By H. Sterling Burnett -March 29, 2022
The Washington Post (WaPo) published an article today discussing the fact that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) recently suffered its “sixth massive bleaching event,” blaming it on climate change. The evidence that long-term climate change, as opposed to a short-term fluctuation in ocean temperatures, is to blame for the present bleaching event is limited. Also, the WaPo presents no evidence of a tipping point. Indeed, based on past bleaching events, reports of the extent of the current bleaching are likely overstated. What is clear from the history of the GBR is that most of the coral that suffered bleaching are likely to recover.
In a WaPo article titled, “Climate warming has dealt yet another blow to the Great Barrier Reef,” Darryl Fears writes:
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is experiencing its sixth massive bleaching event as climate change has warmed the ocean, raising concerns over whether one of the world’s natural wonders is nearing a tipping point.
Reef managers confirmed Friday that aerial surveys detected catastrophic bleaching on 60 percent of the reef’s corals.
Unusually high ocean temperatures, up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, probably triggered the event. It is the sixth massive bleaching the reef has suffered in two decades, and the fourth since 2016. Back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 affected two-thirds of the world’s largest reef.
Data does not support WaPo’s claims about the extent of previous bleaching events in the GBR. Although some scientists widely quoted in corporate media reports on the 2016 bleaching event claimed 93 percent of the GBR suffered bleaching in 2016, subsequent research from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) showed just 22 percent of the reef had bleached with AIMS estimating more than 75 percent the bleached coral would recover. As discussed in Climate Realism, AIMS’ survey determined there was “minimal impact” from the 2016 bleaching with hard coral across 85 percent of the reefs expanding year over year.
Indeed, rather than recent bleaching events indicating corals might be approaching a tipping point for the collapse of the reef, AIMS’ survey showed, as late as August 2021 corals were at a historic high for numbers. AIMS reported “Hard coral cover increased across all three regions (Northern, Central, and Southern) and most reefs surveyed had moderate or high coral cover. Overall, 59 out of 127 reefs had moderate (>10% – 30%) hard coral cover and 36 reefs had high (>30% – 50%) hard coral cover.” (See the figure below)
Citing AIMS’ data, in late-July the United Nations World Heritage Committee (WHR) rejected calls to list the GBR as “in danger.” The WHR’s decision came despite last minute pleas by climate alarmists to ignore AIMS’ report and list the GBR as being threatened with extinction due to climate change.
The present bleaching may be due to unusual temperature conditions in the oceans surrounding Australia. However, climate change can’t have been responsible for the six bleaching events that occurred over the past 20 years because there has been no long-term temperature increase in the seas around Australia. As discussed by meteorologist Anthony Watts, reporting on recent research, Bill Johnston, Ph.D., a former New South Wales Department of Natural Resources research scientist, Johnston compared temperature data from 1871 to recent data derived from 27 Australian Institute of Marine Science data loggers in a reef area where recent bleaching events occurred.
No difference was found between temperatures measured at Port Stephens and Cape Sidmouth by astronomers from Melbourne and Sydney using bucket samples in November and December 1871 and data sampled at those times from 27 AIMS datasets spanning from Thursday Island, in the north to Boult Reef in the south. Alarming claims that the East Australian Current has warmed due to global warming are therefore without foundation.
If there has been no long-term average warming of the seas containing the GBR, warming can’t be threatening the GBR’s survival.
Indeed it would be surprising if warmer waters did pose a threat to the GBR or other coral reefs around the world. Coral have existed continuously for the past 40 million years, adapting to often abrupt and significant temperature shifts repeatedly. Historically, coral have thrived during periods when ocean temperatures were significantly warmer than they are today.
Coral require warm water, not cold water, to thrive and survive. They are unable to live and colonize outside of tropical or subtropical waters. As a result, as the Earth has modestly warmed, coral are extending their range toward the poles while still thriving at and near the equator.
Coral reefs are natural marvels, providing unique habitat for abundant sea life and contributing the health of the oceans. No coral reef is more justifiably famous than the GBR. Fortunately, as recoveries from previous bleaching events show, contrary to the demise of the GBR implied by WaPo as a result of the recent bleaching which it blames, without providing a scintilla of evidence, on human caused global warming, the majority of the corals bleached this year is likely to recover.
Fears [Journalists? sic] should stop promoting climate fear and put the present bleaching in the wider context of history and science. Corals have proved adaptable and resilient across the millions of years of their existence. There is no reason for believing they can’t adapt to modest warming, should it continue.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is managing editor of Environment & Climate News and a research fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute. Burnett worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis for 18 years, most recently as a senior fellow in charge of NCPA’s environmental policy program. He has held various positions in professional and public policy organizations, including serving as a member of the Environment and Natural Resources Task Force in the Texas Comptroller’s e-Texas commission.
I don’t know why the Australian Tourism Authority (whatever they are actually called) allows this fear-mongering false news to get out. Tourism is important to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef is certainly one of the attractions.
You obviously missed this headline from the WaPo:
“people who have accepted austerity to defeat Russian aggression are
more likely to also accept “sleeping colder in the winters to flying less and
paying more when you do” to combat climate change.”
