Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Cyclones Downs, Corals Up – Except in Glasgow

Written by Jennifer Marohasy in Australia

It is impossible to reconcile the official statistics and what is under-the-water with the media reporting – including the reporting from Glasgow. There are meant to be more cyclones and less coral, but we have quite the reverse according to the official statistics. It is also making no sense that those who purport to care so much about the Great Barrier Reef still haven’t visited it. Then there are those who have visited it once, and then there are those who have visited it but never actually got in the water. Some of them are in Glasgow.

It was not for nothing that former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – he apparently visited Magnetic Island some years ago but never got in the water – approved a A$443 million grant to the tiny Great Barrier Reef Foundation. As far as I can tell it is paid out in little bits to all those in proximity who are prepared to lament how the corals are dying. I’ve meet so many who have received something, and so the useful idiots are paid off by the special people now in Glasgow.

On the eve of Glasgow, the same foundation put out comment:

Insufficient global action on climate change is taking a serious toll on the health of our Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs around the world. The facts are clear – coral reefs and their communities are on the front line. We know current climate change commitments don’t go far enough to protect them and we know this is the critical decade in which to act with urgency. Next month’s UN Climate Change Conference – COP26 – will be a pivotal moment in the global response to climate change.

On Tuesday 13th October 2020, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology put out a media release ‘Tropical Cyclone seasonal outlook for The Coral Sea’ in which it was acknowledged that, and I quote: "Recent decades have seen a decline in the number of tropical cyclones in our region."

Bureau climatologist, Greg Browning, went on to explain that this summer is likely to buck that trend, and that: "On average Australia sees 9 to 11 tropical cyclones each year, with 4 crossing the coast."

Cyclones can be devastating to coral reefs. Huge waves pound relentlessly smashing branching and fan corals. Sponges and squirts are upended. Massive Porites can be lifted and thrown metres – sometimes beyond the reef proper and onto the beach.

Given the Great Barrier Reef, as one ecosystem comprising nearly 3,000 individual reefs stretching for more than 2,000 kilometres, cyclone damaged areas can almost always be found somewhere. A coral reef that is mature and spectacular today, may be smashed by a cyclone tomorrow. So, I’m always in a hurry to visit my next reef particularly given all the modelling suggesting an inevitable increase in the number of cyclones and an inevitable decline in coral cover.


The 2020–21 Australian region cyclone season was another ‘below average’ season, producing a total of just 8 tropical cyclones with just 3 of these categorised as severe. So since records began it is a case of less cyclones and less severe cyclones which must be good for the corals.

The Bureau has not updated this chart since the 2016/2017 season. The trend continues a downward trajectory with just 8 tropical cyclones last season (2020/2021) with 3 categorised as severe.


Perhaps not surprisingly we are also seeing an increase in coral cover, and this is exactly what the latest report from the Australian Institute of Marine Science concludes. According to their Long-Term Monitoring Program (LTMP) based on surveys of 127 reefs conducted between August 2020 and April 2021, and I quote: "In 2021, widespread recovery was underway, largely due to increases in fast growing Acropora corals.

Survey reefs experienced low levels of acute stressors over the past 12 months with no prolonged high temperatures or major cyclones. Numbers of outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish on survey reefs have generally decreased; however, there remain ongoing outbreaks on some reefs in the Southern GBR.

On the Northern GBR, region-wide hard coral cover was moderate and had continued to increase to 27% from the most recent low point in 2017.

On the Central GBR region-wide hard coral cover was moderate and had increased to 26% in 2021.

Region-wide hard coral cover on reefs in the Southern GBR was high and had increased to 39% in 2021."

More information at https://www.aims.gov.au/reef-monitoring/gbr-condition-summary-2020-2021

Meanwhile former US President Barack Obama – who has never ever actually visited the Great Barrier Reef – confirmed he will attend the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow. He is apparently meeting young climate change activists and highlighting their work around the world. I’m wondering when he will bring them to see the corals. The closest he has got, so far, is to Brisbane back in November 2014. He gave a speech at my old university lamenting the parlous state of the corals and claiming he wanted to take his daughters to see the corals before they were all gone.

But. We are still waiting. As far as I can tell, like Malcolm Turnbull, Barack Obama frightens the children about that which they have never actually seen or experienced with his own eyes – and with opinion that often does not even accord with the available statistics.

