Friday, December 6, 2019

ABC ridicules sound science about the Great Barrier Reef

Media Watch is everything that is wrong with the ABC, squeezed into 15 insufferable minutes. Smug, elitist and, above all, awash with the misguided idea that commercial media outlets are not to be trusted and that the only place where honest news can be found is in Aunty’s warm, state-sponsored embrace.

The program is usually best ignored, but its segment this week on the saga of Peter Ridd is worth calling out for its breathless hypocrisy.

For the uninitiated, Ridd is a marine geophysicist who, until recently, was professor of physics at James Cook University in Townsville. Ridd is also an expert on the Great Barrier Reef and disputes the view that it is being killed by climate change.

Earlier this year the Federal Circuit Court found that his dismissal was unlawful.

Fast forward to this week’s Media Watch in which host Paul Barry spent a fair chunk of taxpayer-funded time bemoaning the attention from The Australian and other outlets to Ridd’s perspective on reef science.

The coverage, according to Barry, was “a real free kick" and “a free platform, with no opposing viewpoints".

That the ABC could complain about a lack of opposing viewpoints is staggering.

When it comes to climate change in particular, the ABC is hopelessly predisposed towards climate alarmism. That may explain why up until Monday night, the ABC has shown less interest in the Ridd affair.

Ridd’s sacking, legal appeal and eventual victory in court attracted such strong public interest that eventually even the federal Attorney-General weighed in when the subject was raised by numerous colleagues in a recent partyroom meeting. But coverage from our “trusted" public broadcaster?

Not much. A search of the ABC’s website returns just a handful of reports on what was the most significant case on academic freedom in many years.

If the ABC had bothered, they would know that Ridd’s beef isn’t just with popular notions of doom and gloom surrounding the Great Barrier Reef but also with the quality of the underlying science.

Much of it, according to Ridd, is not being properly checked, tested or replicated.

As a result, governments are spending billions of dollars and jeopardising whole industries to “save" the reef when it probably doesn’t need saving.

It should be noted as well that throughout the extensive disciplinary process against Ridd, James Cook University never once addressed his complaints about the poor quality of climate science coming out of the univer­sity, a fact highlighted by the judge himself during Ridd’s case.

But far be it for the ABC to let poor science get in the way of a good story. Naturally, the segment included an article from The Guardian citing a handful of scientists who are adamant the Great Barrier Reef is in trouble and that Ridd should be ignored.

Media Watch even repeated hysterical comparisons between Ridd’s research and anti-vaxxer campaigns.

Interestingly, one scientist cited by the ABC was Terry ­Hughes. Like Ridd, Hughes is based at James Cook, and arguably triggered the whole saga when, according to court documents, he lodged a complaint about some relatively mild comments Ridd made in relation to reef science on Sky News. This connection was apparently missed by the Media Watch team.

What the ABC doesn’t understand is that the Ridd saga is about much more than the Great Barrier Reef or even climate science.

It raises serious questions about academic freedom, about the right of a university professor to voice dissenting views without being hounded out of his tenure, as Ridd was by James Cook.

This is why Ridd was supported by a large section of the community. Many of his university colleagues defended him and one resigned in disgust.

He even received support from the National Tertiary Education Union — not exactly a bastion of right-wing views. But of course, on the ABC, all of that complexity is lost, reduced to a tired pantomime about right-wing commentators pushing the views of one scientist to advance their own murky climate agenda.

Now, if the ABC were a private organisation it could take whatever editorial line it wanted — and would be far from the only outlet in Australia to sympathise with climate evangelism. But the ABC receives $1.1 billion of our money each year for news coverage that, by law, must be balanced.

Maybe the ABC should comply with its charter and make way for alternative views rather than taking juvenile pot shots at its rivals.


Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Great Barrier Reef is not dead ... long live the reef

By Sussan Ley (Sussan Ley is the Australian federal Minister for the Environment)

A fortnight ago I was on the reef, not with climate sceptics but with scientists, the country’s lead reef agencies, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science and accredited master reef guides.

Their advice was clear: the Reef isn’t dead. It has vast areas of vibrant coral and teeming sea life, just as it has areas that have been damaged by coral bleaching, illegal fishing and crown of thorns outbreaks.

To help the reef, its wildlife and the 64,000 jobs it supports, we need to recognise both realities.

