable irreparable damage to coral reef systems around the world, including the GBR, and while coral bleaching events are known to be caused by extreme sea surface water temperatures (such as those recently produced by the 2015-2016 El Niño), the science on the broader issues are subject to a great deal of uncertainty.
  6. The GBRMP covers not only the reefs, but the inshore waters and all their habitats and inhabitants – thus, like in Florida in the USA, there are concerns for sea grass beds, inshore fish species, marine turtles, marine mammals (whales, dolphins, and the dugong  (Australia’s relative of Florida’s manatee) and rules and regulations established to protect them.
  7. From a longer perspective, it pays to remember that the reef has survived unrelenting storms, huge variations of weather and climate, naval battles, flood-born sedimentation and the myriad insults from invasive species, changing biotas and everything else Nature has thrown at it during its long history.

 

What We Know About GBR Politics:

  1. “It’s a mess, meets the test.” (h/t Pete Seeger: lyrics)
  2. Australian citizens overwhelming support preservation and management of the GRBMP – the devil, as the saying goes, is in the details.
  3. Facts, policies, and opinions surrounding the state of, the preservation of, the management of the Great Barrier Reef and the GRB Marine Park are a continuing feature of scientific and political controversy in Australia, with warring government agencies, academic bodies, individual scientists, politicians and political parties of all types and stripes, advocacy groups (social, environmental, political) vying for headlines in the overly cooperative Australian press and broadcast media, in which disaster, calamity, scandal and controversy in high places  are the order of the day.
  4. Unlike some other modern science wars (the Salt Wars or the Climate Wars, for instance), there is no single policy remedy entrenched in the narrative of the “proponent” side, but rather a strident yet vague insistence that things are not going well, that a calamity looms, and that something drastic must be done at once — but what exactly that is depends on the group (out of many) speaking. Much of the current foment aligns with the anti-fossil-fuel/AGW policy demands, but anti-capitalism, anti-development, anti-coal, anti-Big-Agriculture, and other anti- groups get involved in the minutiae of GBR management and politics.
  5. There appears to be some scientific sloppiness – some White Hat bias, some Nobel Noble Cause bias, some publication bias, some bias deriving from social narratives – across  the whole field of Reef Sciences, particularly in Australia itself.
  6. The overriding weirdness of the GBR Wars is that everyone wants the same thing – a healthy, productive, brilliant Great Barrier Reef system, and supports its protection and management – yet what we see from the outside are endless battles among those who should be working together towards this common goal.

 

In the recent incidents highlighted in the beginning of this essay, we see one scientist call out a group of others for what appeared to him to be scientific misconduct at worst and widely biased reporting at best and he is ultimately censured by his University for it.    The Australian government demands, and gets, that all mention of the GBR be withdrawn from a United Nations sponsored report, written for UNESCO by an acknowledged advocacy group with its own viewpoint to promulgate, fearing that the negative reporting would damage Australia’s tourist industry.  The GBRMP authority, established by the government to protect and manage the GBR, withdraws from a planned joint statement regarding the recent coral bleaching event, originally to be issued by itself and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, and publicly asks if the ARC study was based on  “deliberate sleight of hand or lack of geographic knowledge”.

 The Australian people, their government, and the rest of the world are left mystified by the spectacle – unable to discover the true state of affairs concerning the GBR, which stands as one of the wonders of our natural world.  This state of affairs is the unfortunate result of yet another science war – the Great Barrier Reef Wars.

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Author’s Comment Policy: 

As always, I will be glad to answer your questions about the Great Barrier Reef  Wars – which I have followed since the 1990s, when I returned to the Caribbean and experienced tropical reefs almost daily for ten years.

I realize that many readers here will want to move on immediately to discuss the Climate Wars – one of the distinctive science wars of our day. The GBR  War is tied by association with the Climate Wars, nonetheless,  I ask again that you please try to restrain yourselves – we’ll get to that later on in the series.

Many of you will already see parallels and similarities between the two science wars discussed so far.  I encourage you to point them out in the comments.

