Coral Catastrophes Imagined

From Jennifer Marohasy’s Blog

April 10, 2020 By jennifer

Exactly one year ago yesterday, I was getting off a train in Proserpine, looking to pickup a hire car to drive to Bowen. I wanted to know if the coral there was all dead, or not. Bowen is a coastal town in North Queensland, not far from Abbott Point that is the coal terminal for the controversial Adani coal mine.

Judge Salvador Vasta had earlier that week handed down his findings regarding the sacking of Peter Ridd. He had exonerated Ridd and explained that James Cook University had wrongly sacked him.

Some claim that it all came to a sorry end for Ridd because he dared to question the consensus of scientific opinion concerning the health of the Great Barrier Reef – particularly the impact of global warming. The university claimed it was because he had become ‘un-collegial’ and did not follow various directives while disclosing confidential information.

These issues were argued in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane a month earlier, in March 2019. Very few people realized that at the heart of the case were a couple of what might be best described as fake-news photographs promoted by Terry Hughes.

This is the same Terry Hughes who is now claiming that 60%* of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached, and that this is an extraordinary catastrophe for which we should all be ashamed.

If Peter Ridd had become un-collegial and disclosed confidential information, it was because he was fed-up with the fake news. As Ridd wrote in chapter 1 of the book that I edited three years ago, a chapter entitled ‘The Extraordinary Resilience of Great Barrier Reef Corals, and Problems with Policy Science’:

I have carried out half-a-dozen audits on some of the science claiming damage to the Great Barrier Reef, and in every case I have discovered serious problems.

The first of the 21 findings handed down in the Federal Court by Judge Vasta one year ago, concerned photographs used by Terry Hughes to claim that the corals off Bowen had been variously destroyed by global warming, ocean acidification and sediment run-off. Hughes claimed where there had once been healthy coral reef, there was now only mudflat.


This is the mudflat at Bramston Reef, with the Gloucester Island backdrop, that Terry Hughes claims now replaces once healthy coral reef. I walked a kilometre towards the ocean at low tide and found hectare upon hectare of healthy coral on Easter Friday in 2019.

I took this photograph on Easter Friday in April 2019. It shows corals at low tide with the Gloucester Island backdrop, and is about one kilometre to the south east of the photograph showing only mudflat.

Bramston Reef is to the south of Bowen, and across from Stone Island. Terry Hughes has claimed there is now only mud flat where there were once healthy coral at Bramston Reef. This map features in the film Beige Reef.

The most recent claims from Hughes, that all of the Great Barrier Reef is at risk from global warming, do not follow close-up examination of individual corals or even individual reefs. Rather Hughes has flown in a light plane in all sorts of conditions through the day even when it was windy, and looked down from a very high altitude, from some hundreds of metres away.

His claims are being uncritically reported as fact across the world, including in popular scientific magazines.

I’ve flown a drone at 30 metres above a coral reef and spotted white corals. I’ve snorkelled that same reef and found the same white corals to be very much alive and with zooxanthellae. I made a film of this adventure, documenting its health for that moment in time. That was in August 2019. I named that reef and the film: Beige Reef. You can see the white corals from the drone footage at 9.38, 10.35 and 11.07 minutes.

Beige reef fringes the north facing bay at Stone Island, which is across the channel from Bramston Reef at the entrance to Bowen Harbour.

The white corals were large; they are commonly known as bolder corals, and the species at Beige Reef was Galaxea fascicularis. I made this identification based on information in J.E.N. Vernon’s three-part encyclopedia ‘Corals of the Worlds’ using my close-up photographs of the extended tentacles. These were taken on the same day that I took the drone footage showing these same corals as white in the film Beige Reef.

A boulder coral, Galaxea fascicularis, photographed at Beige Reef on 27th August 2019 by Jen while snorkelling.

A close-up of the tentacles of the same bolder coral, Galaxea fascicularis, photographed on 27th August 2019.

