The Virtual Impact of Cows on the Great Barrier Reef

FOR decades Queensland scientists have been trying to prove an impact from agriculture, particularly agricultural pesticides, on the Great Barrier Reef.

One way they can create the perception of a problem is to use a dodgy survey method involving the repeat targeting of reefs disproportionately affected by crown-of-thorn starfish outbreaks and reefs with insufficient time to recover from cyclones while ignoring more representative reefs. I detail this peer-reviewed scam here…

Another way to create the perception of a major problem is to spend tens of millions of dollars on computer modelling. That is what this e-reef program is all about…

The power of these fancy computer models, that include a detailed simulation of the virtual pollution problem, is an increasing feature of modern science as detailed in a great book entitled, Science and Public Policy – The Virtuous Corruption of Virtual Environmental Science by Professor Aynsley Kellow from the University of Tasmania.

The book if full of quotable quotes including…

“In the absence of hypotheses which might be falsified by observational data, the extensive use of mathematical models introduces a virtual landscape where species, real and virtual, live and die, and where their utility to noble political causes restricts the scepticism of those who might question the validity of such ‘science’.

“Endangered species become not just trumps, but face cards in the game of politics used to create advantage.”

“The increased emphasis on mathematics which lent ecology its scientific gravitas helped steer it towards virtual science rather than experimental science, and it never shook off its normative shackles.”

And if you want to read even more about the scam that is taxpayer funded Great Barrier Reef science click here…

35 Responses to The Virtual Impact of Cows on the Great Barrier Reef

  1. John Sayers August 30, 2013 at 12:21 am #

    “However beautiful the strategy, occasionally you should look at the results.”

    Winston Churchill

  2. spangled drongo August 30, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Because when you pay these alarmists so handsomely to live in paradise to advise us if we have a problem with the GBR, they will always come up with endless reasons why we have.

    And their supercomputers are just more taxpayer-funded weaponry against us to help defeat common sense.

  3. handjive August 30, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    It’s worse than we thought!

    Summary: Australia is now home to the largest supercomputing facility in the southern hemisphere, and is giving a few other countries a run for their money now that the Raijin supercomputer has been switched on.

    The Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia are expected to use Raijin to run complex weather and climate modelling

    Forget the petaflops, I predict it will compute that it’s worse than we first, (or second guessed), thought!

  4. Robert August 30, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    Largest in the southern hemisphere! I love those factoids where we get to dominate our hemisphere. Take that, Chile and Namibia!

    Imagine the first breakthrough findings?
    “We’ve consulted Rajin and…it’s worse than we thought (or WTWT, to use the scientific term.) We’ve been able to eliminate the Great Barrier Reef by 2100. Of course, that was with David Jones playing. That guy is a magician! Second best couldn’t kill the reef before 2120. Shows you why David gets the big bucks.”

  5. Debbie August 30, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    I also noticed that it was brought up in the debate between Rudd and Abbot 2 nights ago.
    It would be interesting to see a CBA on the financing of these programs.
    How much has the tax payer actually spent and for what result? As Jen points out…a great deal of effort seems to go towards blaming or biting the hands that feed this research?
    For as long as I can remember, we have been getting told that the GBR is in immediate, catastrophic danger of extinction!
    If I could be bothered to collate everything I can remember being taught, the GBR should have disappeared a long time ago.
    It seems that the biggest threat is those COTs?
    To me, they look similar to invasive pests and weeds that we need to manage in Agriculture.
    Why isn’t the research focused on managing that key threat?
    Wouldn’t that achieve significant positive results?

  6. Luke August 30, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

    The involvement of fertiliser nitrogen in modifying trophic structure and increasing COTS larvae survivability is now a well supported hypothesis for outbreaks.

    Agricultural inputs of nitrogen and pesticides are expensive – do we want them on the farms or in the creeks and reef lagoon?

    We also know that sediment is way above pre-European levels Soil on grazing lands or on the reef.

  7. Jennifer Marohasy August 30, 2013 at 8:04 pm #


    The hypothesis proposed in the first paper you link to might have some validity if COTS were a problem in river catchments. But they aren’t.

    They are a problem on middle and outer coral reefs that for the most part are starved of nutrients including nitrogen.

  8. Charlotte Ramotswe August 30, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    Some questions…

    Is this all based on BoM Oceanography, CSIRO Oceanography and CSIRO land based research?

    Is the oceanographic modelling checked against data from the Marine Observing System?

    How does the model deal with rainfall and seasons? Is it based on an annual averages?