It is my intention that the last essay in the series will be an attempt to layout a coherent pattern of modern science wars and maybe suggest ways that the different science fields themselves can break these patterns and return their specific area of science back to the standards and practices that should exist in all scientific endeavors.

 

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Jack

Interesting.
The main damage is north of Cairns this time. Locals say that with the stagnant El Nino waters, there was not enough mixing of water to bring enough oxygen down to the polyps. Basically, the El Nino not only causes a drought on land but also at sea.
In the south, using CSIRO figures, the run-off from agricultural areas, mainly extensive cattle grazing, is less than the soil rebuilds each year ( the danger of averages). However, the Reef needs run-off to bring in fresh nutrients.
North of Cairns there is very little irrigation or farming. So farmers, the whipping horse of the greens, cannot be blamed for that section suffering the most damage.
In the south, there is never mention of the dust that collects along towns and roads and that runs into stream with a little rain. That dust just lays as silt and only moves slowly along the river bottom and banks until a big flood flushes it out. Coal mining has increased the dust in the air for sure.
Management of run-off from coal mines is a prickly subject so I won’t go there.

Greg

Reef needs run-off to bring in fresh nutrients.

Can you back that with anything but assertion?
I read that coral exploited an nutrient poor environment where it had little competition. The problem with run-off is precisely that it bring in nutrients which allow of whole range of other species to establish which smother and push out the coral.
Crown of Thorns is an example. Algae are another.
As always the eco-lunes have to pervert every situation into AGW hysteria and thus end up diverting resources and attention from the real problems that need addressing.
If we were not wasting hundreds of billions of dollar on pointless CO2 reduction strategies, we could solve poverty, health, education and a whole raft of REAL environmental issues.

Mark - Helsinki

THe GBR gets nutrients from upwelling, uv in north gbr was all over the place with large dosage fluctuations over 1000 joule differences month to month in 2016 according to ncep estimations. El nino causes several stresses on reefs, uv sterilises, light spectrum changes for sps corals not good, also water flow changes temp increase and h+ concentration, tmax not the issue, change too fast
Sps bleaching is to rèefs is what burning is to borel forests, reefs are helped in the long term by bleaching, it provides the perfect environment for reef growwth when conditions stabalise, there would be much less reef diversity if bleaching of sps did not occur

Another Ian

Kip
Walter Starck doesn’t seem to be quoted in your review. Been around the reef a while.
I saw a recent response to this furore but can’t find is just now

Michael Burke

Walter Starck’s recent response to the latest salvos from the Green Blob is available at Quadrant On line here: http://quadrant.org.au/opinion/doomed-planet/2016/06/reefs-self-serving-saviours/
He’s a refreshing burst of fresh air in the increasingly foetid air of climate debate in Australia.

From the brief by Walter Starck – that’s what I was kind of looking for:
“How much of the total coral area of the GBR has bleached has not been assessed.
A reasonable estimate would likely be closer to 10-20% than to the 90+% being claimed in news reports. Most of the affected corals can be expected to survive and promptly recover, just as they have in other bleaching events.”

GlenM

Quadrant is a very good journal for sensible people.

Don K

Excellent Kip. Three points:
1. In geologic time, the modern GBR is a very recent phenomenon. It didn’t exist in its current location 20000 years ago because sea levels were something over 100 meters below current levels. It’s current location was largely high and dry. Since the GBR apparently followed sea level upwards 100 meters in 10000 years, that suggests that corals will expand quickly into suitable areas. i.e. If the seas warm dramatically, coral reefs may thin in the warmest waters, but will also likely expand poleward.
2. Coral bleaching is frequently equated to coral death. But as Jim Steele discussed here recently, coral bleaching due to temperature is caused by corals expelling their colored algal symbionts. In this case, the coral polyps are still alive and may well restock themselves over time with new — possibly different — symbionts. The mammalian equivalent (which we can’t do) might sort of be ejecting our gut bacteria in hopes the next bunch will be better suited our needs.
3. El Nino is, simplistically, a sloshing of warm surface water from the Western Pacific into the Eastern Pacific. It exposes Central and Eastern Pacific reefs to much warmer than usual water temperatures. Claims of El Nino related bleaching at Kiribati, Fiji, Hawaii (And Central America?) from the 2015-2016 El Nino seem quite credible. But the GBR is NOT in the Eastern Pacific. When, exactly did the elevated sea temperatures that triggered this purported bleaching event occur? How elevated were they?