If we go back eight years, to July 2012, it is a fact that Terry Hughes stood in front of 2,500 marine scientists at an international conference in Cairns and claimed the corals off-Bowen are dead. That claim, made while showing a picture of the mudflat at Bramston Reef just to the south of Bowen, was a front-page story the next day in The Cairns Post.

Peter Ridd had some photographs taken in 2015 showing healthy corals off-Bowen, he got sacked for this effort. To back-up Terry Hughes, Tara Clark from the University of Queensland and colleagues (including David Wachenfeld from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority), had a paper published by the prestigious journal Nature claiming that there are no-longer any Acropora spp. corals at Stone Island. In the film Beige Reef, I show 25 hectares of this coral type. I made Beige Reef to back-up Peter Ridd.

I don’t know of a single journalist prepared to visit Bowen, Bramston Reef, Beige Reef or Stone Island to check the veracity of the claims by me and Peter Ridd versus Terry Hughes or Tara Clark. Yet it is not complicated, though it will be political. The saga has been on-going since at least 2015.

Jennifer Marohasy: come visit the reef with me, Misha Ketchell

Exactly one year ago, keen to see for myself I walked across that mudflat at low tide, after catching the train to Proserpine and then driving up to Bowen. I walked across the mudflat on the afternoon of Easter Friday in April 2019, and kept going for about 1 kilometre. I found so much live coral, the other side of that mudflat.

I returned to Bowen four months later in August 2019 with skipper Rob McCulloch, marine biologist Walter Starck, and an underwater photographer.

Having the boat that McCulloch towed down from Cairns made it possible for us to get all around Stone Island. As it turned-out we found several coral reefs fringing Stone Island, including Beige Reef with all the Acropora spp.. To be clear, there is not just coral the other side of the mudflat at Bramston reef, but all-around Stone Island that is just across the channel from Bramston Reef.

Surely it’s time journalists and their editors took some responsibility for the information that they republish? It seems they take anything provided by particular academics that fit a narrative, and give it a free run.

So far, Hughes has not published this most recent aerial survey in any peer-reviewed journal, or even made available a list of the locations with bleached corals. No doubt he will in due course. Then we will probably see a second wave of uncritical reporting by the mainstream media, again claiming the imminent demise of the Great Barrier Reef. The bottom-line seems to be that we live at a time when the dominant narrative demands an ecological disaster. It is as though almost anything that can be imagined, and told as a story by academics, can become a news headline. There is no checking.

I can only ask that ordinary folk be ever sceptical of such stories. Scepticism should be worn as a badge of honour, particularly in these times when it can be so hard to know whether there really is a coral catastrophe, or not. How can we find the truth, when even Nature publishes incorrect reports: claiming there are no Acropora spp. corals at Stone Island where I found and filmed 25 hectares on 27 August 2019.

Filming corals just below the surface at Beige Reef, which fringes the north facing bay at Stone Island. This photograph was taken on 27th August 2019.

Stone Island has sand, as well as stone, and corals as well as mudflat. This photograph was taken at the entrance to Bowen Harbour from Stone Island in August 2019 with Rob McCulloch and Walter Starck in the distance.

***

Postscript:

Quoting from an ABC News story:
Great Barrier Reef found to be coral bleached from north to south for first time
By national science and technology reporter Michael Slezak and the specialist reporting team’s Penny Timms
Updated Tue at 9:52am

“The Great Barrier Reef is currently experiencing the most widespread bleaching ever recorded, with 60 per cent of reefs across all three regions affected, according to a detailed survey of the system.

Key points:

1. Warmer sea temperatures have led to coral bleaching along the length of the Great Barrier Reef

2. More coral reefs were bleached in 2016, although the damage was concentrated in the north

3. Marine biologist Terry Hughes says the reef is rapidly adapting to climate change

It is the third mass bleaching event on the reef in five years — a phenomenon primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions, and one that had never been recorded before 1997.

