We live in an era when it is politically incorrect to say the Great Barrier Reef is doing fine, except if it’s in a tourist brochure. The issue has nothing to do with the actual state of corals, but something else altogether.
Given that the Great Barrier Reef is one ecosystem comprising nearly 3000 individual reefs stretching for 2000 kilometres, damaged areas can always be found somewhere. And a coral reef that is mature and spectacular today may be smashed by a cyclone tomorrow – although neither the intensity nor frequency of cyclones is increasing at the Great Barrier Reef, despite climate change. Another reason that coral dies is because of sea-level fall that can leave some corals at some inshore reefs above water on the lowest tides. These can be exceptionally low tides during El Niño events that occur regularly along the east coast of Australia.
A study published by Reef Check Australia, undertaken between 2001 to 2014 – where citizen scientists followed an agreed methodology at 77 sites on 22 reefs encompassing some of the Great Barrier Reef’s most popular dive sites – concluded that 43 sites showed no net change in hard coral cover, 23 sites showed an increase by more than 10 per cent (10–41 per cent, net change), and 17 sites showed a decrease by more than 10 per cent (10–63 per cent, net change).
Studies like this, which suggest there is no crisis but that there can be change, are mostly ignored by the mainstream media. However, if you mention such information and criticise university academics at the same time, you risk being attacked in the mainstream media. Or in academic Dr Peter Ridd’s case, you could be sacked by your university.
After a career of 30 years working as an academic at James Cook University, Dr Ridd was sacked essentially for repeatedly stating that there is no ecological crisis at the Great Barrier Reef, but rather there is a crisis in the quality of scientific research undertaken and reported by our universities. It all began when he sent photographs to News Ltd journalist Peter Michael showing healthy corals at Bramston Reef, near Stone Island, off Bowen in north Queensland.
More recently, I personally have been ‘savaged’ – and in the process incorrectly labelled right wing and incorrectly accused of being in the pay of Gina Rinehart – by Graham Readfearn in an article published in The Guardian. This was because I supported Dr Ridd by showing in some detail a healthy coral reef fringing the north-facing bay at Stone Island in my first film, Beige Reef.
According to the nonsense article by Mr Readfearn, quoting academic Dr Tara Clark, I should not draw conclusions about the state of corals at Stone Island from just the 25 or so hectares (250,000 square metres) of near 100 per cent healthy hard coral cover filmed at Beige Reef on 27 August 2019. Beige Reef fringes the north-facing bay at Stone Island.
This is hypocritical – to say the least – given Dr Clark has a paper published by Nature claiming the coral reefs at Stone Island are mostly all dead. She based this conclusion on just two 20-metre long transects that avoided the live section of healthy corals seaward of the reef crest.
I will refer to this reef as Pink Plate Reef – given the pink plate corals that I saw there when I went snorkelling on 25 August 2019.
Dr Clark – the senior author on the research report, which also includes eight other mostly high-profile scientists – is quoted in The Guardian claiming I have misrepresented her Great Barrier Reef study. In particular, she states,
We never claimed that there were no Acropora corals present in 2012.”
Yet this is really the only conclusion that can be drawn from the information presented in her report, which states in different sections the following:
Using a combination of anecdotal, ecological and geochemical techniques, the results of this study provide a robust understanding of coral community change for Bramston Reef and Stone Island.”
At Stone Island, the reef crest was similar to that observed in 1994 with a substrate almost completely devoid of living corals.”
For Stone Island, the limited evidence of coral growth since the early 19th Century suggests that recovery is severely lagging.”
… by 1994 the reef was covered in a mixture of coral rubble and algae with no living Acropora and very few massive coral colonies present …”
Clark and colleagues recorded the corals along two transects, which they explain included a section of the reef now stranded above the mean low spring sea level. The sections they studied are some metres away from healthy corals – Porites and Acropora species, including pink plate corals that I snorkelled over on 25 August 2019.
Fringing inshore reefs often show distinct zonation, with live and healthy corals growing along the seaward edge. At Pink Plate Reef, the reef edge extends for some 2 kilometres and is about 20 metres wide in parts, while much narrower in other sections.