There are those who will not be happy unless we declare the reef dead in the name of climate change, just as there are those who want to claim that nothing out of the ordinary is taking place. As a minister who respects the science, who has consulted over many weeks with reef experts from the park authority, the Institute of Marine Science and the innovative Great Barrier Reef Foundation, I do not subscribe to either position.

We have the best managed reef ecosystem in the world. We have a massive job to do in protecting its future and we are getting on with that job.

The Great Barrier Reef covers some 346,000 square kilometres and the tourism experience you will find snorkelling from Cairns and other locations such as  the Whitsundays remains awe-inspiring.  The reef is showing us that it has the capacity to regenerate from impacts such as cyclones, bleaching and crown of thorns starfish outbreaks.

But it also faces enormous challenges if we do not take action. Reducing threats from rising sea temperatures, poor water quality and crown of thorns outbreaks are critical in protecting its future.

I trust the scientists who tell me that climate change is the biggest single threat to the reef, just as I trust those who tell me of the things we can do, and are doing, to make the reef more resilient.

The Morrison government is taking meaningful action to reduce global emissions. The $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package will deliver the 328 million tonnes of abatement needed to meet our 2030 Paris target.

From an environment perspective, my focus is on the things we can do on the reef and in its catchment, from the work with farmers addressing water quality to the protection of marine park areas, the control of crown of thorns starfish, collaboration with local communities and traditional owners, and the investment in new technology to improve coral spawning success and adaptation to warmer environments.

The federal government is investing $1.2billion in the reef, including $443 million through the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, which will in turn attract significant private-sector investment in innovative reef protection partnerships. Already there are some significant gains in terms of crown of thorns control, partnerships with landholders and increased marine park compliance and surveillance.

The full benefit of many investments and management strategies already under way in the park are still to be realised through our monitoring systems.

We need to continue to accelerate our actions in these areas, as well as invest in steps to reduce plastic and waste in our waterways.

The Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Plan – endorsed by the United Nations World Heritage Committee – is a world-leading strategy for a marine protected area. I hope to see it gain more momentum as we work in partnership with all tiers of government, the private sector, NGOs, traditional owners and the wider community.

The Australian and Queensland governments are investing $2 billion in the future of the reef, working with many partners including independent scientific panels, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the CSIRO.

Our investment in innovation through the foundation has enormous potential to deliver forward-looking conservation projects for the reef, with significant scope for private sector partnerships.

This is anything but a head-in-the-sand approach and it is in stark contrast to those who would rather rush to declare the reef dead than look at the steps we can take – and are taking – to preserve it into the future.


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Marine heatwaves threatening Australia's oyster industry and affecting Great Barrier Reef, scientists warn

Note the dog that didn't bark below.  The people involved are NOT barking about global warming.  They cannot logically do so.  If waters are warming much more rapidly than the global rate, it is not global warming!  Sometimes a tautology is needed

Waters off parts of Australia are warming at some of the most rapid rates in the world, threatening the future of some of the country's most important marine industries, scientists say.

Scientists say the heatwaves are having a severe impact on oysters — and threaten the future of the industry — as well plants and creatures that rely on the ocean for life, pushing some into new areas, while killing others.

"The oceans are really ringing the alarm bells," said CSIRO biological oceanographer Alistair Hobday, a leading expert on MHWs.

"[The oceans] are telling us we've got big problems and those problems are not going to go away."

A MHW is defined as a period of warm water that lasts five days or longer, where temperatures are in the top 10 per cent of events typically experienced in that region.

They are graded in severity — similar to how cyclones are — with category five being the most intense.

The heatwaves lead to outbreaks of diseases that can be fatal to oysters and other molluscs, and reduce the reproduction rates of species such as salmon and abalone as well as killing seagrass and kelp.

"[We thought] marine heatwaves were an example of what the climate would look like in 100 years time," Dr Hobday said. "But we [are] getting it today."


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Great Barrier Reef has 'vibrant future', authority agrees

They are walking back their Greenie gloom

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has supported Environment Minister Sussan Ley's appraisal that the reef is "good" and has "a vibrant future". A Senate estimates committee hearing on Monday heard a downgrading of the reef condition from poor to very poor was a long-term forecast based on no action being taken on climate change.

GBRMPA chief executive Joshua Thomas said the out-look report was an assessment of the likely condition of the reef if a series of issues were not addressed. These included reducing global greenhouse gas emissions along with improving reef water quality, better marine park compliance, controlling crown of thorns starfish and reducing marine debris.