Former US President Bill Clinton hasn’t made it to Glasgow, but he did visit the Great Barrier Reef back in November 1996. He apparently spent a short hour snorkelling at a reef off Port Douglas.

If I didn’t know something about the scientific method, greenhouse gases, the Great Barrier Reef, and that foundation, I would be inclined to believe there was a crisis – and that there really was something I should do about it. As it is, I know that coral bleaching occurs as part of a natural cycle that will repeat irrespective of any agreements made in Glasgow. I also know as fact that there has been no increase in the incidence of cyclones and that coral cover is good and improving. It is also fact that coral reefs would benefit if there was rising sea levels because they could keep growing-up and also that they grow faster as sea temperatures increase.

Did you know that there are arguably more colourful corals and even better coral cover in waters just a few degrees warmers? The warmer waters are just to the north of Australia around New Guinea and Indonesia.


Monday, October 11, 2021

Mainstream Media Hypes False Claims Climate Change is Killing Coral

A search of Google news for the term “climate change” turns up dozens of stories in the mainstream media covering a report which claims global warming has killed 14 percent of the world’s corals in the last decade. This is false. The cause of coral deaths in the past decade are multifaceted with most being the result of coastal pollution from various sources as well as a known sensitivity to sunscreen used by reef snorkelers.

Coral can only exist in warm waters and data show as the world’s equatorial oceans have warmed modestly, corals reefs expanded their range. In instances where temperature spikes have contributed to coral bleaching, most of the corals have recovered.

The New York Times, NPR, and the Washington Post were among the dozens of mainstream media outlets publishing alarming stories about a new report from the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN).

“Rising ocean temperatures killed about 14 percent of the world’s coral reefs in just under a decade, according to a new analysis from the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network,” wrote NPR.

The first corals arose during the Cambrian Period about 535 million years ago and the number and type corals increased dramatically more than 400 million years ago, coming into existence when global temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations were much higher than at present. Coral have proved adaptable, expanding their range and evolving and thriving through periods of higher and lower temperatures than the Earth is either currently experiencing or reasonably expected to experience in the foreseeable future.

As discussed in Climate at a Glance: Coral Reefs, coral thrive in warm water, not cold water, and recent warming has allowed coral to expand their range poleward, while still thriving near the equator.

Recent peer-reviewed research described in a Phys.org article, titled “Half a trillion corals: World-first coral count prompts rethink of extinction risks,” should serve to calm any concern for the continued survival and flourishing of corals. The study cited places the number of corals in the Pacific Ocean alone at more than half a trillion. There are likely trillions more worldwide.

The scientists involved in the research say the sheer number of corals and coral species means the risk of extinction due to climate change is vastly lower than previously claimed.

“In the Pacific, we estimate there are roughly half a trillion corals,’ said the study lead author, Dr. Andy Dietzel from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University,” writes Phys.org. “This is about the same number of trees in the Amazon, or birds in the world.”

“Dr. Dietzel said the eight most common coral species in the region each have a population size greater than the 7.8 billion people on Earth,” says Phys.org, continuing, “The findings suggest that while a local loss of coral can be devastating to coral reefs, the global extinction risk of most coral species is lower than previously estimated.”

This research points out that 12 of the 80 coral species the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists as having an elevated extinction risk, have estimated population sizes of more than one billion colonies.

NPR says the GCRMN’s “report … found that warming caused by climate change, overfishing, coastal development, and declining water quality has placed coral reefs around the world under ‘relentless stress.’”

Coral reefs do face many stressors, but the best available evidence suggests warmer waters is a factor they can adapt to.

Previous posts on Climate Realism, for example, here, here, here, and here, show local conditions, like runoff from beach front development and agriculture, and pollution tied to sun block used by swimmers, not warmer temperatures or ocean acidification, pose the biggest threat to coral reefs. But even these threats are highly localized and often temporary, with many coral reefs recovering within a few seasons after bleaching events.

Science has multiple studies showing corals can and do adapt to the gradual long-term pace of global warming.

