Heron Island Photo Check

From Jennifer Marohasy’s Blog

November 24, 2021 By jennifer

I am seeking feedback, including comment and corrections, on this draft blog post. I have previously sent an email to Richard Vevers (1 October 2021) and placed a request for more information at the Catlin Survey website (20 April 2021), without receiving any response from either. Irus Braverman was kind enough to reply to my email (30 September 2021) indicating that the photograph used in her book Coral Whisperers was provided to her by Richard Vevers. 

If all science is either ‘physics’ or ‘stamp collecting’ as once suggested by Ernest Rutherford, I would argue that it is important that we not knowingly distribute fakes. 

Corals Healthy, Photograph Bleached – Draft 

Does it matter if the Internet is replete with fake photographs accompanying fake stories? Does it matter that these photographs keep children awake at night – worrying about climate change and the impending doom of our Great Barrier Reef? 

There is a photograph that has been promoted by Richard Vevers, the founder, and CEO of The Ocean Agency, a Washington-based international not-for-profit that is purportedly dedicated to marine conservation. It is described on his The Ocean Agency website as having been taken at Heron Island in 2015. On Flickr, the same photograph is described as having been taken in 2014, and in Irus Braverman’s book Coral Whisperers as having been taken in 2016. 

Screenshot from The Ocean Agency Website.  The red asterisk has been added by me, to draw attention to the date as indicated at this website.
Screen shot from Flickr website. Red underline added to draw attention to the date.
Photograph from Irus Braverman’s book. Red underline added, to draw attention to the date.

At least two of these photographs must be incorrectly labelled. 

It is the prestige associated with the XL Catlin Seaview Survey – touted as ‘the largest survey of the Great Barrier Reef ever undertaken’, ‘using unique SVII underwater camera systems’ and which commenced back in 2012 – that has given the photograph credibility.

The XL Catlin Seaview Survey was undertaken by The University of Queensland in partnership with Google, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the United Nation’s Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and others. The expedition visited Heron Island on 4 November 2012. The photographs from this survey can be viewed online, but this photograph is not among them. 

According to the survey’s website, the XL Catlin returned to the Great Barrier Reef in 2014 following cyclone Ita, and again in 2016 following a mass coral bleaching. However, none of the 226,000 georeferenced coral reef survey images are publicly available from these expeditions.  

According to a different survey, which was an aerial survey undertaken in 2016 by Terry Hughes from James Cook University, it was mostly the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef that bleached in that year; however, Heron Reef, which is part of the southern Great Barrier Reef, did not bleach at all at that time.  

In fact, the photograph was almost certainly taken on 22 October 2014, and it is not coral bleaching that is being seen. I hypothesise that the corals appear bleached because the photograph has been taken through layers of water that absorb light in the red spectrum and/or because some of the colour has been stripped from the photograph in post-production. Either way, it is not fit for purpose; it cannot credibly be presented as evidence of coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef in 2016.

Vever’s organisation has the official endorsement of the United Nation’s Ocean Decade, and the photograph may have been promoted by him ostensibly to support ocean science and conservation, and as evidence of bleaching at Heron Island in 2016. But this doesn’t make the image a true likeness. In fact, the photograph fits all the criteria of being a fake. I believe it does not show coral bleaching and there was no mass coral bleaching at Heron Island in 2016, or in 2015 or 2014.

I visited Heron Island earlier this month (November 2021) with underwater photographers Stuart Ireland and Leonard Lim. There we found the fringing reef to be healthy, including the fields of staghorn coral. We didn’t have the ‘unique SVII underwater camera systems’, nor the endorsement and sponsorship of a university, or Google, or the United Nations, but I did have the sense to place a colour chart among the corals to facilitate correct white colour balance in post-production.  

Jen Marohasy (foreground) and Leonard Lim (background) with a colour chart above the fields of staghorn coral, Heron Reef, 9 November 2021.  Photo credit Stuart Ireland.
Jen Marohasy above the fields of staghorn corals, Heron Reef, 9 November 2021. Photo credit Stuart Ireland.

It is evident from our photographs, with the colour chart providing some quality assurance, that the fields of staghorn corals at Heron Island are not bleached – not this year anyway. Maybe next? 