"The reef is a vast estate and many areas remain vibrant and ecologically robust," he said. "It continuo to be an extraordinary experience for visitors to the region, supporting beautiful corals and abundant marine life."

After her first visit to the reef as minister, Ms Ley said: "It gives me great heart and hope that the future of this magnificent part of the world is a good one." She said at the time the reef
was not dead, was not dying and not even on life support.

"Today we saw coral that was struggling but we also saw coral that was coming back, that was growing, that was vibrant"

Mr Thomas said Ms Ley had been "referring to the fact there are many areas, of the reef that remain vibrant and worth visiting and we support that statement". "It is also true that the reef over the past five years has been subjected to unprecedented changes, including those bleaching events in 2016-177 he added.

The authority's chief scientist, David Wachenfeld, told Senate estimates the outlook report was evidence-based. He said the downgrade from poor to very poor was the long-term outlook for the reef that was largely a consideration of the impacts of climate change on current green-house gas emissions trajectories.

From "the Australian" of 22 Oct., 2019

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Climate-sceptic academic seeks $1.5m in donations to fight unlawful dismissal appeal

The climate-sceptic academic Peter Ridd has asked supporters to donate another $1.5m to fund ongoing legal costs after his former employer, James Cook University, lodged an appeal against an unlawful dismissal ruling.

This month the federal court awarded Ridd $1.2m in compensation. The court has made clear its finding related to Ridd’s employment rights and not his academic freedom.

After JCU lodged its appeal and most of the compensation payout was ordered to be quarantined in a trust account, Ridd relaunched a public fundraising site for his legal costs.

The site has collected more than $350,000 in total public donations, including about $100,000 in the past 24 hours.

In recent months Ridd has held a speaking tour, promoted by agricultural groups, that supported their campaign against new Great Barrier Reef pollution regulations. Ridd has personally promoted their cause and joined lobbying efforts.

In a statement soliciting donations, Ridd cites his position on the reef issue – which disputes the scientific consensus and has been compared with the strategy used by the tobacco industry to raise doubt about the impact of smoking – as a “point of principle we must fight for".

“JCU will use its infinite financial resources – effectively government money – to appeal," Ridd said.

He said donations would “send a powerful message to governments about what the public expect of our universities".

The court last week put a stay on the compensation payout. JCU is required pay more than $1.2m into a trust administered by Ridd’s lawyer. Of that money $1m will be quarantined and $215,000 made available for Ridd’s legal costs.

In April federal circuit court judge Salvatore Vasta found the actions of the university, including Ridd’s repeated censure and ultimate dismissal, were unlawful.

Vasta made clear the case was about employment law and not – as Ridd, his supporters and conservative media outlets have repeatedly stated – about academic freedom.

“Some have thought that this trial was about freedom of speech and intellectual freedom," Vasta said. “Media reports have considered that this trial was about silencing persons with controversial or unpopular views.

“Rather, this trial was purely and simply about the proper construction of a clause in an enterprise agreement."

JCU’s appeal argues there are “errors of law" in the judgments.


Monday, September 9, 2019

Coral death knell on Great Barrier reef 'exaggerated'

The Greenie crooks photographed the few bad bits of coral and ignored large undamaged areas nearby.  And note this is about a close-in reef, which the Greenies squeal loudest about

The death of inshore corals near Bowen had been greatly exaggerated, according to the findings of a rebel quality assurance survey by reef-science outsiders Peter Ridd and Jennifer Marohasy.

The shallow reef flats of Stone Island have played a key role in divisions over the health of the inshore Great Barrier Reef and the impact of run-off from agriculture.

Dr Ridd was disciplined for attempting to blow the whistle on the widespread use of before and after pictures, taken a century apart, near Stone Island that suggested coral cover had disappeared.

A follow-up paper by Queensland University reef scientist Tara Clark, co-authored by Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chief scientist David Wachenfeld, confirmed the coral loss.

Despite winning his unfair dismissal case against JCU and being yesterday awarded more than $1.2m by the Federal Court, D. Ridd has effectively dismissed as a crank. by the other scientists.

An expert panel last month accused him of spreading scientific misinformation like tobacco lobbyists and anti-vaccination campaigners.