Most portions of coral reefs around the world that have bleached and been declared dead or permanently damaged over the past two decades have, in fact, recovered. Whether the 14 percent of corals identified GCRMN as being dead will eventually recover is unknown. What is clear from history and the available evidence is there are trillions of corals in the world, many unaccounted for, and to the extent they are threatened with harm, various types of pollution are the primary cause, not warmer waters.


Thursday, October 7, 2021

Corals Appear Bleached From A Distance, Not Close-Up

Written by Jennifer Marohasy

I lent my underwater camera (Olympus TG-6) to a dear friend who recently visited Lady Elliot Island at the Great Barrier Reef. She came over last Sunday to return the camera, and to show me some of her photographs.

My favourite is of the Parrot fish just beyond the magenta-coloured corals, shared above. Over the ledge the water is deeper, and the corals have a blue haze. This is because wavelengths in the blue part of the visible light spectrum penetrate water to some few metres, while all the wavelengths in the red part of the spectrum are absorbed by 5 metres under the water.

For those who have never snorkelled or scuba-dived, and who like to lament the dying Great Barrier Reef, the corals beyond the parrot fish in Jessica’s picture might all look bleached. But that is how corals look in the distance when visibility is good, because the water is so clear. It is only when you swim up to them, when you are nearer to the corals, that you can see their real colour.

When I see photographs online and in newspapers of corals described as bleached, I often wonder how the photograph was taken – at what depth and whether it was colour corrected. I wrote to a journalist, Michael Foley from the Sydney Morning Herald, back in April about a picture purportedly showing bleached coral.

Hi Michael

I’m really impressed with your interview with Terry Hughes and particularly how much online media has republished your article ‘Reef on path to destruction and clever science can’t fix it’ and that photograph.

I was curious about the image of the bleached corals. Where it was taken, and how it was colour adjusted. I sent an email via the Catlin Seaview Survey contact page, asking for this information last Tuesday (13th April) and to Sara Naylor at UQ. The email to Sara bounced, Catlin hasn’t replied.

What I would really like is the original full resolution raw image. Could you please send me this?

Also, where was the image taken/which reef, and when/which year?

If it was taken back in 2015 or 2016 or 2017 it would be important to know the state of that coral now?

Michael Foley never replied.

There is a wonderful library on Lady Elliot Island, at the resort in a room tucked behind the museum. I spent some time there most evening when I was on the island for a week back in May. I found a photograph very similar to the one I queried Michael Foley about. It is in a book entitled ‘Coral Whisperers’ by Irus Braverman published by the University of California Press in October 2018.

The caption to this photograph provides a lot more information than the Sydney Morning Herald article by Michael Foley published on 8th April this year (2021). So, the photograph used in the article by Michael Foley was perhaps taken at Heron Island and back in February 2016.

It would seem somewhat disingenuous for a news story published on 8th April 2021 to be accompanied by a photograph from 2016 but without including this important information: that the photograph is five years old. It would also be useful if the publisher explained that visible light of a blue wavelength penetrates water, while red is absorbed, so corals even just a few metres away can have a blue haze and even appear bleached.

Also, if the Sydney Morning Herald are going to include a photograph from five years ago in a news story, why don’t they also show a more recent photograph – so we have some idea whether the coral is still there, or not?

Of course, beige is the most common colour of corals at reefs around the world, as I explained in my short documentary film ‘Beige Reef’, that you can watch on YouTube.


Much thanks to Steve Messer for finding a higher resolution image of the ‘bleached corals’ here:

image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/stopadani/33675818851

It is apparent that the branches are a dark tan in colour with white axial corallites and/or white tentacles extended from the corallites. This coral is not bleached at all.

The Sydney Morning Herald/ Catlin Seaview Survey photograph with the coral changed to beige by my friend Michael who first alerted me to this photograph and how easy it was for him to ‘fix’ what he described as the ‘blue cast’.

So, if we could lift this coral to the surface the stems would perhaps be orange/beige and covered in white corallites with white tentacles extended.


Monday, September 20, 2021

Corals climate 'fighters'

That they "need rising temperatures to slow" is just an assertion.  No figures are given

Corals may be able to roll with the punches of climate change better than initially thought in coming decades, but need rising temperatures to slow to have a fighting chance.

Corals can pass down the ability to survive rising temperatures via their genes, researchers say.

That's the finding of new Queensland-led research, published on Monday and based on an analysis of 95 trait measurements across 19 species of reef-building corals from previous studies.