  9. Debbie August 30, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    Sorry Luke, but they are NOT smart questions.
    Of course any farmer would prefer the pesticides and fertilisers to stay put. . . ah DUH & DOUBLE DUH! ! !
    Any chance you could answer my question about COTs and also Charlotte’s questions re the modelling?
    No one would argue your point about sediment levels pre European. . . but we are NOT pre European are we? Are you advocating we need to go back there?

  10. Luke August 30, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    Debbie – amazingly silly logic – well in terms of soil resources yes it would be lovely to go back to pre-European – we’d have more and better soils and not made so many mistakes – but why visit the outback when you can sit on the bank of the Burdekin River at Home Hill and watch it wash past (it’s an old joke Debs – don’t swing at it). But the Burdekin catchment sediment export rates are at 5-10x natural background resulting from catchment grazing and overgrazing.

    Debbie – so if they want nitrogen and pesticides to stay on the farm why don’t more undertake land management practices which achieve that end? Why don’t cane farmers follow the six easy steps process?

    Jen – we’re talking about the lagoon (not middle or outer reef) and any increase in fertiliser N and it’s there in the coral for all to see – is taken up very quickly be phytoplankton and all this increases COTS larvae survivability.,%202005.pdf

    Here’s the record of fertiliser N in coral – – massive increases over pre-European

  11. Debbie August 30, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    What about the COTs question?
    I’ll answer your questions when you have answered that one. Although the answers to your questions are not that difficult. . . . I don’t really think answering the COTs question is particularly difficult either.
    You know. . . what is the key issue? What is the best cost effective method to mitigate the problem?
    Also. . . while it may be ‘lovely to go back to pre European’ . . . It is not going to happen is it?
    You have also conveniently ignored the fact that much of what you quote is SOOOOoooooo last century. Of course some mistakes were made. . . Like. . . ah DUH & DOUBLE DUH! 🙂 🙂
    Nirvana is not behind us Luke.

  12. John Sayers August 30, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

    If we were to ‘ go back to pre European’ then check out Red Rock NSW on google earth – it’s a white river with white sand and if you check out it’s source you can see why.

    I understand all the northern rivers looked like that before we arrived.

  13. Luke August 31, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    John – “look” is hardly a scientific term is it? Some of these places are land deg central.

    Debbie – more sheer unrelenting silliness – the soils still eroding. Grazing is having an enormous impact. I guess your opinion is worth more than the vast number of studies and regional survey. So should the soil be on the paddock or in the reef lagoon? Perhaps someone dealing with rice paddies doesn’t get erosion on slopes, gullies and streambanks from tropical rainfall.

    What COTS question Debs? – an increasing body of research says the increase in larval survivability through to plagues is indirectly stimulated by fertiliser N – DIN from cane fields.

    Debs – try to get yourself MINIMALLY updated before opining from the rice bowl.

  14. Debbie August 31, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    I am entirely disinclined to argue with you after watching you put the boot into the deltoids.
    I could easily substitute ‘climate models’ for ‘GBR models’ and use the points you posted at deltoid.
    The COTs question was very simply. . . Why isn’t the research focused on managing that key threat?
    You know?. . . Thinking in terms of balance and/or ‘triple bottom line’?
    Your answer was that the research blames cane farmers.

  15. Luke August 31, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Models? What I have said is from empirical evidence not models.

    When you have done some MINIMAL background reading instead of opining from your rice paddy we might chat. The research says ag and grazing runoff = COTS driver. Go figure.

    Here’s a logical approach – (1) does agricultural and grazing operations in reef catchments cause emission of sediment, nutrients (N & P) and pesticides (a variety) to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon (not didn’t say middle our outer reefs in the most part). So you’d have to examine some evidence and form an opinion. I don’t think John Sayers – well those rivers have always been a bit dirty is what we’d call any degree of objectivity albeit true that there is a background rate.

    (2) Pesticides of course aren’t naturally occurring so if they are there well we know where they came from.

    (3) You then examine the evidence of direct reef impacts, biodiversity impacts and COTS driver science

    (4) If you’re still going you’d then ask what’s industry’s position for moving B class practice to A, and C class practice to A and B and giving D class practice a big nudge.

    (5) you might then ask does better farm management practice improve the farm ECONOMIC bottom line while reducing ag runoff. The cotton industry have been through all this with ag chemicals and agronomic practice and got themselves sorted.

    That’s the pitch.

    Do you really think that doing a soil test before applying 200kg N ha is too much to ask? Seems it is.

  16. Luke August 31, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    Oh and it’s not just cane farmers like you suggest – depends what catchment – there’s big grazing impacts from Burdekin and Fitzroy.
    Cane in Mackay Whitsunday and Wet tropics. Horticulture in Mary/Burnett and Wet Tropics. Especially bananas. And broad scale summer cropping in Fitzroy and Mary/Burnett.