But Dr Ridd and Dr Marohasy have spent the past two weeks documenting the corals around Stone Island, which they found were still very much alive. The in-the-water quality assurance snapshot of onshore corals near Bowen and the Whitsundays has been partly funded by the Institute of Public Affairs.

The hundreds of hours of aerial and aquatic footage will be archived and some of this made into a documentary. Dr Marohasy and Dr Ridd repeated the transects used in the Clark research which found there had been a serious deline in reef health from historical photographs in the late 19th century to the present.

Dr Marohasy said if the transects used in the Clark analysis had been extended by 30m to the south of Stone Island they would have found a different story.. "I saw and photographed large pink plate coral on August 25 — some more than lm in diameter — at the reef edge, where Tara Clark and colleagues ended their transect as published in Nature," Dr Marohasy said. Several hundred metres away, across the headland, in the northern-facing bay, was an area of 100 per cent coral cover stretching over 25ha.

Dr Ridd said the finding of the survey was that there was "good coral all over the place" around Stone Island. "What we saw was not consistent with the proposition that the inshore reefs have been destroyed by farm run-off," Dr Ridd said.

He said the findings were at odds to those of Dr Clark and her team. The survey results follow a report by GBRMPA last week that downgraded the long-term outlook for the reef from poor-to very poor with particular concern about run-off in onshore reef areas.

Dr Ridd said there were "lots of people around Bowen who get very angry when people say all their coral is wiped out". "How would people in Sydney feel if everybody was saying that the water in Sydney Harbour has turned brown from pollution, the bridge was rusting scrap and the Opera House was crumbling ruin," he said.

Dr Wachenfeid said it was always great to see evidence of healthy coral in inshore areas. "The body of published science tells us most of our inshore reefs are extensively degraded," he said. 'When we find healthy patches that's good news."

Dr Wachenfeld said a paper published in 2016 contained infor-mation about coral around Stone Island and nearby Middle Reef.


Sunday, September 8, 2019

Professor Ridd awarded $1.2m for unlawful sacking

The Federal Circuit Court has awarded Peter Ridd $1.2 million in damages and penalties after earlier finding James Cook University (JCU) acted unlawfully in sacking the physics professor.

Dr Ridd was sacked last year after he repeatedly questioned colleagues' research on the impact of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef, criticising it as untrustworthy and "misleading".

The court, which in April found his dismissal was unlawful, on Friday said Dr Ridd would now be seen as "damaged goods" and the university had "poisoned the well".

Outlining his final declarations and penalties, Judge Salvatore Vasta also suggested the university's conduct bordered on "paranoia and hysteria fuelled by systemic vindictiveness" and Dr Ridd must have felt he was being persecuted. He found Dr Ridd's intellectual freedom had been undermined by the "myopic and unjustified actions of his lifelong employer".

"In this case, Professor Ridd has endured over three years of unfair treatment by JCU – an academic institution that failed to respect the rights to intellectual freedom that Professor Ridd had as per [his enterprise agreement]," the judge decided.

The case has attracted intense focus due to Dr Ridd's scepticism about climate change science and the broader debate about free speech at Australian universities.

Judge Vasta said Dr Ridd had suffered a loss of income and agreed with the academic's view that "most big institutions don't want a bar of somebody who has been through my sort of controversy".

He said Dr Ridd would face difficulty securing employment "despite his considerable expertise", finding the problem had been exacerbated by a statement released by the university following the court's initial judgment.

Judge Vasta ordered a payment of $1.09 million in damages and compensation for lost wages and superannuation. This sum is provisional, with the university and Dr Ridd able to contest the calculation. Another $125,000 is to be paid to Dr Ridd as a penalty to "deter both this university and any other employer from dismissing an employee for exercising basic workplace rights".

Dr Ridd had originally sought reinstatement to his position but subsequently abandoned that request in favour of compensation.

On Friday, the university reiterated its intent to appeal Judge Vasta's decision. "The university has previously made clear its intention to appeal His Honour's decision in this matter. As a litigant it is entitled to do so. The university's position will be addressed in its appeal," a spokesman said.

The institution has maintained Dr Ridd was not sacked for expressing scientific views but rather his treatment of colleagues and breaches of confidentiality.

Conservative think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs welcomed Judge Vasta's findings, calling the university's conduct "shameful" and proof of a free speech crisis in academia.