Greg

Don, look at the pattern of warm water in the Pacific during El Nino. It is generally shaped like an arrow for east to west. A hot ‘anomaly’ line across the equator and warm currents moving NE and SW from the west Pacific warm pool.

Steve Fraser

With the mentioned sea level -100 meters from present, are there reef structures on the sea floor at those depths now, and a pattern of old reef growth as sea level rose?

Don K

Steve. Good question. Damned if I know. Might have to drill cores to find out. The only coral island deep bore holes that I’m aware of were drilled at Eniwetok in the 1950s. They hit basalt after drilling through 1400 meters of lagoon and coral island sediments — thereby confirming Darwin’s conjecture that Pacific Atolls are probably slowly sinking volcanic island fringing reefs.
I have a lot of questions about all this having nothing much to do with AGW. For example, was there a GBR during the interglacial 120,000 years ago? What happened to it during the following glacial period? What was the geographic situation when sea levels started to rise 18000 years ago, etc, etc, etc?

Louis

Don K, if atolls are slowly sinking, wouldn’t they have sunk by now? Read the following WUWT article about atolls from a year ago:
https://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/05/12/told-ya-so-new-paper-proves-that-coral-atolls-keep-up-with-sea-level-rise/

Don K

“Don K, if atolls are slowly sinking, wouldn’t they have sunk by now?” The point of Darwin (1842) and others is that coral islands don’t (usually) sink because corals manufacture new material and storms, currents, winds, etc move the new material onto the islands just fast enough to offset any sinking. Try this link http://theconversation.com/dynamic-atolls-give-hope-that-pacific-islands-can-defy-sea-rise-25436
Bottom line: The Maldive Islands probably aren’t in trouble from sea level rise for the most part.
Norfolk, Virginia, OTOH …

PC

It is simply a fact that you cannot believe the “Reports” from Professor Terry Hughes re the GBR. Yet the taxpayers foot the bill for these people at James Cook University.
As mentioned in various publications, the characteristics of Global Warming science is that there is no science, merely taxpayer funded, opinionated, academic fiefdoms.

mwh

Of course it doesnt really matter to the MSM whether its 22% 35% or 90% its all a downward spiral to disaster caused by human beings and the world should cut its fossil fuel usage to help save the reef – what a load of conceited twaddle – how about setting an example and stopping all coal sales to China…..hypocrites!

Latimer Alder

If the troubles of the GBR are to be attributed to global warming, then we need to know: :
1. How much has the water around it warmed in the last 100, 50, 25 10 and 5 years?.
2. How do we know?
3. How does the absolute temperature compare with other reefs in other locations? Have they suffered similar problems?.
4. How does the temperature change compare with other reefs? Have they suffered similar problems?
Without this data, seems to me that the argument is
‘Something has happened. Global Warming may be happening. So the cause must be Global Warming’
Remember that
‘Post hoc, ergo propter hoc’
is a fallacy.

Brooke

It is a simple fact the information coming out of James Cook University cannot be relied upon. The recent “report” by Professor Terry Hughes is an example of political bias swamping any scientific research. It is a tragedy that taxpayer funds end up supporting these useless academic fiefdoms.

Gentle Tramp

Here you can read an interesting article of two coral scientists who are not so heavily biased (and hence more scientific) than some other anti-CO2 coral-zealots:
http://theconversation.com/how-fish-and-clean-water-can-protect-coral-reefs-from-warming-oceans-60434
This quote from the article sums up their key message very well:
“Even during the most warmest periods of the year, when temperatures were most stressful, we saw little coral mortality in places where there were abundant fishes and low levels of nutrients. Possibly, protecting fishes and minimizing pollution will help protect corals from pathogenic bacteria that kill corals during stressful thermal events. This is especially important in an era of global climate change where ocean temperatures are gradually rising. Our work suggests there is hope for the future of coral reefs.”