Yet the XL Catlin Survey and Richard Vevers, via the Flickr website, continue to perpetuate the myth that they are bleached – most recently in the pages of the prestigious Smithsonian magazine.

Surely the children of the world deserve to know the truth about Heron Reef’s corals. 

The Smithsonian Institute is the world’s largest museum, education and research complex. But it seems they don’t have much of a process for quality control of the information in their magazine.
Screen shot. This photograph has been published and republished, including by the Sydney Morning Herald in April 2021.


The feature photograph at the very top of this post was taken by Stuart Ireland at Heron Reef on 11 November 2021.   There was so much diversity and so much beauty.  The coral gardens were everything except ostentatious, they were subtle and so alive.  What a privilege it was to dive that reef over three days.  So much thanks to not only Leonard and Stuart, but also Andrew, Adam and Diego.  There will be a documentary, featuring more than one banana nudibranch.

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Steve Case
November 24, 2021 2:26 pm

It isn’t like you can’t manipulate a photo of Staghorn to make it look dead:
comment image

John Tillman
Reply to  Steve Case
November 24, 2021 2:47 pm

Good work, but coral bleaching doesn’t mean that the coral is necessarily dead. They expel their symbiont algae for various reasons. Altered seawater biology, physics or chemistry can make a change in symbiont species advantageous.

Reply to  Steve Case
November 25, 2021 3:09 pm

I had the misfortune to watch a reef of staghorn coral bleach and die in Indonesia. Causes were believed to be excess fertilizer inducing too much green algal coating and over fishing allowing a crown of thorns explosion. (The government took advantage of nearby gas production to make fertilizer nearly free)The bleached phase is eerie white. Once they die they quickly break up to flat lying rubble. Those photos do not resemble either phase.

Reply to  Steve Case
December 1, 2021 6:59 pm

Bleached or beige take your “pic” 😉

November 24, 2021 2:26 pm

I explored Heron Island’s coral in 1953, yes, a while ago. It was fine then, and from the evidence my guess is that it is fine now.

Reply to  Don Aitkin
November 24, 2021 4:37 pm

I was there in 1980, real good then too. 🙂

Bill Burrows
Reply to  Don Aitkin
November 24, 2021 4:45 pm

Gee Don – I did not know anyone was as old as me! I too have had the pleasure of visiting the Heron Island reefs in the 1950’s and the extreme luck of fishing/snorkelling in the Bunker Group of coral cays (which includes Heron) in most years of the 2000’s. Yep – these reefs are still as good as I remember them from the early days.  This is not to say that as a biological organism they don’t wax and wane to some extent in response to weather and other disturbances. But the key feature is resilience – the GBR has it in spades. And it is a huge expanse that guarantees you will always find what you are looking for if you make a few sensible enquiries, before confirming your booking.

Here are some supporting articles which back up Jennifer’s reef research/adventures.  The Keppel group of islands (situated c. 100 km WNW of Heron) host an amazing array of fringing reefs close to the Central Queensland coast: https://keppels.com.au/keppels/ .  One Tree island is a dedicated research station just 7.5 km SE of Heron: https://www.scu.edu.au/engage/news/latest-news/2019/southern-great-barrier-reef-island-shows-vital-signs-of-life.php?. Finally Walter Starck, a well known marine biologist provides perspectives on the reefs in the Cairns region of North Queensland: https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/doomed-planet/2021/05/simple-clear-evidence-the-great-barrier-reef-is-fine/ .

Put all these reefs and those in between on your ‘bucket list’ – if you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting them beforehand.

November 24, 2021 2:27 pm

Jennifer has sharp eyes!

For those who have never been diving the color red (IIRC) is the first in the color spectrum to vanish at about 30 ft or so. The world in vision becomes ‘blah’ shortly thereafter as you descend, it looses its color and becomes shades of gray. But if you bring a specimen to the surface it may be bright red or even more colorful.

Last edited 1 year ago by eyesonu
Jeff Alberts
Reply to  eyesonu
November 24, 2021 8:52 pm

OMG! The color has been LOOSED!! RUN FOR THE HILLS!!


Bill Powers
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
November 27, 2021 7:26 am

We are all going to die. Quick somebody tell the children!

