“Proxies” Claim Half the GBR Corals Dead – But Not in Real Life

October 15, 2020 By jennifer 

The claim that half the corals of the Great Barrier Reef are dead is based on a new method using ‘proxies’ (not a direct measure of coral cover), applied to badly cyclone damaged reefs, just after a major coral bleaching event – from which the corals have since recovered.

It has been reported across the world yet again, that the reef is ruin, but none of the publications reporting its demise have bothered to actually send journalists to go and look. They trust the scientists and the journal. Yet Terry Hughes, one of the authors of the new article has been shown time and again to just make stuff up when it comes to the health of individual coral reefs. His research centre (ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies) and the journal that published the most recent article claiming half the coral are dead (London’s Royal Society) have been mired in controversy for years.

One of the locations mentioned in the new study is in the far northern section, at North Direction Island. The coral reefs around this small, uninhabited steep granite island have been through the eye of some of the most destructive category 4 and 5 cyclones — Ita in 2014 and Nathan in 2015 — and they were at the centre of the coral bleaching event in the summer of 2016. But the coral reefs there have since recovered.

I dived nearby reefs for a week earlier this year. I went to the Ribbon reefs that follow the edge of Australia’s continental shelf in the far north east to find, and film, coral bleaching.

It is claimed the Ribbon reefs are amongst the worst affected – 60% dead from bleaching. Bleaching is when corals turn white as a result of warmer water temperatures, which climate scientists say is being caused by global warming.

But I couldn’t find any significant bleaching. I mostly found jewelled curtains of coral, appearing to cascade down underwater cliff faces. So colourful, so beautiful, all in crystal clear and warm waters with curious clownfish and a giant potato cod.

The Ribbon reefs represent the most north eastern edge of Australia’s continental shelf. The cliff faces drop 2,000 metres to the sea floor.

I found the 2,000-year old coral colony known as The Monolith. This is perhaps the largest colony of Pavona clavus coral in the world. I was told by the boat skipper that The Monolith had been badly bleached in 2016. It had fully recovered when I was filmed swimming over it in January 2020. I was filmed by Emmy award winning underwater cinematographer Clint Hempsall.

A study published by Reef Check Australia, undertaken between 2001 to 2014 – where citizen scientists followed an agreed and straightforward methodology at 77 sites on 22 reefs – concluded that 43 sites showed no net change in hard coral cover, 23 sites showed an increase by more than 10 per cent (10–41 per cent, net change), and 17 sites showed a decrease by more than 10 per cent (10–63 per cent, net change). This study was undertaken just before the 2016 bleaching event.

While the new article by the James Cook University scientists, claims both the incident of coral bleaching and cyclones is increasing, there is actually no evidence to support either contention.

The available data (1971 to 2017) indicates there has actually been a decrease in both the number and severity of cyclones in the Australian region.

Coral bleaching events tend to be cyclical and coincide with periods of exceptionally low sea levels. The dramatic falls in sea level across the western Pacific Ocean in 2016 are charted on page 267 (chapter 17) of a book I edited, ‘Climate Change: The Facts 2020′.

The dramatic falls in sea level were associated with an El Nino event. These have been documented at the Great Barrier Reef back 3,000 years by Helen McGregor at Wollongong University. I’m specifically thinking of her paper entitled ‘Coral micro atoll reconstructions of El Nino-Southern Oscillation: New windows on seasonal and inter annual processes’, which was published in the journal ‘Past Global Changes’ (volume 21) in 2013.

I was born and bred in northern Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is a second home, and for me the most awe-inspiring natural environment on Earth.

My mother lived and worked on Heron Island at the Great Barrier Reef in 1955. That was the same year the young Bob Endean established the University of Queensland Heron Island Research Station. He went on to become a famous marine biologist, and instrumental in the formation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) in 1975. According to Endean’s research the Great Barrier Reef was almost always just about to be destroyed by crown-of-thorn starfish.

There is a photograph of my mother, then Joan Edith Pearce, standing knee deep surrounded by Porites coral micro atolls that are stunted and bleached. But Mum, who turns 90 next March, said there was no talk of bleaching back then, everyone was fearful of the starfish.