“We were hoping that this year would be a relatively mild bleaching event, but unfortunately that’s not the case,” said Professor Terry Hughes, head of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-07/great-barrier-reef-most-widespread-coral-bleaching-on-record/12107054______

The image at the very top of this blog post is of Matt and me on Easter Monday 2019, heading out to Middle Island from Bowen Marina. Much thanks to John Barnes for organising this adventure, and for taking the photograph.

57 thoughts on “Coral Catastrophes Imagined

    • Speaking of Peter, here’s a comment about Ridd’s book written before he was sacked. He was so right.

      “They will talk about peer review but this is insufficient QA as this often only involves a quick read of the work by a couple of people who may well be ones friends.

      …Professor Ridd is the professor of physics at James Cook University with particular interest in coastal oceanography including, human impacts on coral reefs. He’s published over 100 papers in international science journals, his chapter ends in a way that the global warming alarmists wouldn’t like, when he talks about the lack of quality assurance in science and he quotes:
      ‘The editor of the of the land set, one of medicines most important journals which states and I quote:
      ‘the case against science is straight forward, much of the scientific literature perhaps half, may simply be untrue’.
      Editorial says – science has taken a turn toward darkness.’

  1. Fake news from a fake university reported by a fake news outlet (Sydney Morning Hamas) and the irrational Fake National Broadcaster (ABC).
    Australia’s left-wing morons love the SMH and the ABC.
    Both SMH and ABC are great for hysteria and sensationalism – but sadly missing for the truth.

    • ..a bleached coral is not a dead coral

      “coral scientists” know that…and they flat out lie about it

  2. “I don’t know of a single journalist prepared to visit Bowen, Bramston Reef, Beige Reef or Stone Island to check the veracity of the claims by me and Peter Ridd versus Terry Hughes or Tara Clark.”

    People in general, journalists and academics in particular hate to have their paradigms broken. Most will run a mile from the truth – rather than objectively seeking it.

    I once attended a symposium on robotics (my field) where one of the presenters (a professor) explained at great length how a certain process was not yet possible.

    A the cocktail function after the symposium, I buttonholed him, gave him my card. and explained that his information was outdated and I could demonstrate that function right now at my factory.

    He couldn’t get away from me fast enough and never took me up on my offer – or even called or asked for more information.

    I’ve held a healthy degree of skepticism about academic experts ever since.

    • You may be familiar with Mark Tilden. He started his career at the University of Waterloo in some kind of support function.

      Tilden kept building amazing little robots and outshining the faculty. Local rumor has it that he was flat out told to quit doing that. He got a good offer in the ‘States and left.

      So, you have this guy doing amazing stuff and, rather than embracing and celebrating his work, the university drove him off to an arguably more prestigious organization. IMHO, a whole bunch of PhDs could have been generated describing Tilden’s work.

      I am reminded of Sayre’s Law.

      The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low.

      Pathetic really.

      • Back in the day when publish or perish was just beginning to be recognized as a pernicious factor in academic success/failure, I complained to my boss, a department head at my university, about how little emphasis was given to teaching there. He said, and I’m almost quoting him verbatim, “Mr. Greengage*, you may be under the impression that research at Shagamore U** comes first and teaching comes second. But that is not true. Here at Shag U, research comes second! Committee work comes first; teaching is third.”

        He and his department colleague were gentlemen of the highest order and excellent teachers, without a trace of hubris. Alas, that was not true of all the faculty there, and it’s a lot worse now.

        * a nom de plum
        ** not the real name of the institution

  3. Watched the video—-fantastic! My wife and I both snorkel over shallow reefs every vacation. The obvious herein is that Terry Hughes et al are either incompetent or dishonest or some combination of both. Hooray for Professor Peter Ridd and Dr. Jennifer Marohasy for their hands-on direct scientific reporting, done at personal cost and risk to themselves. We are seeing the fake news (but concensus!) every day, either in global warming, corona virus, voter suppression (that’s where you have to show id and can’t vote after you are deceased for 10 years), and income equality (whatever happened to equal opportunity?). I hope Prof., Ridd eventually sues these fakes for civil damages. Stay safe.