"The sum awarded reflects the appalling nature of JCU's treatment of Dr Ridd and vindicates Peter Ridd's fight for academic freedom, free speech and integrity of climate science and peer review," IPA director of policy Gideon Rozner said.

"James Cook University must now rethink its stated plans to prolong this ugly dispute by appealing the decision. Dr Ridd won this case on all 17 counts. It is time for JCU to accept the decision and move on."


Monday, September 2, 2019

Most coral ‘far from sediment danger’

Run-off of sediment from farms seldom reaches the outer Great Barrier Reef, or areas where the vast majority of corals live, the head of the Australian Institute of Marine Science has said.

However, AIMS chief executive Paul Hardisty said increased nutrients were a problem for some areas and long-term monitoring showed the Great Barrier Reef was under stress.

Water quality on the outer reef has been a central issue raised by scientist Peter Ridd, who is undertaking a controversial speaking tour through Queensland sugarcane growing areas.

Dr Ridd is calling for better quality assurance checks for reef science before new laws are introduced that affect farmers along the Queensland coast.

Dr Hardisty said the reef was a complex ecosystem of 3000 reefs, including near-shore reefs, mid-shelf reefs 20km to 40km offshore, and outer-shelf reefs 100km to 200km offshore. He said there was a natural improvement in water quality from inshore to offshore reefs.

“Mid-shelf and offshore reefs typically have better water quality as these regions are flushed more frequently with waters from the Coral Sea," he said.

“When it comes to water quality on the Great Barrier Reef, ­researchers agree it is uncommon for sediment plumes to regularly reach outer-shelf reefs.

“The inner-shelf and mid-shelf reefs, particularly those close to large rivers in the wet tropics, experience more frequent exposure to flood plumes of dissolved and suspended material."

Extra nutrients can come from many conditions, including river outflows which can be enhanced by agricultural or industrial ­activity.

Dr Hardisty said studies had shown fine particles of nutrient-enriched and organic-rich sediment could settle on inshore and mid-shelf reefs during calm ­periods and had the potential to kill young corals within 48 hours and adult corals in three to seven days, depending on species.

An AIMS spokeswoman said inshore reefs included popular tourist destinations such as Green Island and Fitzroy Islands off Cairns, Magnetic Island off Townsville, and Hayman and Hook islands in the Whitsundays.

She said about 80 per cent of the reefs were platform reefs on the mid- and outer-continental shelf, while about 600 reefs (20 per cent) were near-shore, ­either as fringing reefs around continental islands and along the mainland coast, or as small ­detached platform reefs.

Dr Ridd said Dr Hardisty’s comments supported his claim that there was “almost no land-derived sediment on the Great Barrier Reef where 99 per cent of corals live".

“Nutrients are not measurably different on the Great Barrier Reef to the Pacific Ocean and farm fertilisers are almost irrelevant," he said. “For years AIMS and others have been going on about the inshore reefs and the term implies to the unsuspecting layman that it is a third or maybe even a half of the coral (inshore vs offshore). They have never come clean about what fraction the ­inshore reefs are."

Dr Ridd is midway through a lecture tour along the Queensland coast promoted by sugarcane and farm groups concerned about water quality legislation before the Queensland parliament. The tour has provoked strong criticism from environment and reef groups.

The Australian Coral Reef ­Society said Dr Ridd ignored inshore reefs, as if they were not an important component of the World Heritage Area and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

“This is convenient for his ­argument that there are no water-quality problems for the Great Barrier Reef, discounting the hundreds of published papers investigating and reporting on these problems," the society said.

“He also incorrectly suggests areas like the Whitsundays are not important parts of the Great Barrier Reef, despite the huge tourism industry in such areas."


Sunday, September 1, 2019

Australia downgrades outlook for Great Barrier Reef to 'very poor'

OK.  I guess I should say something about this rubbish, as nobody else is stepping up to the plate so far.  For a start, note that this is prophecy, not a factual report.  They are prophesying that the reef will deteriorate.  Given the erratic influences on the reef (unpredictable cyclones, unpredictable starfish attacks, sea-level oscillations etc), this is simply a stab in the dark. Many things could happen and nobody knows which will.