The more inshore section of such fringing inshore reefs, sometime referred to as ‘the lagoon’ between the beach and the reef edge, is usually muddy. This mud has a terrestrial origin. From the lagoon towards the seaward edge there may be an elevated section, which is often referred to as the reef crest.
It is uncontroversial in the technical scientific literature that there has been sea-level fall of about 1.5 metres at the Great Barrier Reef since a period known as the Holocene High Stand thousands of years ago.
It is also uncontroversial that sea levels fall with the El Niño events that occur regularly along the east coast of Australia most recently during the summer of 2015–2016.
As a consequence, the reef crest at many such inshore fringing reefs may end up above the height of mean low spring sea level. This is too high for healthy coral growth; because of sea-level fall, corals in this section of these reefs are often referred to as ‘stranded’ and will be dead.
Dr Clark and colleagues clearly state that they began their transects at Stone Island at the reef crest, which they also acknowledge is at ‘the upper limit of open water coral growth’. It could reasonably be concluded that Dr Clark’s study set out to sample the section of this reef that could be referred to as stranded.
Our society places enormous trust in scientists. It is as though they are the custodians of all truth.
Yet, as recently reported in another article in The Guardian by Sylvia McLain on 17 September, entitled ‘Not breaking news: many scientific studies are ultimately proved wrong!’, most scientific studies are wrong because scientists are interested in funding their research and their careers rather than the truth.
So, while another The Guardian journalist, Graham Readfearn, may look to scientists like Dr Clark and colleagues to know the truth about the Great Barrier Reef, reef scientists may be inclined to report what is best for their career in the longer term. This is increasingly likely to be the case, given the recent sacking of Dr Ridd for daring to speak against the consensus.
This could also to be the case for film makers. The Guardian has reported my honest attempts at showing how beautiful and healthy one of the fringing coral reefs at Stone Island is – including through spectacular wide angle underwater cinematography – the headline:
Scientists say rightwing think tank misrepresented her Great Barrier Reef study”.
This was the headline in The Guardian on Tuesday, accompanying the first review of my first film – Beige Reef. Many of the comments at YouTube now uncritically link to this misinformation.
It is not easy telling the truth when it comes to the state of corals at the Great Barrier Reef.
In my film Beige Reef, I show such a diversity of beautiful hard corals including species of Acropora and Turbinaria under dappled light at Beige Reef, which is a true coral garden fringing the north facing bay at Stone Island.
Meanwhile, Tara Clark and colleagues – lauded by journalists such as Graham Readfearn – write in their study published by Nature: ‘Only nine dead corals were found along transects 1 and 2, and that these corals were covered in mud and algae.’
Such a statement is perhaps politically smart, because it plays to the current zeitgeist that suggests humankind is having a terrible impact – destroying the planet everywhere, including at the Great Barrier Reef. So, the beautiful reefs that do fringe Stone Island – not just Beige Reef in the north facing bay, but also the reef along the south western edge, the reef that I’ve name Pink Plate – must be denied.
It seems an absolute tragedy to me that the beauty and resilience of these healthy coral reefs is not acknowledged. Further, the idea that the Great Barrier Reef is in peril creates tremendous anxiety throughout our community, particularly for the younger generation.
In another part of the same report, Dr Clark and colleagues state that coral cover was 0.09 per cent at Stone Island. This is not consistent with their ‘benthic survey’ only finding nine dead corals, and is certainly a lot less than the near 100 per cent coverage that I found at Beige Reef just around the corner. It is also a lot less than would have been found if their transects had been placed in that section of Pink Plate Reef with living corals – the section of reef at the seaward edge that extended for perhaps 2 kilometres.
Pink Plate Reef will be the focus of my next short film.
My travel to Stone Island and the film were funded by the B. Macfie Family Foundation through the Institute of Public Affairs.
I snapped the picture of the sailing boat with Gloucester passage in the background, as featured at the top of this blog post, from Pink Plate Reef in the early afternoon on 25th August 2019.
Rod McLean says
Thank you for your efforts to keep the bastards honest.
Bill In Oz says
Wonderful & excellent work Jenny !
Don’t let the bastards wear you down !
Allan Cox says
Truth does not sit easily for those that depend on public funding for their livelihood, unfortunately.