It is the case that back then and until recently, coral calcification rates were calculated based on coring of the large Porites corals. By dissecting micro-atolls — the type shown in the picture of my mother at Heron Island back in 1955 — it is possible to understand that sea level has been a constraint to coral growth at the Great Barrier reef for at least this long: at least 3,000 years. There is no evidence of overall sea level rise, there is evidence that sea levels have fallen 1.5 metre since the Holocene High Stand.

Corals are animals, closely related to jelly fish, but they differ in having a limestone skeleton. This is hard-stuff, calcium carbonate, and it can persist in the environment and provide an indication of changes in sea level, and also the growth rates of corals, over thousands of years.

There are well established techniques for coring the Porites corals, and then measuring growth rates. But since 2005 the Australian Institute of Marine Science has stopped using this technique to measure how well corals are growing at the Great Barrier Reef. The few studies still using the old technique suggest that as would be expected, as water temperatures have increased marginally, coral growth rates have also increased.

But rather than admit this fact that runs contrary to the zeitgeist, leading research institutions have moved from such direct measures to new and complicated ‘proxies’ – they thus have more flexibility in what they ‘find’ because the measurement is no-longer something that actually represents coral growth rates or coral cover. A proxy vote, for examples, is something delegated. This gives the researchers at James Cook University the potential to generate what might be considered policy-based evidence.

Real science is about actual measurements of real phenomena, and real world observations.

A conclusion in the media reporting of the most recent research is that “there is no time to lose, we must sharply decrease greenhouse gas emissions”. Another assumption, perhaps inadvertently created with bias and agenda. Though, this is not even written into the article. Rather it is reported in the media associated with the article just published by London’s Royal Society. It is assumed. It is also assumed that the corals at North Direction island never recovered from the cyclones and bleaching – yet they have recovered! The coral reefs across this region are magnificent right now, and this can be verified by diving them with one’s eyes wide open.

The Great Barrier Reef is resilient, and individual reefs, including the reefs at North Direction Island, do recover. As I explain in my new short documentary film, the huge colony of Pavona clavus known as The Monolith, that stretches about 30 metres up the limestone ridge at Ribbon Reef No 10, has already endured countless cyclones and bleaching events – it is a survivor.

The Great Barrier Reef as one ecosystem, comprises nearly 3,000 individual reefs stretching for 2,000 kilometres. It is still visible from outer space.

Damaged areas can always be found somewhere because a coral reef that is mature and spectacular today, may be smashed by a cyclone tomorrow.

If we are to accurately measure coral cover, and coral growth rates, then the cycles need to be considered. The methodology used to assess the health of the Great Barrier Reef should be based on direct measures (not proxies), it should be over a reasonable time span understanding that there are regular bleaching events every 18.6 years corresponding with the lunar declination cycle, and it should include a large number of coral reefs.

When we are able to move beyond ‘postmodern science’, only then will what be written in the most prestigious journals correspond with what I see in the real world.

Oh, how I love jumping off boats and going under the water at the Great Barrier Reef where there are still colourful corals and such curious fish.

It is a pity that the make believe in the science journals creates so much fear and anxiety about something that is still so beautiful and magical.

So I took my drone (Skido), and here you can see an aerial (perhaps from 30 metres up) look down onto the reef/bommie that features at the very top of this blog post with Shirley swimming. It is difficult to actually see any corals unless you jump in, and go under the water. Yet the survey back in 2016 by Terry Hughes that first reported extensive coral bleaching was from 300 metres up and out a plane window.

____
*The new article claiming half the corals are dead is:
Dietzel A, Bode M, Connolly SR, Hughes TP. 2020 Long-term shifts in the colony size structure of coral populations along the Great Barrier Reef. Proc. R. Soc. B 287: 20201432.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2020.1432

57 thoughts on ““Proxies” Claim Half the GBR Corals Dead – But Not in Real Life

  1. Will the international media ever do their proper job ?
    In the past they sought the truth but apparently no longer.
    Now, they seem to cooperate in persistent and deliberate, misinformation.

    • They see their job as pushing the agenda of their special interests, ie the Climate Change Fraud and various other far left message.