  4. The alleged bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is supposed to be due to a rise in sea surface temperatures. If one looks at global average sea surface temperatures they have indeed risen over the last 40 years by about 0.5C.
    But it is not global averages that will impact on the GBR, but local temperature rises. Handily the HADSST database stores data in 5 x 5 degree gridcells. Last year I plotted 3 of the GBR gridcells. No warming trend in the last 40 years.
    https://manicbeancounter.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/gbr-sst-3cells.png
    Bleaching events are mainly confiend to the summer months. Further investigation reveals that the major bleaching event years to not corresspond to exceptionally warm summer.

    But why has there been a massive increase in bleaching observations? The main culprit is likely in the vast increase in resources spent on observations, along with increasing refinement of satellite detection of likely bleaching sites.

    https://manicbeancounter.com/2019/03/13/is-increasing-great-barrier-reef-coral-bleaching-related-to-climate-change-or-observation-bias/

    • Well it’s clear by the pictures that the reefs have fully grown to their accommodation space. If they want to survive any longer in the same spot they will need sea level rise, oh how ironic. Otherwise, their offspring will find anchors in deeper water and start new reefs – the circle of life.

      The lifespan of a reef complex is not that long in geological time. The Great Barrier and Belizean Barrier Reefs are all mature – ca. 10,000 years old – and at the end of their lifecycle. If you visit them, you will notice that they are all being subaerially exposed during low tide like in the picture above is quite common. In places where the reefs are not as mature or where subsidence is creating more accommodation space, i.e. Red Sea, the corals are not seeing these bleaching events. The bleaching events aren’t due to “global warming”, they are natural events for old reefs at the end of their life.

    • Prevailing winds change water levels. A few inches lower for a week of sunny weather and lots of near surface coral will bleach in the warm water and air exposure. The corals can grow and die much faster than average ocean levels and average temperatures change. It’s how coral islands are formed. We need to get over it.

  5. I sailed along the southern barrier reef for 2 weeks last May with friends on their cruising yacht. Not a sign of any bleaching. My friends then sailed north along the reef to north of Cairns from late May to Sept. Again no reports of bleaching and nothing but healthy coral despite many dives, snorkels and underwater photos taken. So unless there is some secret reef that scientists only are allowed to visit or they have special bleaching viewer glasses then they are lying about the state of the reef.

      • And of course, what a perfect time to claim the GBR has bleached significantly again. No one out their to verify their claims for potentially many months. Plenty of time for the compliant media to brainwash the masses.

    • I think you might have nailed it pbweather, split the atom or even cold fused one with some dark matter. Its Secret Reef where all the research is done and its location must remain secret because its proprietorial in nature. I can add that its in an as yet undisclosed dimension of space time only found on the head of a pin and is ruthlessly guarded by a SWAT team of Evil Angels.

      Phew, that’s a weight off my mind. It is the only explanation that makes sense as far as I can make out. Those scientificists must be under diabolical pressure to keep the secret. I pity them.

      • That reminds me of this from a doomsday prediction last year shredded at Climate Depot.

        “There’s no scientific basis for saying that 50,000 species are going extinct. The only place you can find them is in Edward O. Wilson’s computer at Harvard University. They’re actually electrons on a hard drive. I want a list of Latin names of actual species.”
        http://bit.ly/2LsoW49

        • “50,000 species go extinct every year based on computer models of the number of potential but as yet undiscovered species in the world.” –Edward Wilson

          A computer model is something where the input is what you want and the output is what you want.

  6. “I can only ask that ordinary folk be ever sceptical of such stories.”

    Except when it comes to such stories that fit the echo-chamber narrative, then just lap it up without question.