November 24, 2021 2:35 pm

Thank you for the detailed account that sadly shows the perverse way our MSM seem to revel in misrepresenting the truth. Your love for the ocean and obvious frustration in the way the media propagates these stories comes through with grace.

Coeur de Lion
November 24, 2021 2:35 pm

What was the depth of water?

November 24, 2021 2:37 pm

As anyone who has ever donned a facemask and snorkel and dived on a coral reef close up will attest, most corals present very delicate pastel hues, often just at their very tips.

And as Jennifer and colleagues have frequently recorded, beige / off-white is probably the most prevalent color of coral reefs in their full flush of health.

Confusingly, the public has been given the impression that selected images of vibrantly-colored corals taken under the “stage lighting” of powerful underwater lights are what healthy corals should always look like.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Mr.
November 24, 2021 3:16 pm

That is usually true. I have dived St Croix reefs at Carambola and at Buck Island, and many times the shallowest of 3 coral reefs offshore my beach pad in Fort Lauderdale. Color is provided by symbionts (corals are translucent else their symbionts could not photosynthesize),and the shallower the more vivid. That is because seawater filters light. Blue goes farthest, red/ orange/yellow least far in that order. So there simply are not a lot of vibrant colors below a very few meters UNLESS you bring a strong underwater white light down to the corals for the photography. Jen’s color correction chart shows that simple physics nicely.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
November 24, 2021 5:21 pm

Rud, I’m intentionally going to be vague here. There’s a good coral head just south (300 ft) of the closest pier to you on the first reef. You gotta put your head in the sand to view under it. lot of speckled lobster (spanish?). Fl lobster just north of the jetty. You’ll figure it out. I was from the poor side of the tracks so had to do it from shore!

Rud Istvan
Reply to  eyesonu
November 25, 2021 8:03 am

I know well the closest pier to me, so have your locations down pat. Our building has a kayak storage just off the beach. So while the scuba guys (used to be one) swim out to the reef from the beach, us old snorkel guys grab a kayak and paddle out.

Charles just moved to my neighborhood from Pompano. He had it really good, because the shallow reef there is only 100 yards off their pier. I am urging him to get a kayak for here.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
November 25, 2021 4:04 pm

The coral head is about even with the end of the pier. Venture even closer. I’ve been 50 yards off the south end. Probably 22 – 25 ft. The pier south of the jetty and south of the pier is about 20′ and very colorful. Great for snorkling. Lots of conch and colorful fish as well as ‘cuda. Some bottom cover but not coral heads.There is a place very close to shore @ southern Pompano (right at the waterline) where there were some black colored rocked dumped. Lots of ‘angel fish’ and others to view. They sure become active when the surf gets rough.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
November 25, 2021 4:06 pm

If you have the $$$ to spend catch a plane ride and map special/interesting spots to check out.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
November 25, 2021 4:32 pm

One more thing I would like to say. If I had a kayak down there I would cut a hole in the bottom and install a 6 or 8″ threaded pvc fitting to rig a ‘viewing’ port with plexiglass. You will need an onboard viewing tube to block the light but doesn’t need to be cemented in place. For the 1st reef it should work well as it averages 20 – 25 ft. and then you will know when to jump overboard for REAL fun!

Reply to  Rud Istvan
November 25, 2021 4:41 pm

Lots of memories coming back! You need to float the Locksahatchee River. Had my first canoe ride there and since never been without at least 1 canoe. Where I live now I need one equipped for serious whitewater and another for beer drinking excursions! We put in at the bridge just west of the Jupiter exit of the Sunshine State Parkway and took out in some bay for W Palm. It’s a ‘jungle cruise’ !!!!

Rud Istvan
November 24, 2021 2:54 pm

I have a personal Anne dote to relate.
In 1990, I took the family on a 1 week vacation to the ‘famous’ Carambola Beach resort on St. Croix. The year before, St Croix had been devastated by Hugo. The steep bay mountainside behind the resort was still almost completely denuded.

We chartered a sailboat over to Buck Island National Monument to snorkel the famous underwater National Park Service trail thru the elkhorn coral reef in the Buck Island cove. Total devastation. Nothing but bleached and broken elkhorn coral fragments on the bottom 15 feet below. There are images available on the web.

By 2017, the trail had significantly rejuvenated itself. Snorkeling was very good per St Croix tourist bureau (with images) until again partly devastated (less than by Hugo) by brushes with Maria and Irma. Images show not as bad as Hugo, but not good.