      So yes, they are doing their job.

    • The reef appears to be the Southern Hemisphere equivalent of the polar bear, and the consensus settled science seems just as wrong

      Outright criminal fraud, like Liberal prime minister of Canada level of criminal fraud

      • I looked at the graphics for 2016 and 2020 indicating reef damage and no damage areas. Interestingly the 2020 areas while or similar overall extent were verry different to the 2016 areas which in 2020 were indicated as having little or no bleachings.

        It would seem trhat the previously bleached areas had recovered and it was quite different areas that bleached in 2020. It seems to me that as corals age they become more sensitive to bleaching events and newer, receontly recovered corals are able to withstand such events. i.e. the natural vitality of the corals has a period of several years and bleaching events are the trigger for renewal. In otherwords, on lad we have winer and summer or longer intervals between fire events in Oz and in the reef we have El Nino – La Nina or similar. Gaia playing her usual long game as per usual it seems to me. Her long game just has difference cycle periods for different ecosystems. She’s smart the old grrrl, just a wee bit smarter than your typical CAGW alarmist.

    • “Will the international media ever do their proper job ?”

      Sorry, Stephen, but what exactly is their ‘proper job’ and who gets to define it?

      If you are state owned media, then your ‘job’ would be defined in its charter, and yes, against that benchmark they can be judged.

      On a completely unrelated side note, I do not support the defunding of the (Australian) ABC. I support razing it to the ground. Unrelated. I digress.

      However, if the media is privately owned, either directly or via public listings then it exists – nominally – to make a profit either through direct sales or via advertisements. This means it must find a business model that they feel their market will support.

      Or in other words, tell the masses what they want to know, and not necessarily what the need to know, or, Grud forbid, the actual objective truth.

      So if your selected market share is the footy fans, you avoid wasting pages talking about the cricket.

      This is how a free market should work. Here in Oz we have the far left papers of The Age, the Sydney Morning Herold and The Advertiser. The Tiser is an exception in being part of Newscorp, but Newscorp is smart enough to know that anyone who wants right of centre news and discussion will buy and read The Australian and is happy to have the Tiser cover Soy and Sports.

      The Age and the SMH on the other hand believe their core readership are the hard left latte drinking elite and hence write what these people want to read. If it is a financially valid market is open to debate, but their decision makers believe they have an audience so good on them. They can write what they like, in the same way that I will buy and read what I like.

      The idea that the media’s job is to spread the impartial truth is possibly one of the biggest cons in history. Who ever told you this claim? Was it the media by any chance?

      The media have long cast themselves as the only ones who can (or should) ‘guard the truth’. In some sense of the word they are correct – they guard the truth so that we can’t get hold of it. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” applies strongly here. The media choose what they do, then use themselves to tell us they are doing it write (pun intended).

    • Am I being too cynical to think this study will be exhibit “A” in JCU’s legal persecution of Peter Ridd who excoriated the “Centre of Excellence” researchers for the quality of their research and their false reporting on reef death.

  2. In August of this year I snorkelled at Low Isles (north of Cairns). I had snorkelled there two years previously and observed significant bleaching. This year the coral had fully recovered. A few days later I dived on the outer reef. No signs of bleaching. In early September I snorkelled at Heron Island. Coral in magnificent shape (although admittedly Heron is at the southern end of the reef)

  3. When models replace observation. When inference replaces deduction. When consensus replaces evidence. Science becomes a cargo cult of plausible correlations in a new faith, religious/moral philosophy (and its relativistic alternative “ethics”), and ideological bent for secular progress.

    • And the usual money shot from the study –

      “Yes, Acropora corals have withstood vast changes in temperature in the past and, yes, they have these genes that might allow them to somewhat mitigate extreme heat, but the speed in which current climate change is occurring might still exceed their ability to adapt. On the other hand, this vast information of coral genomes provides a basis for future studies of coral biology.”

      • This is what frustrates me so badly. “genes that might allow them to somewhat mitigate extreme heat”. Where is the data and references that detail the responses to heat so that one can decide just where on the mitigation scale the coral is. Instead all we get are some vague non-scientific clap trap telling us it is BAD. No wonder this gets thru peer review, there is nothing to review.