Jon

The link page has been removed

Jon

the official map page

RT

Mr Hansen
Any chance we could have this series of essays in PDF format?

Kip Hansen

Reply to RT ==> Yes — working on it, Will add links to the pdfs here soon.

Greg

Only 7% of the Great Barrier Reef has avoided coral bleaching. Media Release — 20 April 2016 — issued by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University

You can be pretty sure that any academic body which has to call itself a “Centre of Excellence ” probably isn’t.
You achieve excellence by your work not by the name you chose for an institution. When you start out with spin, it’s a good indication that you are not doing good science and you know you will not get called excellent if you don’t put it on your own letter head.
Look at all the leading universities: Yale Harvard MIT ; Cambridge and Oxford in the UK. They don’t need call themselves “Cambridge University of Excellence”.
Centre of Excellence usually means politically motivated science. There seems to be a lot of such centres in leftwing dominated Aussie campuses.
eg
“ARC Centre of Political Spin for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University”

John M. Ware

In the summary, the area of the GBR is listed as about 134,000 square miles, which is then equated to the size of Vermont or Italy. What sticks out is Vermont, which is nowhere near that size (9,800 sq mi or so). Perhaps the state meant is Montana, whose area is about 145,000 square miles.

Greg

Yes, but how many Olympic sized swimming pools is that? We know that the moronic population can not understand what a square mile is, despite that fact that they are all intimately familiar with the inside of an Olympic sized swimming pool.
Please remember to talk down to everyone, it makes you look smart and educated 😉

Smart Rock

And length is measured in football fields. Hard for me to convert cause I don’t know how long a football field is. Or an Olympic swimming pool.

I didn’t realize Vermont had grown to the size of Italy.

Bubba Cow

only in Bernie’s mind

thingodonta

I think the GBR is likely in a better overall shape due to the small amount of global warming over the last 150 years or so. Slightly warmer water, slight rise in sea level, slightly less cyclones.
So what is all the kerfuffle about?

Bubba Cow

to respond to a crisis, sometimes it has to be created …

thingodonta

good answer

Robert from oz

There is the “ocean acidification ” meme again , I don’t know why we don’t call this out for the lie it is .
8.1 ph is not and never will be acidic , but as with all CAGW never let facts or truth get in the way of a good story .

Multiple causes of coral bleaching and it’s investigation would require careful
expert testing, but could n’t the clash of claims of 85% versus 22% bleaching
and that mostly in specific northern locations be checked by groups of coast
dwellers going out there and taking photographs, date and location, witnessed
for verification?.Something like Anthony’s citizens’ check of thermometer location
quality control checks.? Lots of big towns spaced along the Qld coast and some
considerable expertize, Jennifer Marohasy, Robert Ellison and others. Just sayin’.

Greg

It’s perverted playing with numbers establish a mindless political conclusion.
Divide the GBR into a number of individual ‘reef’. Then see if there is ANY evidence at all of bleaching on any part of a particular ‘reef’. Then count the number of reefs that experience ANY bleaching , however limited and express as a percentage of the whole number of subdivided ‘reefs’.
That way you can turn 22% of affected areas into an OMG ! 93% of reefs “affected”.

Pauly

beththeserf,
There are no “coast dwellers” along the northern Queensland coast. There are no coastal roads beyond the Daintree River, which is about 50km south of Cooktown, which is shown on the map of the Great Barrier Reef provided by Kip.
Cooktown had a population of 2339 at the last census. There is only one other township north of Cooktown: Lockhart River, which had a population of about 640. Lizard Island, which is about 50km north of Cooktown, only has a small tourist resort.
The main road in this region, the Cape York Peninsular Development Road, is unsealed north of Cooktown, and there are no bridges across the many rivers that cross this road. That makes it four-wheel drive only for 8 months of the year. During the wet season, this road is impassable. As you can probably imagine, this area of northern Queensland is remote and sparsely populated. So we are reliant on the survey information for our data.