Obviously, you’re not holding your breath for Dr Clark to reply to your very clear recitation of her very own statements that somehow can be misinterpreted to the contrary; it’s puzzling to know what dictionary she must rely on to allow her to think otherwise.
Dr Christine Finlay says
Ahh, yes just the same abandonment of formerly iron-clad rules for research validity in bushfires – the result? Honest researchers with no funding targeted as political conspirators; insane amount of dead native flora & fauna; country now facing the worst drought imaginable; stormier weather from the massive amount of carbon injected into the atmosphere; paid bushfire hierarchy netting about $5billion pa; mass hysteria that stopping fossil fuels will end the bushfire crisis; mobilisation of climate activists with tendencies towards paranoia & persecution complexes; farmers without crops & livestock etc etc etc…
Bureaucracy & universities are autonomous & protected from ordinary rules that would make deception for monetary gain a fraud & criminal.
So, so far nothing has stood in the way bushfire service operations that worsen bushfires. There is a lot of research into how human populations behave. Computer models find humans aren’t the rational beings we would like to believe – behave more like bees or herds of cattle. If you google the area in psychology founded by Stanley Milgram , you will see humans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
Truly, I’m pretty sure even George Orwell would have been amazed by these twists in their stories.
M Rouse says
Your truer and comprehensive quality control analysis of this reef unfortunately does not fit in with the newspapers narrative.
They have to appeal to their customer base demographic and the easiest way to do this is to put up ‘right wing’ headlines and get their sympathetic scientists and journalists to attack the messenger
Thanks you for your brilliant and brave work Jennifer. The thought that people like readfearn are still out there is disgusting. Whenever he pops up with his puerile attacks I remember the debate (sic) he had with Monckton and Plimer on the 29/1/10. Barry Brooks was readfearn’s partner and had the good grace to acknowledge he was outdone but readfearn simply disappeared for a while after the shellacking he received from Monckton and Plimer. But like a good fanatic he comes back without learning a thing.
The abc no longer has the copy of the debate but here is Brook’s summary:
Thank you for keeping me informed and thank you for your continued fight to get the truth out there!
I watched your video on Beige Reef and made the mistake of posting a supportive comment – then I had some little affronted person thinking he could troll me – so I will watch your videos and keep my comments for here amongst real thinking folk who believe what you do is right and honest.
Thank you again Jennifer.
Helen Armstrong says
They have no shame Jen and are protecting their troughs and their egos. To be proved wrong means so much of what was writ as fact is in fact shonky.
You know what they say – if you are recieving flack, you are over the target.
Keep up the great work.
The guardian always was the preserve of left wing pseudo intellectuals and pseudo bleeding hearts.
It has a long association with activist melodrama and I suspect the climate panic has served to keep the rag from foundering many years ago.
The people who read it already converts to the Cult. Those that don’t read it probably never will.
I used to read it to help me understand the left as I am a long time Conservative, now bordering on Libertarian as the lines between traditional left and right are now so blurred as to be virtually indistinguishable from one another.
What I did learn from reading the Guardian is that the contemporary left is a long way from the UK labour party I remember from my youth. Their desire to lift the working man from borderline poverty has been their own undoing as many of them have become middle class. Which is a bit of an own goal really.
Consequently, socialist politicians around the civilised world can no longer rely on the working man for votes, because few working men remain. They now rely on emotive, unquantifiable appeals to virtue to mobilise support; and use proxy violence and intimidation as their instrument of noble justification to their cause.
One need only read of the recently disrupted climate conference arranged by sceptics, in Munich of all places, by masked and hooded activists to understand their motivation and desires.
And when one considers that 86% of the traditionally labour voting Jewish community in the UK refuse to vote for Jeremy Corbyn because they fear for their safety one can only fear for Europe’s future as a Democratic continent.
There is no shame in being called right wing by these rabidly socialist individuals. The right has never had a litany of failed attempts to impose ideological political movements like the left. Humankind evolved from free trade and free speech. Matt Ridleys book ‘The Rational Optimist’ illustrates this very clearly, ideology serves no one but the elite.
And in my humble opinion, the best scientists are those who recognise they are more often wrong than they are right, otherwise there would be no need for experiments.
