Exactly one year ago yesterday, I was getting off a train in Proserpine, looking to pickup a hire car to drive to Bowen. I wanted to know if the coral there was all dead, or not. Bowen is a coastal town in North Queensland, not far from Abbott Point that is the coal terminal for the controversial Adani coal mine.
Judge Salvador Vasta had earlier that week handed down his findings regarding the sacking of Peter Ridd. He had exonerated Ridd and explained that James Cook University had wrongly sacked him.
Some claim that it all came to a sorry end for Ridd because he dared to question the consensus of scientific opinion concerning the health of the Great Barrier Reef – particularly the impact of global warming. The university claimed it was because he had become ‘un-collegial’ and did not follow various directives while disclosing confidential information.
These issues were argued in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane a month earlier, in March 2019. Very few people realized that at the heart of the case were a couple of what might be best described as fake-news photographs promoted by Terry Hughes.
This is the same Terry Hughes who is now claiming that 60%* of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached, and that this is an extraordinary catastrophe for which we should all be ashamed.
If Peter Ridd had become un-collegial and disclosed confidential information, it was because he was fed-up with the fake news. As Ridd wrote in chapter 1 of the book that I edited three years ago, a chapter entitled ‘The Extraordinary Resilience of Great Barrier Reef Corals, and Problems with Policy Science’:
I have carried out half-a-dozen audits on some of the science claiming damage to the Great Barrier Reef, and in every case I have discovered serious problems.
The first of the 21 findings handed down in the Federal Court by Judge Vasta one year ago, concerned photographs used by Terry Hughes to claim that the corals off Bowen had been variously destroyed by global warming, ocean acidification and sediment run-off. Hughes claimed where there had once been healthy coral reef, there was now only mudflat.
The most recent claims from Hughes, that all of the Great Barrier Reef is at risk from global warming, do not follow close-up examination of individual corals or even individual reefs. Rather Hughes has flown in a light plane in all sorts of conditions through the day even when it was windy, and looked down from a very high altitude, from some hundreds of metres away.
His claims are being uncritically reported as fact across the world, including in popular scientific magazines.
I’ve flown a drone at 30 metres above a coral reef and spotted white corals. I’ve snorkelled that same reef and found the same white corals to be very much alive and with zooxanthellae. I made a film of this adventure, documenting its health for that moment in time. That was in August 2019. I named that reef and the film: Beige Reef. You can see the white corals from the drone footage at 9.38, 10.35 and 11.07 minutes.
Beige reef fringes the north facing bay at Stone Island, which is across the channel from Bramston Reef at the entrance to Bowen Harbour.
The white corals were large; they are commonly known as bolder corals, and the species at Beige Reef was Galaxea fascicularis. I made this identification based on information in J.E.N. Vernon’s three-part encyclopedia ‘Corals of the Worlds’ using my close-up photographs of the extended tentacles. These were taken on the same day that I took the drone footage showing these same corals as white in the film Beige Reef.
If we go back eight years, to July 2012, it is a fact that Terry Hughes stood in front of 2,500 marine scientists at an international conference in Cairns and claimed the corals off-Bowen are dead. That claim, made while showing a picture of the mudflat at Bramston Reef just to the south of Bowen, was a front-page story the next day in The Cairns Post.
Peter Ridd had some photographs taken in 2015 showing healthy corals off-Bowen, he got sacked for this effort. To back-up Terry Hughes, Tara Clark from the University of Queensland and colleagues (including David Wachenfeld from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority), had a paper published by the prestigious journal Nature claiming that there are no-longer any Acropora spp. corals at Stone Island. In the film Beige Reef, I show 25 hectares of this coral type. I made Beige Reef to back-up Peter Ridd.
I don’t know of a single journalist prepared to visit Bowen, Bramston Reef, Beige Reef or Stone Island to check the veracity of the claims by me and Peter Ridd versus Terry Hughes or Tara Clark. Yet it is not complicated, though it will be political. The saga has been on-going since at least 2015.