The authors determined corals, which have suffered widespread bleaching events in Australia this century, can pass down abilities to survive under environmental stresses such as rising temperatures through their genes.

"We found their ability to pass on adaptive traits is maintained despite increasing temperatures," said lead author Kevin Bairos-Novak, a PhD candidate at James Cook University's Coral Centre of Excellence.

"In particular, corals that are better than average at survival, growth and resisting bleaching stress under future ocean conditions should be good at passing those advantages on to their offspring."


Thursday, August 5, 2021

Coalition argues over farm regulations to boost Great Barrier Reef health

This is another area in which the Greenies have panicked governments into doing stupid things. 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 Paul Hardisty has said. So farm runoff could affect corals living close inshore but the vast majority of the reef is in no danger

Furthermore, the levels of pesticides and fertilizer in farm runoff would have been heavily diluted in the rivers before they reached the oceans and I have seen no evidence that such extreme dilutions are any problem to anybody

It may also be noted that coral bleaching is almost all in the Northern section of the reef, alongside Cape York peninsula. But soils on the peninsula are very poor so there is almost no farming there. And no farming means no farm runoff. So once again have a non-existent problem.

Coral bleaching is mostly caused by fluctuation in water levels

Divisions have emerged in the federal government over farming rules to improve water quality on the Great Barrier Reef, as the Coalition’s Special Envoy for Northern Australia slams regulations targeting harmful farm water runoff that has been endorsed by the Environment Minister.

Australia successfully lobbied last month to delay a decision on listing the reef as “in danger” of losing World Heritage status at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation hearing.

A key to Australia’s pitch was its $3 billion investment to improve water quality, which is backed by Queensland government laws that mandate standards on fertiliser use for sugar cane growers to limit nitrogen runoff and for maintenance of ground cover on grazing country to reduce sediment washing into the ocean.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said in July Australia is “on track to meet our 2025 Reef water quality improvement targets” and cited projections that factored in Queensland’s reef regulations, showing a rapid improvement in runoff to the reef.

UNESCO’s scientific advisors said poor water quality due to runoff from agricultural and urban areas and coral loss caused by mass bleaching events induced by global warming were the two key risk factors.

Queensland Senator and Special Envoy for Northern Australia Susan McDonald said Queensland’s regulations were “unnecessary overreach” and said she would “support a drastic scaling back” of the regime.

State regulations were unnecessary because farmers were already taking sufficient action, Ms McDonald said, and “improving land use methods without the need for draconian new laws”.

“[The reef regulation] applies a big stick approach to landowners to browbeat them into obeying the law rather than working with them to achieve balanced land management that helps productivity and reduces environmental impact.”

Ms Ley secured the backing of 12 of 21 countries on the committee to delay a vote on the ruling, and has until February next year to convince UNESCO its efforts to improve water quality and reduce global warming are sufficient.

Ms Ley told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age she had “seen first-hand the commitment and effort made by sugar cane, banana and cattle producers up and down the reef catchments” and regulators should work constructively with farmers.

“This isn’t the time for finger pointing – we need landholders and governments working together to achieve our 2025 targets and there are already some outstanding examples of that taking place,” Ms Ley said.

The Queensland government said penalties for non-compliance were a “last resort” and it was assisting farmers to get their practices into line with the regulations. The regulations will be implemented progressively across northern Queensland until the end of next year.

World Wide Fund for Nature Australia head of oceans Richard Leck said it would be a “terrible idea to scrap the regulations if we want to give the Great Barrier Reef a future”.

The latest Reef water quality report card produced by the Queensland government showed gains needed by 2025 outstrip the rate of progress that has occurred over the past 10 years of measurement.

“[In that time] nutrient pollution has been reduced by 25 per cent towards a 60 per cent target, and sediment by 14 per cent towards a target of 25 per cent,” Mr Leck said. “The regulations are not punitive, they implement a minimum standard that all good farms should be able to exceed.”


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Another stupid prophecy about the reef

What the future temperature will be nobody knows. But the report below assumes a large rise.  Even if that came to pass, it would not mean the end of the reef.  Corals grow in wildly different temperatures -- from Iceland to the Persian gulf.  So we might expect some turnover of species but that is all

It's boring to have to point this out again but Australian corals have the greatest diversity in the Torres Strait, where the temperature is always HIGH. Corals THRIVE in high temperatures.  Some species may not but there are plenty that do

A damning new report has painted a grim picture of Australia’s future, with one of the nation’s most renowned natural wonders set to suffer.