As of now, late 2021, the underwater trail is again in good condition. NPS jphas some images from this past summer.

in other words, the elkhorn evolved to come back from hurricane devastation, and in surprisingly few years. That is Darwin at work, something warmunists ‘forget’.

BTW, today was the first day of the typically 3 day GBR annual spawn—for all coral types simultaneously. The color images available today are just amazing. The spawn will rapidly repopulate any GBR bleached sections, which as Merohasy shows are much less than the alarmists pretend via their lazy at best and false at worst data.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
November 24, 2021 4:41 pm

Stony coral (SPS) are remarkable growers … I have grown a green table variety of sps that has exposed at the water surface.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
November 24, 2021 6:31 pm

Yes Rud I’ve been on a boat heading to the outer GB reef in perfect millpond conditions plowing through the coral spawn.

Truly nature at its most impressive.

Zig Zag Wanderer
November 24, 2021 3:15 pm

According to the survey’s website, the XL Catlin returned to the Great Barrier Reef in 2014 following cyclone Ita, and again in 2016 following a mass coral bleaching. However, none of the 226,000 georeferenced coral reef survey images are publicly available from these expeditions.

If the Reef was worse in 2016,I’d expect a lot of wailing from the Climate Worriers, and Shirley they’d be splashing the photos everywhere. Obviously Reef is fine, and they are keeping shtum about it.

But still, come and see the Great Barrier Reef, peeps, for the last last chance to see it, until the last last last chance to see it! Bring tourist dollars!

Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
November 24, 2021 4:43 pm

The only thing killing tourism to the GBR is our imbecilic state government COVID lockdowns, restrictions and quarantine orders.

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Streetcred
November 24, 2021 5:45 pm

Tell me about it, mate. It’s actually driving me out of my adoptive country, sadly. Planning on being an expat.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Streetcred
November 24, 2021 6:22 pm

A three year old boy was refused entry to Queensland because he is not deemed to be an essential worker.

In New Zealand “authorities” will be tracking unvaccinated and forcing them to take the jab.

In England, there is a private school that has now decided that skids who have not been jabbed must wear a yellow badge.

That’s how stupid the sc@mdemic has become.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 24, 2021 8:56 pm

And you guys haven’t overthrown this tyranny yet??

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
November 24, 2021 10:20 pm

No not yet. Every state and territory has declared a state of emergency which gives leaders rule over everyone breaching all manner of local and international laws such as the Nuremberg Act of 1949.

Andrews, the premier of Victoria, is trying to pass laws that, effectively, make him a dictator. There are hundreds of thousands of protestors and protests around Aus right now, and they are only growing.

No-one here is anti-vax, just anti-vax *MANDATE*. The politicians don’t seem to understand the difference.

Last edited 1 year ago by Patrick MJD
Pamela Matlack-Klein
Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 25, 2021 4:06 am

Last night I heard that Australia is going to put Covid cases in concentration camps. I sincerely hope this is fake news but if true, also hope you guys are protesting the devil out of it!

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Pamela Matlack-Klein
November 25, 2021 1:21 pm

It’s not fake news. That is the plan.

November 24, 2021 4:02 pm

Great to see
But the real question is how can we get this to the greater world to remove the basis of these manipulative lying individuals

November 24, 2021 4:04 pm

Institutions, universities, scientists, professors, students and or helpers caught doing devious stuff like this should be severely punished. The people should be black balled from ever receiving government funds and the institutions’ funds should be severely curtailed for several years. Take away a decimal point for each infraction. If they got a million dollars the year of the infraction then the most they can receive for five years after is one hundred thousand. This kind of nonsense would stop.

November 24, 2021 4:26 pm

I was amused when viewing the television news last night when the GBR was mentioned and a couple of student scientists were featured underwater and then interviewed about the seasonal spawning taking place now, beautiful images of very healthy coral and the clouds of spawn floating around.

Yes, coral reefs are alive and they have life cycles so dying and reviving areas can be found among the mostly healthy coral.

IPCC please note.

Reply to  Dennis
November 24, 2021 4:35 pm

And recently there was a train journey documentary featuring: “Sir Anthony Robinson (born 15 August 1946) is an English actor, author, broadcaster, comedian, presenter and political activist.”