  4. Jenn, stir the ABC into action. Ask them to get Hughes and yourself on screen, live, together and then play the fact check card. This would be a burden on the fact checkers of course because they would have to do some research on their computers and report back a week or 2 in the future at 3 am in the morning when no-one is listening. Please don’t expect the expert fact checkers to leave Ultimo and actually go up there, expenses paid, and get wet to see for themselves. This is a media issue, and the ABC has been so FOS recently. Sky will take note.

  5. I dived nearby reefs for a week earlier this year. I went to the Ribbon reefs that follow the edge of Australia’s continental shelf in the far north east to find, and film, coral bleaching.

    So jealous I am. Please, please, please lead a “climate adventure” expedition to dive the GBR! I promise to maintain proper social distance from all the sharks.

  6. Jennifer Marohasy is a genuine scientist and-long time researcher of the Great Barrier Reef. She is a champion in the struggle against fake news and fake science like this Washington Post article. For these alarmists the Great Barrier Reef is not a wonder of Nature, it simply a tool to beat the Climate Change Sceptics with.

  7. OT, but very odd
    A medium size SC25 spot came into vision earlier today in the S hemisphere, but it is in a location much closer to the solar equator than I would expect
    http://jsoc.stanford.edu/data/hmi/movies/latest/M_2d.mpg
    it is at a latitude more common with the time of a cycle maximum; compare with the SH’s spot at the time of the SC23 maximum
    https://soho.nascom.nasa.gov/hotshots/2000_09_22/mdi_igrm.gif
    I have only observed start of the SC24 (2009 inwards) and can not remember seeing anything similar.
    Is the SC25 about to end prematurely at a miserably low count, I certainly do not know.
    Dr. Svalgaard predicts moderately strong SC25 (similar to SC24) I would expect about 25-30% lower.
    If Dr. Svalgaard is about it might be helpful to hear from the solar scientist with some five decades of experience.

  8. Great read. Many thanks to the author.

    ‘A proxy vote, for examples, is something delegated. This gives the researchers at James Cook University the potential to generate what might be considered policy-based evidence.’

    Another example of ‘adjusted data’ destroying science. If the present is misrepresented, how is it possible for science to either address today’s problems or predict the future?

    • Remember those “multiple guess exams”?

      Where the punch card allowed 5 choices per question (IIRC).

      And the questions were independent of each other.

      One I ran into was hierarchical, which seems a better reflection on how things happen in real life

  9. Thing about Jennifer Marohasy is- she goes out and looks! As she has proved time and again ,like going to weather stations in sub – zero conditions and actually MEASURING temperatures .If she says corals are OK then they are OK!Keep up the great work Jennifer,good luck with the new book and keep shoving the DATA in their faces!

  10. the survey back in 2016 by Terry Hughes that first reported extensive coral bleaching was from 300 metres up and out a plane window.

    So, sportsfans – who we gonna believe?
    Terry (“Biggles”) Hughes,
    or our own lyin’ eyes?

    • “Bleaching is when corals turn white as a result of warmer water temperatures,”

      This is misdirection by omission. Coral bleaching occurs with BOTH WARMING AND COOLING of the waters around the coral. They bleach to shed their zooxanthellae in order to bring in species of photosynthetic organisms more tolerant to the new temperature.

      So, bleaching occurs in both directions. It is myopic, probably purposely, to identify bleaching only from warming, as eventually all the reefs would be warm-adapted and bleaching would decrease all over. They conveniently forget that the coral reefs have been through much warmer climate periods than now. In addition, coral reefs (and rainforests) have been around the longest as stable ecosystems, as evidence by the highly specialized and complex food webs they possess. They are, in effect, the most stable ecosystems on Earth

      Warming would be a boon for corals, as they could then grow farther toward the poles than they can when in a cooler climate.

      Furthermore, what is more damaging is Westerly winds blowing the ocean toward the East, mounding up the water and lowering sea level around the GBR. Thus, not only would the very daily warm waters near the surface be experienced by the coral, but, during low tide, they might even be out of the water, which would be very damaging, rather than the act of bleaching and recovery.