Why would you want Aussies to miss out on the “badge of honor” you
get knowing you sacrificed to combat climate change? Heroism at its
Yesterday, upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away.
Whatever that authority is called, it should point out that the corals in the much hotter waters around Indonesia are doing spectacularly well. Maybe the waters off OZ are too cold?
I know I’ll have to wait for it, but “breakthrough research” will eventually show that as rising CO2 has invigorated plant growth (forests, shrubs, grasses, crops, maple syrup, etc.) and recovery of tigers, monarch butterflies and all other beneficiaries of a greening planet, so too has it increased productivity and health of sea ecologies. Thank you ExxonMobil, Peabody Coal and your fossil fuel colleagues.
In the shallow Persian Gulf, the water is amazingly warm. And what thrives there? Corals.
Jennifer Marohasy has done work demonstrating that aerial surveys vastly overstate reef bleaching. After diving on reefs the group at James Cook University has called bleached with aerial surveys, she found them to be in good condition. She noted the natural color of most healthy corals is beige, and fine color distinctions are difficult to make from the air.
Hmmm, I wonder just how many bleaching events have occurred over the centuries and not just since 1972 when the Australian Institute of Marine Science was first formed and, coincidently, when government funding first started.
This current scare started after a survey was conducted over 100 meters above the reef by plane. Of course it would be accurate.
at 150 mph
Imagine the conversation in that plane.
“that looks bleached and that looks bleached and that looks bleached” etc.
With no scrutineers to challenge these judgements.
“Follow the science” should have strings attached.
Corals are nature’s marine equivalent of the terrestrial version – weeds.
Both corals and weeds can be visually entrancing, and support / nourish many other species.
Both corals and weeds are very hardy. They are nature’s SURVIVORS.
Coral reefs only got to be the sizes they are now because new corals grow on top of dead corals.
Remember – everything that lives in nature cyclically dies.
Just consider what corals at the Bikini Atoll did after their whole existence was obliterated by atomic bomb testing in the 1950s – within ONE human lifetime (~ 74 years), they have totally re-grown to the healthy reefs they were beforehand.
Without any human assistance.
Just leave the coral reefs t.f. alone!
Excellent, Mr. I had never thought of corals as ‘weeds’ of the ocean.
They are just as tough as our weeds on land.
👍👍for a great analogy and a new way of looking at things. Thank you.
There are many cold water corals.
Yes, and deep water corals as well. I’ve personally dredged up some from ~700m and seen them at abyssal depths. They’re all over the place.
It still amazes me that someone publishes articles like these, and can’t differentiate between quoted text and the main body of the article. ESP isn’t a thing.
Someone should summarize the years and percent of area bleached. Doing that, my rough estimated or WAG is that 297% of the corals are dead and gone.
This needs to be peer reviewed.
Yeah. Why tourists bother to turn up is a complete mystery.
Yep. Too cold in the water. I don’t like swimming unless the water is at least 30C. We need some global warming.
If you look at the various reefs shown in the following link, coral bleaching events have had a minimal long term impact to reef health. The majority of the damage that has dropped a reef’s coral cover precipitously has been through tropical cyclones or crown of thorn starfish outbreaks. Bleached corals stay attached to the reef and rarely result in death of the coral itself. CoT’s denude the entire reef and can take years to recover. Wave action during cyclones rips not only the live coral from the surface of the reef but can damage the underlying structure as well.
“… crown of thorn(s) starfish …”
Green Island. Friday, April 23, 1970. I wasted almost half a roll of 35mm film on the glass-bottomed boat tour due to those buggers.
Professor Peter Ridd a colleague of Dr Jennifer Marohasy and GBR researcher of many decades has often pointed out that by his own up close observations and comparing his photographic records past with present that the GBR is in excellent health.
Comments like the above resulted in James Cook University dismissing him for daring to speak the truth.
He also said that the often mentioned run off of chemicals and other claimed to be GBR pollutants ignored the distance from shore and that very little reaches the GBR.
The UN regularly threaten to downgrade the GBR, a very obvious political tactic used to try and gain what the UN wants from the Commonwealth of Australia. After all the GBR is a major tourism attraction for Queensland and therefore the nation.
Another example of climate hoax politics.
Ever noticed how UN seem to synchronise their analysis of GBR with Federal elections?
“It’s a Trap!”
The Washington Compost? Who reads that garbage?
Anthropogenic global “warming” is also without a scintilla of evidence.
On the contrary, it seems that the globe is gently subsiding into the next ice age. (Don’t worry, it won’t be fully upon us for another 30,000 years!)
A brief summary of alarmist’s core anxieties beginning in 1988 and the outturn of those anxieties here in 2022.
The list goes on. The alarmists are aware of their ongoing missing evidence needed to support their anxieties. Not wanting to be proven wrong, they respond with the fall back caution. ” just wait by the end of the century it will be much worse”.
We only have another ten years to save the planet….apparently.
I would like to see evidence that more CO2 increases the number of hurricanes. That a stupid claim to have made. Now it is an albatross.