Secondly this is not a report of any objective measurements. It is "based on a qualitative assessment of the available evidence."  Note: qualitative, not quantitative.  It is in short simply an expression of opinion from people with a vested interest in alarm

And pointing the skinger of forn at global warming is the silliest thing of all.  Where does the reef flourish best?  Where does it display the greatest biodiversity?  In the far tropics.  In the WARMEST parts of the reef waters. Corals LIKE warmth.  Global warming would be GOOD for the reef.  We live among madmen

Australia downgraded the Great Barrier Reef's long-term outlook to "very poor" for the first time on Friday, as the world heritage site struggles with "escalating" climate change.

In its latest five-yearly report on the health of the world's largest coral reef system, the government's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority singled out rising sea temperatures as the biggest threat to the giant organism.

"The significant and large-scale impacts from record-breaking sea surface temperatures have resulted in coral reef habitat transitioning from poor to very poor condition," the government agency said.

"Climate change is escalating and is the most significant threat to the Region's long-term outlook.

"Significant global action to address climate change is critical to slowing deterioration of the Reef's ecosystem and heritage values and supporting recovery," it said.

But the agency added that the threats to the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) reef were "multiple, cumulative and increasing" and, in addition to warming seas, included agricultural run-off and coral-eating crown of thorns starfish.

The agency said the outlook downgrade from "poor" in 2014 to "very poor" now reflected the greater expanse of coral deterioration across the massive reef, notably following back-to-back coral bleaching events caused by sea temperature spikes in 2016 and 2017.

"The window of opportunity to improve the reef's long-term future is now," it said.

The conservative Australian government has faced criticism from environmentalists for favouring an expansion of its massive coal mining and export industry over action to curb climate change.

The United Nations had asked to receive the latest update on the reef's health by December so that it can determine whether the site can retain its world heritage status when UNESCO next considers the issue in 2020.

The reef is estimated to be worth at least $4 billion (£3.3 bn) a year to the Australian economy - serving as a magnet for tourists and emblem of the country. 


Monday, August 19, 2019

Reports of the Great Barrier Reef’s doom are exaggerated

Master reef guide Natalie Lobartolo has a first-hand window into what the world thinks about the Great Barrier Reef. She says the most common comment from tourists after they experience the reef and waters around Lady ­Musgrave Island where she works is: “I thought the reef was dead but it’s amazing."

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley had a similar experience last week when she snorkelled over two reefs off Cairns.

On her first official visit to the Great Barrier Reef, Ley said she found it difficult to reconcile what she saw in the water with what had been said around the world.  “The reef is not dead," was her appraisal. “It is not dying. I would not even say it is on life support.

“Tourism operators want a very clear message that the reef is definitely not dead, that it is amazing and one of the true wonders of the world and it is worth visiting.

“Having seen it for myself I can certainly endorse that. That is a ­really clear message that I want people to hear."

The results of first-hand observations from two snorkels may not meet the test of scientific rigour. But along the Queensland coast there is a pushback that challenges the now familiar message of the reef’s doom.

A lecture tour by controversial marine scientist Peter Ridd has ­attracted hundreds of people and is only half way through a program that stretches throughout the ­sugar cane centres from Bundaberg to Cairns.

The tour has been promoted by the sugar cane and other agriculture ­industries that face the prospect of strict new regulations under a reef water quality bill before state parliament. Liberal National Party MPs at state and federal level have embraced Ridd’s call for greater quality assurance of the science. But conservation groups are alarmed Ridd is getting a platform to express his views.

Ridd was sacked by James Cook University after being disciplined for not being collegiate. That sacking was ruled unlawful by the Federal Court but its finding is being appealed by JCU.

Like it or not, science groups have been forced to engage with Ridd’s message that the findings of key reef research should be checked.

Ridd’s message on his lecture tour is that coral cover has not changed and that there is still excellent coral cover on all 3000 reefs across the Great Barrier Reef system. He also says there is almost no land sediment on the reef from run-off from agricultural processes.

Ridd’s findings have struck a chord with canegrowers, who are being asked to change their practices to satisfy UNESCO requirements that Australia is respecting its obligations to retain World Heritage status for the reef.

A suite of measures by the ­Abbott government, including a ban on dredge spoils from new port developments being dumped in reef waters, was enough to ­remove the threat of an “in-danger" listing for the reef.

Since then there have been two bleaching events and damaging cyclones that have had a big impact on coral cover, which is now recovering.