  17. Debbie August 31, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    But Luke?
    While what you argue re better practices has merit. . . isn’t COTs the key threat to GBR?
    Wouldn’t it be sensible to focus research on directly mitigating COTs?
    I would imagine the vast majority of farmers do test their soils B4 applying fert. As you point out it is uneconomical if you don’t. Your inference that people don’t care if they lose topsoil & fertiliser is just contrarian rubbish. Of course they care!

  18. Luke August 31, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    “I would imagine the vast majority of farmers do test their soils” you would IMAGINE would you?

    Well Debs you explain the land practice survery results – off you go – all on teh reefplan web site. Start talking.

    Don’t imagine!

    Have you paid any attention to what I said the COTS drivers are. Are you thick? Try reading.

    Directly mitigating COTS – well you have a zillion divers for a zillion days killing them when they’re in plague mode or stop the plague forming – what would you like? I guess you’d prefer shooting bunnies over myxo/calici virus and spraying over GM cotton.

  19. Debbie August 31, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    Have looked Luke,
    The practices are/have improved dramatically. Is it perfect? Of course not. Is it improving? Absolutely! Yet still we have a key threat to parts of GBR from COTs.
    The rest of your comment is not relevant as mixo and GM are actually good examples of the point I was trying to make. They are the result of research focused on mitigating the actual problem rather than endlessly and unproductively banging on about the past.
    BTW earlier comment re modeling was relevant to Jen’s post and the ‘virtual modeling/video’.

  20. Luke August 31, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    It’s not banging on about the past. The point is to determine if agriculture and grazing are having a significant impact on the reef lagoon (or not). If the inputs are many many times pre-European then it that’s interesting. Not conclusive but surely a first step. The point about land management improvements is that it should be a win win – good for farmers and the reef. Not just an impost.

  21. Debbie August 31, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    Well of course Luke! It should always be about win/win. 🙂
    Take another look at the video.

  22. Fisherfriends September 1, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    Dr Marohasy is correct in her assessment of Playstation Science. How can this project possibly pretend to simulate flows of sediment, nutrients and pesticides in “near real-time” as the video states.

    What data sources will the modellers use to validate the efficacy of their models. Any significant ongoing time series of such data simply does not exist at a daily quantum. Anyone with a basic knowledge of global reef catchment behaviour would be aware that levels of alleged pollutants – fine micron sediment, labile nitrogen and phosphorus, organic matter, insecticides, herbicides and breakdown products bear no resemblance to the daily flow hydrographs.

    Flow concentration patterns are a complex function of land management and timing of agronomic activities. If the daily output of emissions from the rivers is not correct how then will the oceanic modelling processes simulate anything meaningful.

    Playstation propaganda science for the gullible.

  23. Debbie September 1, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

    Can anyone translate?

  24. Robert September 2, 2013 at 12:31 am #

    Just quick and rough:
    “According to Lindzen, researchers, green activist organisations and media, along with politicians, collaborate in an iron triangle. It is not, perhaps, a question of some conspiracy, but all parties have an interest in keeping the process going. Climate researchers will perhaps begin with waking public and media interest for their field (as, for example, solar researchers will awake interest for the sun, historians for our history, philosophers for philosophy etc.) Evironmental groups and green politicians then see an opportunity to exploit some scientific authoritiy to raise the alarm. The media on its side will have challenging and attention grabbing headlines and sensationalise therefore what the experts say. Politicians will shape a threat and at the same time promise solutions if you vote for them. Satisfied climate researchers can gain attention and more funding to generate still more authoritative catastrophe scenarios etc. Even researchers from other scientific fields are quick to jump on the bandwagon; biologist Dr Jennfier Marhohasy gives a good example.”

  25. Ralph Bennett September 2, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    Hi Jennifer,

    Great to read your article!

    Cows = food. More people , more food. More people, more forest loss= species loss. More people= more pollution/ run-off. No more wishful thinking and lies.

    It only takes 10-15 minutes every 3 years ,to use the preferential system and number on the Senate ballot paper the 110 candidates below the line .
    Not a big ask compared to having half one’s face or ovaries blown-off in Afghanistan.

    By doing this , you can send the only message to the major parties, that they respect .

    Every major problem we face from coral reef destruction, housing, university funding, child neglect, jails, environment, manufacturing collapse, casualization of the workforce, selling public assets, massive public/private borrowings, traffic chaos, growing poverty, social security blow-outs…..(.very happy to dialogue the back stories on all this)…is made catastrophically worse by one design blunder………………POPULATION GROWTH .

    By preferencing the Stable Population Party first, then your major party second ( after that, just do the numbering because it won’t matter ), we have a chance to turn the place around.

    The positive message is that we have designed the mess in, so we can design it out .