Hi Rod, I hope you can help me find the source of a prediction I believe can be attributed to David Suzuki on one of his visits to Australia in the 1980s. I have heard it asserted that he made a claim something like, ‘By the year 2000 Australia will become unliveable’. I would like to quote this in a book I am writing about failed predictions but cannot prove that he actually did say it. Do you have any knowledge about Suzuki’s predictions so that I can be confident to cite him in this way? …. or should I just find some other of his failed predictions? Regards, Aussie Journo.
Hi David, I’m sorry I can’t be a help to you on Suzuki’s Australia predictions. Good look with the book I am sure you will find a suitable Suzuki failed prediction to quote anyway, there are plenty out there…..
They don’t care about facts or truth.
Be careful what you link – the 40 million year link brings up a nice history of coral growth and extinctions over the past half billion years but the article writer seems to think the Cretaceous-Tertiary comet that killed off the dinosaurs was a “large meteor impact which resulted in the formation of the Gulf of Mexico.” – if that was the case it would have been 100% extinction. The actual crater, at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula is only about 180 km wide, from a 20km object.
Strong upwelling associated with SOI provides food for Great Barrier Reef corals.
and yet the reef keeps seeing bleaching events as temperatures rise… really how long can Watt’s readers keep up the pretense nothing is happening and there’s no climate connection?
Maybe bleaching is a normal part of the reef’s existence griff have you thought about that?. A bit like weather, sometimes its raining sometimes its sunny. The cycle of life is not precise but its chaotic normal is not a sign things are abnormal, or unusual..
How long can you keep making nonsensical comments?
Griff is a stuck record, he cannot stop doing so.
Till Hell freezes over!
Well Griff the GBR would have experienced a lot of bleaching about 6k years ago when the seas there were ~ 600 ft lower.
Much of the present GBR would have been coastal savannah going quite brown in summer.
Do you reckon the local Aborigines back then used to sit around discussing how worried they were about the savannah turning brown each summer?
Griff the point made in the article is that the temperatures haven’t risen in 150 years. You cannot attribute “increased bleaching events” to “temperature rise” if a) there is no increase in bleaching and b) there is no temperature rise.
It is a perfect example of a “just so story”.
Really, how long can griffters keep up the pretence that coral bleaching is not natural.
“aerial surveys detected” – absolutely nothing. As many have pointed out, you cannot see anything from the air.
“Run off of chemicals” or similar claims are also false, and to claim otherwise is a lie. There are thousands of people up here in the north who know it is a lie. Back in the early 90s it was the cane-growers themselves who started constructing buffer zones and filtration beds. This work was supplemented by the efforts of local Landcare groups and agencies such as Green Corps. The amount of pollution in run-off is now so low that it is incapable of being measured.
Re aerial surveys the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says
“One important limitation of aerial surveys is they can only reliably survey corals in shallow water (down to about five metres)”
They obviously are all in on the climate change meme but do acknowledge that
“Bleached corals are not dead corals – on mild or moderately bleached reefs the Reef has a good chance to recover and survive”
a later comment appears to contradict the above to some extent by saying
“Reefs can be severely affected but do begin to recover as coral communities regrow and new coral larvae settle on the reef”
Which implies that reefs can recover from greater than mild or moderate bleaching.
The idea that GHGs can raise ocean temps by 7C is nonsense, and physically impossible.
Such changes are either the result of ocean currents or sunshine
The sea level at the reef is largely controlled by Pacific El Nino/Nina oscillatoins, and consquently,due to these oscillations,the sea level can fall by at least a foot at these times,thus exposing the coral to the direct radiation of the sun:the coral will then bleach.It always has,and it always will.And it always recovers.
In response to the El Nino southern oscillation sea level at Cooktown Qld. varies +/- 100 mm each side of the mean (https://www.bomwatch.com.au/bureau-of-meteorology/trends-in-sea-level-at-cooktown-great-barrier-reef/).
MSL declines during ElNino years which are relatively cloudless, and increases during rainy La Nina years. Both conditions (exposure to high levels of radiation and shallow seas, and increased fresh-water flushing during low tides) can result in bleaching.
Dr Bill Johnston
Surface temperatures in the open ocean do not even reach 31 C, as convection is immediately turned on.
In the world of rational thought the key graph above is displayed correctly. In the imaginary world of progressive “political” science the authors have failed in their duty to invert it for better effect. Any number of climate Scientologists could have assisted with this minor modification.
” … coral require warm water, not cold water, to survive …. ”
Sorry Dr. Burnett, you are wrong, there are plenty of cold water corals, some of them living down to 400M deep.
Plenty of information on your search engine – I use DDG.
By area, mass, species diversity and density most of the worlds reefs are in tropical and subtropical regions. Also, most (but not all) occur on the east coast of continents mainly because equatorial currents that are warmed in transit, flow from east to west.
Dr. Bill Johnston
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is experiencing its sixth massive bleaching event as climate change has warmed the ocean
Any awareness of coral bleaching on the GBR only came into being in the 1980s with the popularization of SCUBA diving. To cry dooming on the basis of such a trivial time record of events is simply plain delusional or carpetbagging.