At one stage he interviewed an Irishman and son who are saving the GBR they claimed by gathering coral and hanging it from aluminium frames underwater to enable it to grow and then they attach the healthy coral to “dead” areas to revive the reef. There were images of healthy coral and “dead” coral shown, and climate change was given as a reason for the damage.

Tony went to film for political purposes I suspect.

Spangled Drongo
Reply to  Dennis
November 24, 2021 7:50 pm

What a cunning plan.

Reply to  Spangled Drongo
November 24, 2021 8:22 pm

Spangled you’d be familiar with the coral reefs around Green Island (in Moreton Bay in Sth Qld Australia) that get silted over about every 10 years by floodwaters from the Brisbane River, but keep coming back to their healthy state.

Are they still there, or have the anchor chains from weekend cruisers ripped them all out?

Reply to  Mr.
November 24, 2021 8:23 pm

Or do I mean Peel Island?

Reply to  Mr.
November 25, 2021 10:30 am

Probably…the Green Is I know is off from Cairns, much further north.

Reply to  Alastair Brickell
November 25, 2021 3:34 pm

There is a Green Is in Moreton Bay.
Approx 5km NW of Peel Is.
Also has fringing coral (or used to)

Clyde Spencer
November 24, 2021 5:11 pm

In response to your request for feedback, I note that your face shows pink. However, the face of the diver in the photo in question is too small to detect the color. Perhaps if the photo could be enlarged, it would show whether his face is pink or blue.

November 24, 2021 5:25 pm

“Does it matter if the Internet is replete with fake photographs accompanying fake stories? Does it matter that these photographs keep children awake at night – worrying about climate change and the impending doom of our Great Barrier Reef? “

The Great Barrier Reef could completely destroyed by one space rock.
Children should not worry, they should plan to stop the rock from hitting Earth.
They probably have a lot of time, but they start as soon as possible.

YallaYPoora Kid
Reply to  gbaikie
November 25, 2021 4:13 am

It would have to be a big rock to destroy 2000 km of GBR. Maybe no one would have anything to worry about after that.

Patrick MJD
November 24, 2021 6:24 pm

The issue with digital photograph is the images can be easily altered to show anything. If the original exif data is stripped out you can never tell what the camera settings were.

Matthew Sykes
November 25, 2021 12:27 am

If it is supporting a narrative, it is a lie.

Doug Prior
November 25, 2021 2:06 am

That’s excellent with Jennifer having the colour chart in the photo. When I read her blog ‘Bleached from a Distance’ on September 26 2021, I thought that was needed. Also could have a colour chart at about 3m distances from the camera since the transmission of light changes, though most photos would only be interested in one subject. Any viewing of the photo on screen or print will verify the colour reproduced with the colour chart. Keep up the photos it is great evidence.

Pamela Matlack-Klein
November 25, 2021 4:15 am

Staghorn corals are normally that beigy-yellow color Jennifer is showing in the photo with the colour chart and the one below it. This is a coral I am all to familiar with having snorkeled into a shallow bay solid with the stuff as the tide was ebbing. I had to be rescued by my colleagues in a raft as the water became too shallow for me to swim out. The many cuts and scrapes from the coral taught me a valuable lesson.

November 25, 2021 5:31 am

What else can you expect from people whose only method of getting what they want is to cheat, cheat, cheat? Why not just throw in a horrified mermaid surveying the “dead” fields of coral while they’re at it?

Since today is Thanksgiving Day here in the US of A, I’m thankful for sites like WUWT for their pursuit of exposing the nonsense that has turned science into a toy of politicians and greedy self-serving “researchers” – and I use that last noun loosely.

Alasdair Fairbairn
November 25, 2021 6:43 am

I read this with the Peter Ridd legal saga in mind which to my mind demonstrated how USELESS the legal profession is when dealing with matters of science and rectitude.

Ireneusz Palmowski
November 26, 2021 4:25 am

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is spawning in an explosion of color as the World Heritage-listed natural wonder recovers from life-threatening coral bleaching episodes

November 29, 2021 12:26 am

Jennifer, the coral in your photo is “Bleached Az” bro! 😉

Last edited 1 year ago by Scott Wilmot Bennett
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