The scientists standing in judgement of you should welcome your findings, not condemning them. You have done what every true scientist should do, question their, and your findings.
Ninety per cent of the world are not scientists. Convince them rather than your peers because in the Democratic west, we laymen have precisely the same number of votes as the most brilliant scientific mind in the world, one.
The greatest scientific gift you have Jennifer, is being able to communicate your science in a language the layman can understand. That is, ultimately, a scientists job. Few of your peers understand that because they believe in their own elitism.
Ron Merrick says
Thanks Dr Jennifer for showing the Truth and stating the facts. You are a Worrier for the Truth and “an eye full is better than a gob full” so keep showing us all the beautiful Reef in Photo and film and as time ticks our amazing recovering Reef where damage has occurred. Did you send Beige Reef to David Attenborough I am sure he would love it (not)
Thanks so much again
Yup. My Dad (materials scientist and, many years ago, co-author of several papers with this year’s Nobel laureate in chemistry) was always frustrated with scientists who were more concerned about publicity than knowledge. He “fired” his last consulting client (at the age of 86!) because he felt their research was primarily aimed at getting the next grant, not doing good scientific work. Thanks for the update — loved the film!
Ken Stewart says
Well done Jen, and keep up the good work. You’re on target.
Lawrence Ayres says
Reading your reports is always enlightening and refreshing after the catastrophic idiocy so regularly published in the MSM. No wonder the alarmists are so terrified of people such as yourself and Joanne Nova who keep showing how science has been bastardised and how scientists have truly prostituted themselves to keep the money flowing. The people of Australia are poorly served by our academics, our universities and the media. Of course the worst offenders are our politicians who have the power to correct the situation simply by turning off the funding to universities and the most dangerous media outlet, their ABC. The current crop lack the backbone necessary to affect change and the few politicians who pursue truth over popularity are never given the chance to put an alternative view. Craig Kelly, skeptic with knowledge, was barred from appearing on QandA for fear he might frighten the luvvies with a few facts.
So Jennifer it is up to you and some of us will help when we can.
Jon Warren says
Love your courage and truth telling. So much of what we hear is at best diengenous and it works just plain self serving dishonesty.
Please keep it up.
Maybe you’ll have to swing back to the Murray Darling again soon!
Paul Jones says
“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act”.
– George Orwell
Keep up the great work!!
I know people who have never been to the GBR, yet believe it has all died off in these past 10 years or so.
They believe this because they WANT to believe it.
In so doing, they feel “safe” in their world of “right thinking” social & professional circles.
Unfortunately it was a fairly predictable response by The Guardian and ‘gravy train’ Tara.
Your friend and preeminent marine biologist is also trying to get the message across that the GBR is doing just fine. Much of the mainstream media have no interest in the truth having thrown in their lot with the ideologically driven Left, years ago.
Brian Johnston says
You were accused of being right wing because you are doing the right thing.
Wear it like a badge of honour.
Keep up the good work.
Craig Devlin says
I agree with the premise of this article and the need for full disclosure and transparency in scientific studies and the importance of scrutiny of methodology and outcomes and this article in itself shows that.
Even in this article there is anomalies in the data presented which leads to questioning. In it, it refers to a Study done by Reef Check Australia, where citizen scientists followed an agreed methology at 77 sites on 22 reefs between 2001-2014 finding that 43 sites had no net change in coral cover, 23 sites had an increase in coral cover and 17 sites had a decrease in coral cover but when you add the number of sites given in the conclusion it comes to 83 sites, six more than the study states, so how did they come to that conclusion?
This is what happens when the full methodology of calculation or measurement is not presented, it leaves questionable results when they are not fully disclosed…
A great example for full transparency in all science…
Warren McLaughlin says
Misinformation in any form is reprehensible. The Guardian is so left wing that any report that threatens their sphere of influence is attacked. Misinformation must be challenged; you have done that; I want to see acknowledgement of your findings by Federal Govt departments that fund GBR projects.
All reports (yours included) need to be subject to Quality Assurance as Prof Peter Ridd has stated. It follows that where misinformation is identified… there must be consequences. You’re approach is sound; you have my support.