  11. Interestingly, the Bikini Atoll coral growth since being obliterated by the 1950s atomic bomb testing has restored coverage & species to almost what it was before the big blasts were unleashed.

    What’s that – 60-70 years?

    Sheesh – corals must be a bigger pest than rabbits!

  12. Proxies, like statistics, are a convenient mechanism to allow bias and outright fraud to occur. The second I see a proxy is used to determine something about the climate I grow suspicious.

    Of course now that direct measurements are under siege through “adjustments” made by biased and unscrupulous people you can’t trust anything that isn’t available in it’s “raw” form, along with explanations and processes used to adjust it.

    • The problem is that if you can’t use proxies you’re stuck with the instrumental record. Proxies are a two edged sword. We rely on proxies to tell us that we’re in an interglacial period (which we call the Holocene) and that temperatures have been slowly decreasing ever since the Holocene optimum. That’s why we don’t have to worry about James Hansen’s tipping point. It’s also why Dr. Mann had to fraudulently misuse proxies to obliterate the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. (by adverse inference, he admitted it was fraud)

      Proxies tell us that the arctic has been seasonally ice free for much of the Holocene. link That proves that polar bears will do just fine if the arctic again becomes seasonally ice free.

      What it boils down to is that we’re in a proxy fight with the alarmists. (pun intended)

  13. Proxies like models are much more useful than real measurements. They allow fine tuning of the exact results you want. This is why climate scientists like them so much.

  14. … Holocene expansion of coral reefs on newly flooded continental shelves depleted global ocean alkalinity … link

    So, chemistry says corals cause ocean acidification. LOL

    • That is an interesting statement, to say the least 🙂

      What it says, is that coral decrease alkalinity.

      So its from someone who actually knows something about chemistry. 🙂

  15. “The relative abundances of large colonies remained relatively stable, but this apparent stability masks steep declines in absolute abundance. ” I remember the starfish claim, back then marine biology was more stable, and we knew starfish could be important predators. Just watch one eat an oyster, but still more oysters than starfish that can eat them. Their files are “Under Embargo.” Masks stuff no doubt.

  16. “While the new article by the James Cook University scientists, claims both the incident of coral bleaching and cyclones is increasing…”

    “The Great Barrier Reef as one ecosystem, comprises nearly 3,000 individual reefs …”

    Clearly Global Warming leads to the proliferation of misplaced commas.

  17. ”It is also assumed that the corals at North Direction island never recovered from the cyclones and bleaching – yet they have recovered!”
    Just makes me wonder how many thousands of cyclones and bleaching events the reef has recovered from in its 500,000 year life span. Now all of a sudden they are supposed to be deadly. Talk about alarmism.

  18. This article is entirely the original work of Jennifer Marohasy. It would be helpful if posts had correct and full attribution. There is a lot more at her blog, and it’s a shame if readers miss that. It’s also a shame if the people doing the work aren’t supported. The skeptic community need people like Jennifer who put in the hard yards. :- )

    https://jennifermarohasy.com/2020/10/half-the-corals-dead-but-not-in-real-life/

    Jennifer deserves credit and a big thank you.

    • I thought that was pretty obvious, seeing it said..

      “October 15, 2020 By jennifer “

      With a link to her as the author..

    • Jennifer is a common name. It wasn’t until I got into the post that I realized it must be from Jennifer Marohasy and went back to see how I missed the attribution and checked to see what the name linked to.

      I agree with Jo – please use full names in attributions.

  19. Back in 2012, Professor Hughes was convener of the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Cairns (co-hosted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University), wherein thousands from some 80 countries enjoyed a lovely 5-day venue including field trips. Taking it in six steps:

    Step 1) Beforehand, three eminent scientists including the convener gathered at Stanford and drafted the consensus.

    Step 2) They also launched an endorsement-form on their websites at COS (Centre for Ocean Solutions) and ICRS which although aimed at scientists could be actioned by the unqualified without any affiliations other than their hometown name.