The Great Barrier Reef is again due to be considered by the World Heritage Committee next year and the proposed Queensland water quality regulations are seen as part of a broader campaign to keep the reef off the in-danger watch list.

Environment groups are ­pushing for more regulation and most likely would welcome intervention by UNESCO. But the bruising campaign last time damaged the global reputation of the reef among potential tourists and left the tourism industry crying foul.

Ridd says this is a prime reason to get the science right. He says reef science is affecting every major industry in north Queensland: mining, agriculture and ­tourism.

The legislation before state parliament will hurt agriculture badly, he says. It sets nutrient and sediment pollution load limits for each of the six reef catchments and ­limits fertiliser use for crops and grain production, covering agricultural activities in all Great Barrier Reef catchments.

The message Ridd wants people to take home from his talks is that there has been a massive exaggeration of threats to the Great Barrier Reef. He accuses the reef institutions of producing untrustworthy results because of inadequate quality assurance systems and says that must be corrected before any new legislation is introduced.

And he says there is an urgent need for an independent body to run through the Auditor-General’s office and examine the science used for public policy.

Bundaberg Canegrowers manager Dale Holliss says Ridd has ­allowed many to articulate concerns they may have already had. “Peter Ridd basically when he talks says … it is the only science we have, so we do need a process where we actually check it," Holliss says. However, environment groups say Ridd’s tour has been “simply spreading misinformation".

The Australian Coral Reef ­Society says several of Ridd’s claims are not true, while others could be characterised as straw-man arguments that ignore much greater challenges faced by the Great Barrier Reef.

“As the reef is facing fundamental challenges from rapidly warming oceans, it is important that governments take action to support a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions while taking all available steps to reduce the amount of sediments, nutrients and pesticides that reach the reef lagoon," the society argues.

Ley says she is “not downplaying the seriousness of climate change" but acknowledges that some people are understandably confused. “Tourism operators are saying they want somewhere to go to say that is the truth," she says. “My answer is they can go to the Australian Institute of Marine Science."

So what does AIMS say about water quality and the issues raised by Ridd? In a statement to ­Inquirer, AIMS chief executive Paul Hardisty says there is a natural improvement in water quality from inshore to offshore reefs ­because inshore reefs are exposed to increased sediment from wind and rough seas.

Mid-shelf and offshore reefs typically have better water quality as these regions are flushed more frequently with waters from the Coral Sea. As such, material ­delivered into the inshore region via rivers remains close to the coast for extended periods.

When it comes to water quality on the Great Barrier Reef, researchers agree it is uncommon for sediment plumes to regularly reach outer-shelf reefs. During flood events, most sediments are deposited relatively close to river mouths.

Hardisty says enhanced sediment loads from farmed catchments increase the amount (and duration) of sediment that is resuspended locally around river mouths, on inshore reefs close to rivers and along the inner shelf.

He says analysis of 11 years of satellite imagery for the whole Great Barrier Reef shows water clarity is significantly reduced for up to six months after every big flood from the central and southern rivers, but not so much from the far northern rivers.

Several studies have shown fine particles of nutrient-enriched and organic-rich sediments can settle on inshore and mid-shelf reefs during calm periods and have the potential to kill young corals within 48 hours and adult corals in three to seven days, depending on the species.

Hardisty agrees there are many conditions that increase nutrient concentrations, including oceanographic processes and upwelling, liberation of nutrients contained in sediments, and inputs from ­riverine systems that may be ­enhanced above natural levels by residual nutrients from agricultural or industrial activities.

The AIMS says long-term monitoring of cycles of ecosystem decline and recovery tells us that the Great Barrier Reef is under stress. Its latest condition report, published last month, found average hard coral cover had continued to decline in the central and southern Great Barrier Reef while stabilising in the northern region this year.

This decline is because of ­numerous and successive disturbances including outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish, tropical cyclones and coral bleaching. The central region’s highest recorded average coral cover was 22 per cent in 2016 compared with 12 per cent this year, and the southern ­region had 43 per cent coral cover in 1988 compared with 24 per cent this year. Hard coral cover in the northern region increased slightly from 11 per cent in 2017 to 14 per cent this year but was down from 30 per cent in 1988.

Hardisty says disturbances such as bleaching, cyclones and crown-of-thorns outbreaks are ­occurring more often, are longer-lasting and more severe.

This means coral reefs have less time to recover. Right now, however, there is still plenty to see.