Up to 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are expected to vanish, even at low levels of warming, and there are grave fears for one of Australia’s most famous natural wonders.  The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is considered “very poor”, according to a new report by the Australian Academy of Science.

And climate change is a major driver.

At 1.5 degrees of warming, the world will lose between 70 and 90 per cent of coral reefs.

“Substantial losses in ocean productivity, ongoing ocean acidification, and the increasing deterioration of coastal systems such as mangroves and seagrasses are projected to occur if global warming exceeds 2C,” the harrowing report states.

Scientists said the target set by the Paris Climate Agreement of keeping global warming to 1.5C was “virtually impossible” as they painted a grim picture for Australia’s ecosystems.

It is more likely that global temperatures will soar by up to 3C.  "Critical thresholds in many natural systems are likely to be exceeded as global warming of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels continues,” the report said.

“These impacts will increase as global warming reaches 2C and beyond, with iconic ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef and the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park being severely affected.

“At 3C of global warming, many of Australia’s ecological systems would be unrecognisable.”

A leading figure within the European Union has even sounded the alarm on the Great Barrier Reef.

The EU’s commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, told Guardian Australia he feared for the natural wonder. “As long as we do not change our behaviours, things will not improve,” he said.

Global warming has already triggered mass bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef that have destroyed at least half of the world’s largest reef system. It has also contributed to droughts and bushfires.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, who chairs the expert panel that developed the report, said a rapid transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions was required if the international community was to limit warming to well below 2C.

“Current international commitments to greenhouse gas emission reduction, if unchanged, would result in average global surface temperatures that are 3C above the pre-industrial period in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren,” he said.

“The evidence presented in this risk-assessment report, which is based on peer-reviewed scientific literature, indicates that this would have serious consequences for Australia and the world.”

But scientists said it was possible for Australia to meet its climate goals.

Australian Academy of Science president John Shine said the new report suggested while the planet was warning, science had its solutions.

“Australia is well positioned to meet the climate change challenge by combining our scientific knowledge with economic opportunities associated with moves to net zero greenhouse gas emissions,” Professor Shine said.

The report makes 10 recommendations, including scaling up the development and implementation of next-generation zero greenhouse gas technologies and exploring how food production and supply systems can prepare for climate change.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Hundreds of Pacific Islands are getting bigger despite global warming

Healthy coral reefs key to growth

New research says hundreds of islands in the Pacific are growing in land size, even as climate change-related sea level rises threaten the region.

The scientists used satellite images of islands as well as on-the-ground analysis to track the changes.

Coastal geomorphologist Dr Paul Kench said coral reef sediment was responsible for building up the islands.

"All the islands that we're looking at, and the atoll systems, comprise predominantly of the broken up corals, shells and skeletons of organisms on the coral reef, which waves then sweep up and deposit on the island," he said.

Dr Kench said in areas where coral reefs were healthy, enough sediment was being produced to cause islands to grow.  "The majority of islands in each of those nations has either got larger or stayed very similar in size," he said.

"So, you know, one of the remarkable takeaways of the work is that these islands are actually quite dynamic in a physical sense."

Coastal erosion from rising sea level is considered a major threat to many Pacific communities, with some already watching shorelines recede.

Dr Kench said about 10 per cent of islands captured in the study had gotten smaller in size.

He said a better understanding of which islands are growing and which are eroding could help Pacific nations adapt to climate change.

"That gives the island nations some power to think about adaptation strategies, about where do you focus further development, and you would perhaps choose those islands which we can demonstrate are actually growing in size," he said.

"So we think it's affording some different sort of strategies and opportunities for islands to think about as they're contemplating an uncertain future."

Dr Kench said there was more work to be done in understanding other factors influencing the growth or reduction of Pacific islands.

"While we can look at sites that are healthy, and the sediment production that's creating the islands is still taking place, there has to be some concerns at those locations where the reefs are in poor condition," he said.

"So we're not suggesting here by any stretch of the imagination that islands have nothing to worry about.