There are coast dwellers north of the Daintree river. There is a sealed road to Cape Tribulation which then turns into an unsealed road eventually meeting the road to Cooktown. This services the residents of the Daintree – of which there would easily be above 500, as well as many tourists staying temporarily. There are also numerous small settlements south of Cooktown. The peninsula development road is sealed in many sections, and is in no way 4WD for 8 months of the year. There’s also a couple of bridges too, admittedly very low, but definitely bridges.

Greg

Guardian

[Photo caption] The Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of its worst crisis in recorded history.

Well a slight improvment on their usual attempts of “warmest EVAH” but they can’t help themselves and let facts get in the way of climate reporting.
Human recorded history goes back as long as we have been recording things in writing: several thousand years. They then cite data going back to 1979.

Christopher Hanley

“The Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of its worst crisis in recorded history. Unusually warm water has caused 93% of the reefs along the 2,300km site to experience bleaching …’.
=======================================
That 93% figure has been trumpeted around the world, it ought to be tested in court under oath.
People’s livelihoods are are stake.
As for “the worst in recorded history”, GBR recorded history goes back about forty years with bleaching events recorded in 1981, 83, 88, 92, 94, 98, 02, 06, however increased vigilance and reporting of bleaching events by an “ever-increasing number of researchers and conservation-minded divers is confounding efforts to definitely separate changes in bleaching frequency from changes in reporting” (Coral Bleaching: Patterns, Processes, Causes and Consequences, van Oppen, Lough et al. 2009)

Latimer Alder

How much ‘unusually warm’? How determined to be ‘unusual’? What before and after measurements?

Latimer Alder

Am I naive to think that the water along a 1500 mile long N-S feature (similar distance from Nova Scotia to Florida) is not going to be at a completely uniform temperature throughout? That there will be warmer bits and cooler bits?
Do the ‘bleaching events’ correlate with the water temperature?
If not, then how can ‘global warming’ be a significant factor?

ferdberple

Nova Scotia to Florida
===========
Why is there no Great Barrier Reef off Nova Scotia? Are the waters too warm?
If warming is bad for corals, why do we only find barrier reefs in the warmest waters on earth?
What next? global warming is making too hot for palm trees to survive? They are all marching towards the poles.
How many great barrier reefs surround Antarctica? How many palm trees grow there?
How many palm trees grow in Nova Scotia?

I live close to the western shore of the Coral Sea. John Brewer Reef is about 70km north-east of my front door. I haven’t been out there for a while but I know several people who have been there recently, and none have reported anything out of the ordinary.
I have a few observations to make:-
” … everyone wants the same thing – a healthy, productive, brilliant Great Barrier Reef system … ”
This is patently untrue. There is a large group whose fervent wish is that the GBR is destroyed. All evidence that the reef is resilient is ignored or denied.
Dynamite? Cyanide? I don’t think that is happening on the GBR. People would know, and would dob in the perpetrators.
Ship collisions are very rare; since GPS navigation became widespread I recall only one incident of any significance. Bulk carriers are not permitted to navigate the inner reef area, and movements into and out of ports are controlled. When I was on the academic staff at James Cook University, the Department of Civil and Systems Engineering carried out extensive research on shipping activities in the reef area. As far as I know, the “Systems” part no longer exists.
I personally doubt that “extreme sea surface temperatures” have occurred. 60% of the natural airflow reaching my place comes off the South Pacific Ocean. I have not noticed, or measured, any increase in airflow temperature where I am, and neither has anyone else.
There is no coal mining occurring on the east side of the Dividing Range. There are very few extractive industries of any sort on the north-east coastal plains, apart from quarry and sand extraction activities for road-base and construction. All of these are strictly controlled.
The soil type over much of the north-eastern coastal plain is “old alluvial” eg duplex soils. Heavy intractable clay in the wet season, and “bulldust” when it is dry. The natural potential for fine sediment run-off is huge. A great deal of progress has been made by river authorities and Landcare groups in limiting sediment run-off and nutrient loading. It is likely that this is much less than would have been occurring prior to colonial occupation. Given the propensity of rural lands to accumulate material at about 4 tonnes per hectare per annum, it would be unwise if not impossible to eradicate run-off entirely. Sediment run-off is beach. No run-off, no beaches.
There was a time when the Crown of Thorns starfish infestations were blamed on nutrient run-off, but the CoT is more common on the outer reefs than in-shore ones. Chopping them up was a bad idea; each piece could become a whole new starfish 🙁