    Step 3) They also made the following request on the COS and ICRS websites: “To build a large base of support in preparation for the pubic launch of the statement (during the opening ceremony of the 12thInternational Coral Reef Symposium on July 9, in Cairns, Australia), please click HERE to join other scientists from around the world by adding your name to the list of endorsees.”

    Step 4) The ICRS website published a list of almost 2,500 endorsees dated 6/July/2012 that being three days before the five-day symposium started.

    Step 5) The consensus statement launched at the opening ceremony and various sympathetic press reports announced that over 2,000; 2,200; 2,400 or 2,500 scientists had endorsed the alarmism, depending on source.

    Step 6) Convener announces success of the Symposium (This is fun) http://www.icrs2012.com/Default.htm#farewell) and the return home of 2,000 (two thousand) “of us” to 80 countries. Also a plea to continue endorsing the consensus statement….. more than 3,000 signatures so far and we would like to keep the momentum going.
    More detail and links at https://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/07/25/six-easy-steps-for-saving-the-coral-reefs-for-our-grandchildren/

  20. I think there will come a time when AIMS will cease doing fieldwork altogether. Why bother, when one might find something wrong with their policies?

  21. Back in early April the ABC (Australian national broadcaster) and others hyperventilated over reports of the worst-ever GBR bleaching (and catastrophically the third mass event in only five years; to be the new norm).
    Professor Hughes (the director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University) was quoted globally, my bold and [adds] e.g.:

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

    “The southern bleaching was very severe and we were most concerned about the south because of the naivete of the corals that are there,” he said.
    …Terry Hughes spent nine days surveying 10,000 kilometres of the reef [Imagine the logistical difficulties in making SUBJECTIVE assessments and data compilations in a fixed-wing aircraft in Hughes’ selection preferences among the over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Barrier_Reef

    “They hadn’t bleached before, which means there are more corals and more of the corals that are particularly susceptible to heat stress,” he said…
    In the last two bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, about half the coral on the Great Barrier Reef was estimated to have died…
    …Bleaching in 2016 was more severe than 2020, but was concentrated in the north of the Great Barrier Reef.
    In those events, the areas hit hardest were in the remote northern stretches of the reef… The southern and central reef had mostly been spared. This time those parts were not so lucky…
    “For the first time, the Barrier Reef has bleached in all three major regions: in the north, in the central region and in the southern regions,” Professor Hughes said…

    The New York Times:
    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/australia/great-barrier-reefs-bleaching-dying.html

    …The reef was being ravaged by bleaching yet again [after the 50% mortality in 2016 and 2017], this time across an even wider area.
    “It’s the first time we’ve seen severely bleached reefs along the whole length of the reef, in particular, the coastal reefs,” said Professor Hughes… …“Those are bleached everywhere.”
    The survey amounts to an updated X-ray for a dying patient, with the markers of illness being the telltale white of coral that has lost its color, visible from the air and in the water.
    The mass bleaching indicates that corals are under intense stress from the waters around them, which have been growing increasingly hotter.
    The world’s oceans, which absorb 93 percent of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases that humans send into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, are warming up 40 percent faster on average than scientists estimated six years ago.

    So, what does the Australian government’s GBRMPA (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) latest report say today?
    http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/the-reef/reef-health

    Coral bleaching and disease: Our Eye on the Reef network reported isolated instances of low severity coral bleaching and damage in all management areas. Isolated instances of low severity coral disease were reported from all areas, except the Far Northern management area.
    Crown-of-thorns starfish: Crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks continue to impact reef health across all management areas.

    Earlier GBRMPA (and AIMS) reports also dismantle some of the specific claims for the southern region, particularly Heron Island’s “first ever event”.

  22. The idea of using a model to determine reality, instead of simply making a direct measurement is perhaps the greatest signature of left wing bias into the field of science in modern history.

    Manipulated models now tell us that our houses are under water from rising seas, millions of people are starving due to climate roasted crops and permanent drought, islands are being wiped out by catastrophic hurricanes, and the list goes on…

    Meanwhile, back in the lack of sanity, far fewer people die of starvation, illness or climate related causes compared to any era of human history. Human prosperity and longevity is at an all time high and record crops are produced almost every year.

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