"I guess one of the messages from the work that we're doing is that the outcome and the prognosis for islands is going to vary quite markedly from one site to the other."


Sunday, December 20, 2020

Greenies do something positive

Ecological “arks” will be created in the Great Barrier Reef under a new Federal Government funded program that for the first time links island health as critical to saving the coral.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley will today announce $5.5 million for a new island restoration program, starting with Morris Island off Cape York.

She said Lady Elliot Island on the reef’s southern border was the first regeneration project ever attempted at scale and its success could be replicated elsewhere.

“There are 1050 islands along the reef ranging from the pristine to former mine sites, disused tourism destinations and those that have been damaged by introduced pest species,” she said.

“As part of the Reef Islands initiative, Dr Kathy Townsend of Sunshine Coast University is leading new ‘leaf to reef’ research that follows the nutrient trail between islands and its importance to corals and marine life, as well as researching the importance of Lady Elliot’s reefs as a biodiversity ark in the region.”

Reef manager for the marine park authority Mark Read said overseas views particularly under-appreciated the complexity of the issue.

“For context the world heritage area is 348,000 square kilometres; it’s bigger than Italy, bigger than Japan and can sit Victoria and Tasmania within its boundaries. It stretches over 2000km and at its widest point is 250km, it’s 1050 islands, 3000 reefs – so trying to categorise that whole system within a single category, ultimately it fails and doesn’t do the system justice,” he said.

Lady Elliot Island is a genesis of what the Federal Government yesterday branded an “ecological ark” carrying the essential ingredients to rehabilitate the in-crisis reef, critically affected by natural and man-made climate change.

Gash and a dedicated team of scientists, backed by a string of Federal Government funded initiatives, are in part driven by a sketch discovered in archives drawn from a sailor aboard HMS Fly in 1843 of what the island sanctuary looked like then and could again.

“So many people say ‘oh but it’s hopeless, there is nothing we can do and it’s all going to die’ and I hate hearing that, it’s never hopeless,” Island custodian Gash said as he looks out over the turquoise waters on the southern point of the reef, 80km from the Queensland mainland.

In 1973 Lady Elliot Island was a dead 42-hectare coral atoll that after almost a century of mining for guano fertiliser was left barren, with no bird or sea life.

Now it boasts more than 1200 species of marine life including turtles and manta rays, whole forests of native Pisonia trees and grasses and the second highest diversity of breeding birds of any feature in the Great Barrier Reef after Raine Island on the reef’s northernmost tip.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley visited Lady Elliot this week to see first-hand the spectacular restoration result which she now hoped will be replicated elsewhere along the reef island chain starting with Morris Island, under a new $5.5 million investment.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said without a doubt there were “dark days” ahead for the climate but Lady Elliot was a shining light in what could be achieved within our life times.

“The idea is these arks, these climate refuges, will carry the reef forward,” she said. “The habitat will be able to be the ones to go, before the dark days, then when the world gets its act together and the balance restores these are the places that will reopen the doors and repopulate.”

World renowned marine biologist Dr Kathy Townsend said the correlation between land life and reef marine life was now only being understood.

“The connection between coral cays and the island has been undervalued,” she said.

“The current dogma is where these coral cays are getting their nutrients but new research is showing these coral cays are creating nutrients for the reef in a balanced way. It’s not a dump but a pumping action … it’s like growing an island. Without healthy islands you wouldn’t have the same level of growth and biodiversity you see around the reef.”

She said there had been a 125 per cent increase in turtle habitat and they again were the primary herbivore about Lady Elliot which was keeping coral killing grasses down.


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Scientists Discover Coral Reefs Recovered Quickly After Bleaching

It was a depressing if expected inevitability when Western Australia’s Rowley Shoals showed the first signs of mass coral bleaching earlier this year, but a follow-up survey has found a remarkable recovery looks likely to preserve the reef’s near-pristine health — at least for now.

Tom Holmes, the marine monitoring coordinator at the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation, and Attractions, said that while his team was still processing the data, it appeared the coral had pulled off an “amazing” return towards health over the past six months.

“We were expecting to see widespread mortality, and we just didn’t see it … which is a really amazing thing,” Dr. Holmes said.