Generally agree, except all the coal mines in central Qld are in the Coral Sea catchment. Not that it really matters as they are so far upstream their sediment influence would be negligible. Even the proposed Adani mine in the Galliee basin is in the Burdekin catchment. The Dividing Range in much of Qld is more of a division between watersheds rather than any great natural feature.

A C Osborn
JasG

For many years it has been apparent that global warming (manmade or otherwise) does not affect coral as much as other human activities. Marine biologists merely need to compare the pristine coral in Cuba to the degraded coral in Florida as well as the pristine coral reef of Western Australia versus the degraded coral of the GBR. In both cases the difference is basic conservation measures such as preventing fishing boats coming near and restricting access to tourists. The latter is important because it has been established that sun tan lotion causes bleaching. Clearly bleaching is also caused by strong el ninos but somehow it seems that once again the pristine coral of Cuba and Western Australia also avoided bleaching this time around. Hmmm….is there an honest scientist around that might bother to ponder why?

commieBob

JasG says: June 20, 2016 at 4:44 am
… sun tan lotion causes bleaching.

My first reaction was: Well, it promotes people bleaching. It does indeed seem to be a thing. Oh well, a day when I don’t learn something new is a wasted day. 🙂

There has been minor incidences of bleaching off Western Australia’s North West coastline, something I have seen a few times in the last 20 years, however the Green activists here are running the scare as hard as anywhere else.
The ABC, however continue on their merry scaring way, the Maldives: http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-02/coral-bleaching-hits-the-maldives-in-the-indian-ocean/7468090?section=environment

Griff

Well, Peter Ridd has a history of support for climate sceptic issues and organisations – he didn’t come at this purely on the basis of putting forward new research: he has a ‘political’ viewpoint on this.
I’m not saying that’s right or wrong – merely that he isn’t an independent/unaligned voice in this debate.

JPeden

Griff June 20, 2016 at 4:47 am
“Well, Peter Ridd has a history of support for climate sceptic issues and organisations – he didn’t come at this purely on the basis of putting forward new research…”
Using only your own premise I would conclude the opposite, that Ridd did in fact “come at this purely on the basis of putting forward new research.” Because scepticism is at the heart of the practice of real science.

4 eyes

Griff, just because he is sceptical of some ior all aspects of climate change science, which by the way is a scientifically healthy position to take, you think he is bringing politics to the table. Crooked thinking Griff – you’re assuming that CAGW is 100% proved and therefore any scepticism of it can only be for political purposes.

marchesarosa

“stretching 2300 km/14,500 mi from the north-eastern tip of the Australia continent south along its eastern shore”
One of those numbers is wrong. Neither is the state of Vermont equal in size to Italy.

ferdberple

By weight, Coral is made of Carbon Dioxide, Calcium, and Oxygen in that order. Without Carbon Dioxide there would be no Great Barrier Reef.
Of the billions of tons of GBR, fully 55% of the weight of the reef is CO2. Only 25% of the weight of the reef is Calcium, and the remaining 20% is Oxygen.
In total 75% of the entire mass of the Great Barrier Reef was made from air.

Latitude

without carbon dioxide…..there would be no calcium carbonate
…without calcium carbonate…there would be ocean acidification

ferdberple

ocean acidification
================
calcium carbonate is better known as limestone. You add limestone to your lawns and crops to reduce the acid levels in soil (neutralize the soil).
Limestone (fossilized CO2) is also added to lakes to neutralize acid rain. However, in the wacky world of climate science, up means down and down means up.