  7. I have a question unrelated to this post (sorry). I have for some time been getting a fake Norton Antivirus Alert pop up when I visit this site (which I do daily). I just close the page and start over; it doesn’t always appear. This only happens with the Edge browser on this particular computer. I have tried clearing browser data and other remedies, but can’t get rid of it. A malware scan does not show anything.

    Anyone else have this problem? Is it possibly a sort of denial of service attack by those who might oppose the messaging here? Any advice on how to get rid of it?

    • Computers and smart phones often/usually come loaded with bloatware. So, you could have Norton installed. It wants you to pay for updates. I’m guessing the solution to your problem might be to uninstall Norton. Don’t ask me how though ’cause I don’t do Windows.

      • Thanks, but I do not have any Norton on my computer. I build my own computers from scratch which helps me avoid the bloatware you refer to.

        • Sounds like you might have a browser hijack, and the Norton message is fake, hoping you’ll click on something and send them financial info.

          • Yes, that’s what it is. I just don’t know how to get rid of it. Note that it only comes when I visit this website, and not every time. I was hoping to learn if other here see the same thing.

        • Yes, I get the same thing. I run Win 10 and use IE. I just close the tab when it pops up and open another one. That solves it until the next day or two.

          • It is a redirect virus. I’ve tried to remove it from my iPad without success. You can stop it with an add blocker such as Firefox focus. This can be attached to other browsers including Safari.

  8. Terry Hughes comment “It is the third mass bleaching event on the reef in five years — a phenomenon primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions, and one that had never been recorded before 1997.” needs to be questioned. Not that it isn’t the third event in five years but that it is “one that had never been recorded before 1997.” does he mean bleaching, or does he mean three times in five years” Coral reefs all over the world exist because they are able to adapt to climate change. They survived the Little Ice Age, and the Medieval Warm Period when vikings settled and farmed in Greenland. They survived the Hothouse Earth of the Early Tertiary, they will survive Terry Hughes views as to their ability to survive climate change.

    • And coral reefs at Bikini Atoll got completely obliterated by atom bomb testing and now 60 years later have restored themselves.

      Now THAT is truly “unprecedented”

  9. “This is the mudflat at Bramston Reef, with the Gloucester Island backdrop, that Terry Hughes claims now replaces once healthy coral reef. ”
    Mud flats!!?? What happenned to catastrophic and accelerating global sea level rise which is worse than previously thought?

  10. The Conversation is without credibility, is a waste of time, is as valuable as the observation of the bottom of a whiskey glass.

    • I disagree. I’ve definitely had more insight from the bottom of a whisky glass than could ever be had from the ludicrously named rag ‘the conversation’ (where actual conversation is stamped out immediately).

  11. Thank you for this post. I saw news of the Arial research and wondered how they could possibly confirm dead coral/crown of thorn starfish invasions/and cyclone damage accurately, from the air!

    The AGW propaganda seems relentless recently and the lies are becoming nothing short of ludicrous. They can’t continue with the polar bear scare anymore, they are in such numbers now they are becoming pests in places. Photos of polar bears dying of old age just doesn’t cut it anymore. David Attenborough should be ashamed of himself, I think he had to finally admit that walruses falling off a cliff had nothing to do with climate change, he has lost much respect.

    The ice and snow isn’t cooperating with them, in fact it increases at inconvenient times. Like when they send ships out to research why the ice is disappearing and they get stuck in …the ice of course!

    They talk about warming areas of the Antarctic that are on the tip of a peninsula farthest from the pole, and melting glaciers that happen to be over active volcanoes. They discuss the ‘cumulative’ loss of ice in the region as though it’s total loss. It does still snow heavily in the Antarctic! every year. They should be talking about ‘net’ losses, or gains.

    They even have the gall to change historic temperature data, or even to pretend it never happened. Same with historic fire data. They obliterate history, then claim the next severe weather or fire event is ‘unprecedented’!

    This ‘consensus’ science is pure rubbish. They seriously think that the general public can’t easily see through their lies. The sad thing is that even the politicians have fallen for rubbish they spout.