The survey was a follow-up to one conducted in April that found as much as 60 percent of corals on some Rowley Shoals reefs had bleached after the most widespread marine heatwave since reliable satellite monitoring began in 1993.

It has long been known that high sea temperatures cause coral bleaching which can kill coral — as seen by the devastation of the Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast — but what is less well known is that bleached corals do not die immediately.

“So when a coral bleaches, it’s actually just a sign of initial stress,” Dr. Holmes said.

However, corals rely on these microscopic algae as a food source and cannot survive for long without them.

“If that stress continues for a long time and those corals remain white, then it can lead to mortality,” Dr. Holmes said.

“But there are some cases of bleaching around the world where … that stress hasn’t continued for a long time, and the corals have been able to take that alga back in from the water.”

Dr. Holmes believes that the vital time gap between bleaching and dying created a chance for the reefs to recover at the Rowley Shoals, a chain of three coral atolls 300 kilometers off Broome on the edge of Australia’s continental shelf.


Monday, November 2, 2020

In the case of Peter Ridd, we’ll soon learn whether academic freedom matters

<i>Prof. Ridd was critical of alarmist utterances about the Barrier Reef coming from his university colleagues</i>

This week there were whoops of delight from Republicans over the appointment of conservative lawyer Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court. It will, they say, buttress democracy for decades to come. The Democrats were inconsolable, marking the rushed appointment as the end of democracy. The divide is fundamental: is it the role of America’s highest court to interpret law in humble deference to what the law says, or to change the law to suit social ­engineers who have grown ­impatient with the democratic process?

Everyone agrees on one thing: judges on the US Supreme Court can alter the country in profound ways.

By the way, two new judges were appointed to Australia’s High Court this week, although few will know their names. For the record, Simon Steward from Melbourne and Jacqueline Gleeson from Sydney, both former Federal Court judges and both in their early 50s, will serve long stints on our most influential court until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 70. Steward will join the court in December, and Gleeson, the daughter of former chief justice Murray Gleeson, will take up her seat in March next year.

Both judges will be watched closely by those who understand that the High Court can fundamentally change the direction of our country, too. Eighty per cent of its cases are mundane, having little impact on the country. The other 20 cent are the Big Bang cases. Through the intersection of law, politics and values, they can cause seismic shifts throughout the country.

Will Steward and Gleeson become roaming judicial adventurers making decisions like philo­sopher kings rather than humble judges? There are no guarantees. After all, the court’s most recent appointment, and disappointment, is Justice James Edelman. Part of the recent 4-3 majority decision in Love v The Commonwealth, along with fellow justices Michelle Gordon, Geoffrey Nettle and Virginia Bell, Edelman dreamt up a legally bogus racial privilege to exclude two men from the normal application of our non-citizens laws.

Chief Justice Susan Kiefel’s scathing rebuke of the majority should be inscribed somewhere along the hallowed halls of the High Court for the newcomers.

“Implications are not devised by the judiciary,” Kiefel said, because they are “antithetical to the judicial function since they involve an appeal to the personal philosophy or preferences of judges”.

The departure of Nettle and Bell means that, without the support from the new appointees, Edelman and Gordon might be relegated to minority dissents the next time they choose to cook up propositions to suit their preferred outcomes, and pronounce them as the law of the land.

All eyes will be on the newest judges especially if the High Court decides to hear the case involving physics professor Peter Ridd. In August, Ridd lodged a 13-page ­application for special leave to ­appeal a 2018 Federal Court decision that upheld his sacking by James Cook University. On Thursday, the High Court agreed to hear oral arguments about special leave in February next year. This is interesting. The vast maj­ority of applications are rejected “on the papers” — in other words without an oral hearing.

Next, the High Court will decide if the Ridd case is sufficiently important to warrant judgment from the nation’s highest court. There is, as former High Court judge Michael Kirby once said, no point pretending that it is a logical or scientific process. In other words, it’s down to whether the court finds a matter interesting. The test is subjective, their decision unappealable.

For the punters, the raw odds are about one in 10: last year, of a total of 445 special leave applications, the court granted leave in 52 cases.

Insiders give Ridd a 50-50 chance of making it over the next hurdle. The case, after all, is not just about the “substantial injustice” of JCU’s termination of Ridd’s career, claiming he acted in an uncollegial manner in breach of the university’s vaguely drafted code of conduct when he raised questions about the quality of climate research at JCU.