    Very best jennifer ,


  26. Robert September 2, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    Ralph, I hope your party doesn’t stand for anything sinister: that word “design” does not bode well for your methods or intentions. I would like to vote for a party called something like the Bazalgette-Borlaug Party, in honour of those phenomenal humans who have enabled this modern phenomenon of soaring human survival rates.

    I hope Abbott’s clumsy attempt at helping the working prosperous to reproduce meets with success. A bit nutty, but he has a point. However, if future population in Australia is a worry to you, you might have noticed that busy, well off people in the developed world don’t breed much at all, a very strong argument for an expanding global middle class and for bringing all the advantages of development to all humans – girls especially! (People who spend a fortune getting their kids’ teeth straightened don’t produce a kid a year. That orthodontist in upper suburbia is a great population controller.) In the developed world, people don’t breed a lot, they survive a lot.

    On the other hand, where you have regions of desperation and beggary, you still have lots of births – people just die a lot quicker, so it evens things out, though in an utterly horrible way.

    Not only does middle class wealth reduce population naturally, but it leaves money over for such things as the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef. People collecting twigs and dried dung to cook dinner still emit carbon, but they don’t spend the evening worrying about coral in some far away ocean.

  27. Robert September 2, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    Sorry, Jen. Drifted off topic. I’m a bit of a pro-population, pro-immigration nut (no, not the dodgy boats, just immigration!). Ralph’s post set me off. I know you’re trying to keep things in better order. Just snip me.

  28. sp September 3, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    Snipping Ralph instead of Robert would be better

  29. Johnathan Wilkes September 3, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    my only reply to those who propose reducing the “current” population numbers is; after you my good fellow!

  30. Bruce September 4, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

    All this talk of runoff to the reef is one thing.

    However, it appears to be happening in the absence of considerations of ocean currents.

    There is a HUGE current that runs from south to north along the east coast of Oz. This is part of larger circulating currents that slosh around in all oceans.

    This coastal current is what keeps carrying all manner of stuff northwards along the coast. For a fairly sizable example, see Fraser Island.

    Anything that flows to sea along the eastern seaboard does not just get dumped directly offshore, but is carried northwards.

    The dilution factor needs to be examined as well. There is a LOT of moving water between the mainland and the notional boundaries of the reef. And the reef is not exactly like a solid, concrete wall.

    I am not condoning poor or outright harmful farming practices.

    However, I reckon a little less “Chicken Littling” from the “concerned citizens” would be a nice change.

  31. el gordo September 5, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Stable Population Party… what a joke. We need to grow Australia and Robert’s comment on developing a greater middle class worldwide, is the only way to go.

  32. hunter September 7, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

    It looks as if congratulations are in order for Australians on their election.

  33. John C Fairfax September 29, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    It is known that sand from southeast Victoria is transported to Frazer Island Queensland by the Australian east coast alongshore current sediment dispersal system.
    Sewage from east coast cities and towns is dumped into alongshore current waters.
    Nutrients from human bodies and within the sewage system become bonded to the fresh water.
    Fresh water dumped in sea water rises to the surface.
    Ocean surface water is driven by prevailing winds, prevailing on the Australian east coast from the south and south east

    How can GBRMPA and JC Uni science quantify and identify the nutrient source difference between, (a) natural nutrient loads, (b) farm nutrient loads, (c) human sewage nutrient loading, the latter being dumped daily and transported northwards in alongshore current that also reaches tidally into upper estuary waters?


  1. IPCC och järntriangeln - Stockholmsinitiativet - Klimatupplysningen - September 1, 2013

    […] Enligt Lindzen så samverkar forskare, gröna aktivistorganisationer & media och politiker i en järntriangel. Det är förstås inte fråga om någon konspiration, men alla parter har ett intresse av att hålla processen igång. Klimatforskarna vill förstås till att börja med väcka allmänhetens och medias intresse för det de håller på med (liksom exempelvis solforskare vill väcka intresse för solen, historiker för vår historia, filosofer för filosofi etc). Miljöorganisationer och gröna politiker ser dock i detta fall en möjlighet att utnyttja en vetenskaplig auktoritet för att slå larm. Media å sin sida vill ha hotfulla och uppseendeväckande rubriker och hårdtolkar därför vad vetenskapsmännen säger. Politiker vill skapa hot, och samtidigt utlova lösningar om man röstar på dem. Nöjda klimatforskare kan kamma hem både uppmärksamhet och mer forskningspengar för att generera ännu fler auktoritativa katastrofscenarier, osv. Även forskare från andra vetenskapsområden är snabba på att hoppa på tåget; biologen Dr Jennifer Marohasy ger ett bra exempel. […]

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