    We are so sick of their lies. We are so sick of them pretending to care about the environment, when in fact their wind and solar renewables (batteries included) are destroying the environment faster than any amount of CO2 humans might produce. And their followers are simply happy to believe the ‘clean and green’ without even thinking about how they come about.

    They only thing that is keeping them afloat is the ignorant MSM. Leftist journalists, propaganda and foolish politicians, all too lazy to do some simple research that would easily expose their lies.

  12. I have always felt that the climate change claims about the death of the coral reef Are fanciful and you certainly don’t need to be a scientist to understand . Corals have existed well before main ever did for eons and eons so one would assume that a couple of degrees of warming won’t make any difference. Every time a bleaching occurs the scientists express some level of surprise when they bounce back. How daft , they’ve probably been bleaching and coming back for Millenia when no one was looking. The other fact that confirms the stupidity of the imminent death of the GBR is the fact that coral reefs survive at all sorts of temperatures and if anything are more likely to be impacted by cooling rather than warming.

  13. Your good work and communication is much appreciated.

    It is hard to understand how legitimate journalists can justify not checking the basis for such a controversial subject of international impact. This isn’t an esoteric theoretical topic, it is right there to be carefully observed, recorded and interpreted within an appropriate factual context.

    Journalism gone rogue. Very dangerous.

  14. Jennifer, there has been some success in having papers retracted. McIntyre and McKittrick have done it on damning evidence (Gergis, et al, ?Lewandowsky?) .

    It would be a service to take the evidence and you and Dr Walter get Nature to retract Hughes and others papers.

  15. Perhaps the coral bleaching is a natural reef defense mechanism akin to our use of anti-viral bleach wipes to defend against the Chinese virus….

    On the other hand, Terry Hughes falsified claims of reef bleaching seem similar to Hillary Clinton using BleachBit to wipe her unsecured computer hard drive, preventing disclosure of alleged criminal or classified information to prosecutors. Hillary ‘got away with it’. The jury of public opinion is still out on Terry Hughes’ bleach bit.

  16. I must be extremely naive, because I do not understand how the Alarmists continue to operate with impunity they seem to. Is the science community as a whole really that corrupt?

  17. I live in Bowen and I can report that a significant amount of the near shore coral from Horseshoe bay to Rose bay did bleach in February and is still bleached in April. We had many clear days in the low to mid 30s with low tides occurring during hot parts of the day. The inshore water temperatures would have been over 30 degrees with little to no cooling at night for weeks. I don’t snorkel much anymore but I have had a brief look on two occasions. I would guess that about 70% of the corals were bleached of most types, even the soft corals appeared to be affected. Of the unbleached most were of the very hardy types but also included brain and branching types sometimes right next to very similar types that were completely bleached. Possibly about 10% to 15% of the brain and branching types were not bleached. I had a snorkel about 2 weeks ago and most of the bleached coral is still bleached with about, at a guess 10% by area obviously dead (i.e. not based on a % of total individual colonies as often only parts of one colony were dead) with algae starting to grow on the dead coral. A small portion of the coral may be regaining some color especially at the tips but this could have been color that never bleached. It is an interesting process to watch. The bleached coral can still be seen in the shallow water at low tide from the local lookouts next to the bays. It is currently around 31 degrees during the day and nights have cooled to the just above 20 degrees near dawn so the corals should be recovering. In general the coral at Bowen is quite dynamic and recovers quite quickly. The cyclone in March 2017 caused a lot of damage to the coral through physical destruction of the branching types but also due to the silt in the water which remained for weeks followed by a lot of algal growth. By 2019 the coral had recovered wonderfully. In the 20 years I have been in Bowen I can recall at least two other significant bleaching events (not sure of the years) but those events also included Trichodesmium blooms and mollusc kills (due to very low oxygen levels produced by the decay of the cyanobacterium bloom).

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