If the High Court grants Ridd special leave to appeal, the court’s final determination is likely to ­reverberate across the country. Many universities have intellectual freedom clauses in their ­enterprise agreements with academics. And most universities have ambiguously drafted codes of conduct that could be used to restrict these same intellectual freedom clauses. Where does that leave academic freedom in this country?

Ridd’s case is being led by Melbourne QC Stuart Wood, while JCU has Bret Walker SC in its corner. Ridd’s claim for special leave to appeal includes a powerful observation from legal scholar Ron­ald Dworkin that “any invasion of academic freedom is not only harmful in itself, but also makes future invasions more likely”.

There is another harm to ­society. If JCU’s infringement of academic freedom is allowed to stand, it will have a chilling effect on other academics. We will never know what research escapes rigorous testing by academics who do not want to jeopardise their jobs.

The High Court is being asked to rule on the core mission of a university: is it, first and foremost, to defend academic freedom and further research, to seek the truth by challenging orthodoxies that can become dangerously inaccurate over time?

If, on the other hand, universities are allowed to sack academics in circumstances similar to Ridd, with obvious impacts for the quality of research and learning, then Australians are entitled to confirmation of this dystopian brave new world at Australian universities from our highest court.

And dystopian it certainly is. Along with making 17 findings against Ridd, two speech directions and five confidentiality directions (even prohibiting him at one stage from speaking with his wife about the matter), JCU also issued a “no satire” direction against Ridd demanding he not make fun of the disciplinary proceedings.

No satire? It’s hard not to make fun of a taxpayer-funded university that censures, then sacks, a respected professor of physics, and employee of 27 years, a man ranked in the top 5 per cent of researchers globally for raising questions about the quality of climate science research at the Great Barrier Reef.

Only this week, this report slipped under the ABC News’s ­Armageddon radar: “Researchers have found a new reef that is as tall as a skyscraper in the waters off Cape York in north Queensland.” As Ridd told Inquirer this week, “we are constantly learning new, and incredible things about the reef”.

The shoddy, disproportionate treatment of the physics professor by JCU has become the centrifugal force to better protect academic freedom at universities, not just via the courts, but by parliament too.

Ridd’s sacking led Education Minister Dan Tehan to initiate a review into free speech and academic freedom at Australian universities in 2019 by Robert French. Nothing had been done prior to Tehan taking the portfolio. This week, Tehan tabled the Higher Education Support Amendment (Freedom of Speech) Bill 2020, which gives effect to legislative changes suggested by the former chief justice. The bill requires that universities commit to “academic freedom” — as defined by French — in return for getting registration, and taxpayer funds.

These are indeed interesting times for academic freedom, with a review under way by Professor Sally Walker into the implementation by universities of the model code on academic freedom also recommended by French.

The model code is intended to operate as an umbrella-like standard to fall over all university policies, codes, pronouncements, etc. If a particular enterprise agreement has a broader definition of academic freedom, that is great for academics at that university. If an EA offers less protection than French’s model code, then that model code will lift the standard of academic freedom protections. That will be a terrific boost for academic freedom across the country because, as experts who have trawled through EAs of Australian universities told Inquirer this week, none of the EAs offer more protection than French’s model code.

When Walker’s review is completed late next month, we will discover which vice-chancellors have dragged the chain, more cowardly corporatist controllers than defenders of robust intellectual excellence.

Their incalcitrant approach to academic freedom should firm up the minister’s resolve to stop the rot. Tehan’s next move might be to legislate that every university implement the full French model code as a requirement of university registration. Even if not legislated, the minister has a backdoor way to secure the same outcome. Under section 136 of Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act, Tehan can direct the university regulator to use the model code when enforcing the educational standards to Australian universities. With oversight from Senate Estimates, this could well transform TESQA, known as a wet-lettuce regulator, into a genuine guardian of university excellence acting in the best interest of academics, students, taxpayers and the country.

In other words, with the model code in place, either by law or ministerial directive, what happened to Ridd can never happen again. That, of course, will not help the unassuming, but determined, professor. His final appeal for justice, and common sense, rests with the High Court next year, when at least one new judge, maybe two, will be on the bench. No wonder we will be watching closely.