Howard Dewhirst says
Yet again you have shown how true are the two lines from the Dire Straits song “Industrial Disease” – ‘Two men say they’re Jesus; One of them must be wrong” .
Is it possible to plot Dr Clark’s two transects on a map showing where they were in relation to your work?
Great rebuttal Jen
David Guy-Johnson says
Keep up the good work. These charlatans are doing great harm and may ultimately destroy people’s trust in all branches of science. Something that hardly bears thinking about
Thanks for your report. The real problem is that there is no pushback to the alarmists’ narrative – at least, no organised pushback. They hold all the levers, and they keep the gates. They have also silenced the fossil fuel lobby itself, such that even a hint of support by any corporation for the sceptical side gets jumped on, called out as the devil’s work, encouraging boycotts, obliging those very corporations to parrot the official line.. Good luck with the Big Oil dollars, try for cents perhaps?
In the case of the GBR though (I say this as a Brit, so I could be off track) there is surely potential for an effective pressure group drawn from those who run, or benefit from, the tourist trade. FNQ economy, and even as far south as Mackay, would look rather precarious without GBR tourism, wouldn’t it? What about the Cairns or Whitsunday tour people and the dive and snorkel operators, even the tourist board itself? Is anybody building a commercial focus of resistance to this unwarranted attack on their livelihoods? Or are they all going along with it, hoping for government money to ease their expected predicament? Or perhaps expecting hordes of guardianistas to come and see the dead reefs for themselves?
From what I know of the nature of coral reefs, I would expect them to be resilient even under much more severe warming than we are told to expect (though the species mix and distribution may change) and the error of the warmists regarding GBR could be demonstrated effectively by a sufficiently well organised and coherent effort. Easier, perhaps, than rebutting the vaguer and ever-changing worldwide claims of destructive warming, which no group sees as a personal threat.
Good luck with your efforts – wish I was there to help!
Bob Tisdale says
Jennifer, you wrote, “Our society places enormous trust in scientists. It is as though they are the custodians of all truth.”
Only the innocent, naïve, gullible, or drug-addled believe scientists are the custodians of any truth.
Don A says
Jen, that was a delight to watch. Thank you for your work, as always.
What a beautifully made film. Thank you for posting it to YT.
Your narrative is compellingly calm and fact driven. No wonder the censorious consensus attack you and the data: They have no defense otherwise. It is increasingly clear that the climate consensus is at root anti-scientific and opposed completely to rational independent thought. Your work and that of other pro-science researchers stands in stark contrast.
Michael Tarbuck says
Thankyou for your for your alternate view to the climate catostrophists,
I wish your articles would appear in ‘the Australian’, you are a breath of fresh air. Look forward to future articles.
Dr Christine Finlay says
Quite a few decades ago, the media would have been all over Jennifer’s work – covered it in minute detail – the ABC & The Sydney Herald in particular. The minute coverage made corruption of this magnitude harder to get away with.
Peter Ridd at the EIKE conference:
Peter is on from 18 – 48 minutes.
He details a fascinating aspect of coral life, explaining the reality of bleaching as an adjunct, that complements Jennifer’s film here very accurately.
As soon as detailed information is released to the public instead of being hoarded for mean streets by grant-hungry academia, the Enlightenment re-blossoms. Wonderful !
slow to follow says
Thank you Jennifer for sharing your work – I hope that it can play a part in turning around the juggernaut which is run away climate change alarm!
Thanks too to ianl for the Eike link – I watched the Peter Ridd segment. It is very good and, although the sound is low for the early portion, it is well worth watching.
Great catch, Charles R. What a great film by Dr. Jennifer Marohasy, a film both informative and beautiful. We geologists consider coral reefs to be the limestone factories where the limestones (sometimes converted to dolomite if a back-reef area concentrates magnesium and undergoes sabka pumping) are generated by the voluminous debris from the living and dying and living and dying creatures. These limestones are common hosts for Carlin-type gold deposits, contact metasomatic base and precious metal deposits, and yes, even reservoirs for some of that black gold. It is a shame that Dr. Marohasy was seriously attacked by Great White Sharks, not the kind in the oceans but the kind increasingly found slinking around in the halls of academia. I look forward to her next film and send her five stars for her work.