Latitude

If they would ever admit where the carbon comes from in calcium carbonate…
…the whole scam would be over

A somewhat Freudian spelling error–Nobel cause for Noble Cause. James Cook U trying for a Peace Prize? After all, Al Gore got one.

Javier

This article:
Dishon, Gal, et al. “A novel paleo-bleaching proxy using boron isotopes and high-resolution laser ablation to reconstruct coral bleaching events.” Biogeosciences 12.19 (2015): 5677-5687.
http://www.biogeosciences.net/12/5677/2015/bg-12-5677-2015.pdf
uses Boron isotopes to reconstruct past coral bleaching events, and finds two periods, 6000 and 11500 years ago when coral bleaching events where at least of the magnitude of the 20th-21st century ones. Is this some type of 6000 years cycle on sea surface temperature increases?

Who represents the dive operators/tourist hotels/restaurants that primarily serve tourists for the GBR in Australia? Is it just the tourism agency or is there a commerce one?
I want to hear what they have to say– because they should have the numbers to back up what they are seeing and hopefully the power to say to the alarmist–put up or shut up.
I also want to hear what the dive operators have to say on the whole thing. This is their livelihood so they should know if there is a problem–where it is and how far it extends–if it exists at all. Trained scientists or not–successful operators pay attention because they aren’t going to take paying customers to a dead reef. So where are they in this whole debacle? They are the ones on the front lines so to speak–so they are the most knowledgeable in the field. Where is their voice?
And one last–the censure of marine reef scientist over the alarmist claims by a marine biologist–lets just get out the rulers and measure shall we? Publish the results in the paper and let the public decide who has the bigger one. Seriously.

Scott Scarborough

Italy is about 12 times the size of the state of Vermont (are you talking about Vermont in the United States?)

“…The Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of its worst crisis in recorded history. Unusually warm water has caused 93% of the reefs along the 2,300km site to experience bleaching.” etc.
Aren’t they worried that they will cook their golden goose? Once everyone thinks the GBR is dead, they sure won’t want to keep spending $$ on a lost cause.

Replying to Kip at at 4:38 pm above:
First off, I appreciate your diligence in responding to all the comments above 🙂
“Do they still farm sugar and make (and export) molasses in Queensland?”
Yes, they do. They also make ethanol out of it. Takes 3 units of conventional energy to produce 1 unit of ethanol energy, but hey, that is better than for a lot of ruinable energy. The Premier of Queensland thinks the state can produce alternative fuels for the US Navy. That idea seems to have gone quiet, maybe because at least one leading producer has pointed out that we don’t currently produce the type of fuel required for marine engines? Imagine trying to police the Pacific, never mind fight a war, if you have to rely on tankers, or come and fill up here first …
The $16billion for fixing the GBR is supposed to have come from state government “modelling”, but no one seems to have produced a priced bill of quantities. Maybe it is the cost of putting shade cloth over the Reef that was suggested for the last bleach about 4 years ago? Or travelling from one end to the other manually recolonising every (temporarily) vacant stand with replacement polyps? Nah that would be hard work. More likely another load of conferences, extensive tour of the reef by the usual suspects in a floating hotels, over-priced and over-staffed publications etc. They would soon burn up $16b following their SOP. It’s a Dr Evil demand.
One point on the “sunscreen kills coral reef” thing. I very much doubt that this is based on field tests. More likely tipping some sunscreen in an aquarium tank killed coral. Googling on growing coral in aquariums soon confirms that tipping almost anything in a coral aquarium that isn’t supposed to be there will kill coral. Some orals release poisons or have sweeping tentacles that kill or deter other corals.
Obviously a few people will actually take dips from boats in the vicinity of coral in just swimming trunks and bikinis, but the wash-off would likely be very small. Not wise to do this anyway. Coral tends to make a bit of a mess of bare skin that comes in contact with it. We have the scars to demonstrate this …

How many times can the Barrier reef be wiped out?
It must be into its seventh life already like a cat.