Jennifer Marohasy: come visit the reef with me, Misha Ketchell
Exactly one year ago, keen to see for myself I walked across that mudflat at low tide, after catching the train to Proserpine and then driving up to Bowen. I walked across the mudflat on the afternoon of Easter Friday in April 2019, and kept going for about 1 kilometre. I found so much live coral, the other side of that mudflat.
I returned to Bowen four months later in August 2019 with skipper Rob McCulloch, marine biologist Walter Starck, and an underwater photographer.
Having the boat that McCulloch towed down from Cairns made it possible for us to get all around Stone Island. As it turned-out we found several coral reefs fringing Stone Island, including Beige Reef with all the Acropora spp.. To be clear, there is not just coral the other side of the mudflat at Bramston reef, but all-around Stone Island that is just across the channel from Bramston Reef.
Surely it’s time journalists and their editors took some responsibility for the information that they republish? It seems they take anything provided by particular academics that fit a narrative, and give it a free run.
So far, Hughes has not published this most recent aerial survey in any peer-reviewed journal, or even made available a list of the locations with bleached corals. No doubt he will in due course. Then we will probably see a second wave of uncritical reporting by the mainstream media, again claiming the imminent demise of the Great Barrier Reef. The bottom-line seems to be that we live at a time when the dominant narrative demands an ecological disaster. It is as though almost anything that can be imagined, and told as a story by academics, can become a news headline. There is no checking.
I can only ask that ordinary folk be ever sceptical of such stories. Scepticism should be worn as a badge of honour, particularly in these times when it can be so hard to know whether there really is a coral catastrophe, or not. How can we find the truth, when even Nature publishes incorrect reports: claiming there are no Acropora spp. corals at Stone Island where I found and filmed 25 hectares on 27 August 2019.
Quoting from an ABC News story:
Great Barrier Reef found to be coral bleached from north to south for first time
By national science and technology reporter Michael Slezak and the specialist reporting team’s Penny Timms
Updated Tue at 9:52am
“The Great Barrier Reef is currently experiencing the most widespread bleaching ever recorded, with 60 per cent of reefs across all three regions affected, according to a detailed survey of the system.
1. Warmer sea temperatures have led to coral bleaching along the length of the Great Barrier Reef
2. More coral reefs were bleached in 2016, although the damage was concentrated in the north
3. Marine biologist Terry Hughes says the reef is rapidly adapting to climate change
It is the third mass bleaching event on the reef in five years — a phenomenon primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions, and one that had never been recorded before 1997.
“We were hoping that this year would be a relatively mild bleaching event, but unfortunately that’s not the case,” said Professor Terry Hughes, head of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies.
The image at the very top of this blog post is of Matt and me on Easter Monday 2019, heading out to Middle Island from Bowen Marina. Much thanks to John Barnes for organising this adventure, and for taking the photograph.
Allan Cox says
Jennifer, I hope you’ve cloned yourself should you ever move on to who-knows-where, as your tireless efforts will need to be continued if truth is ever to rule the day; thank you.
Surely, Sum Won in the media will run this story for the benefit of wo/mankind – one can but hope, I suppose.
Great article Jennifer. Your readers may be relieved to know that koalas are in no danger of extinction either
Thanks Jennifer for bringing us up to date with this fake story from ‘Flyover Hughes”.
It seems that he just doesn’t know how to do real science !
Mike Thurn says
Great article Jennifer. Thanks for your great work. I’m stunned that Terry Hughes assessments on bleaching were from an aircraft. Beggars belief.
Thank you, Jennifer, for all of this work. I am very weary of some people in tax-payer funded organizations, such as JCU and the BOM, using their positions to produce misleading information in support of their political agenda. I look forward to your next “Climate Change: The Facts”.
Graham Young says
Hi Jen, I did some simple arithmetic on Hughes claims to have surveyed 1000 reefs in 9 days. That is one reef every 12.96 minutes, assuming he flies 9 days straight for 24 hours a day. But of course he can’t observe anything at night. So around half the time he can’t observe anything, meaning he devoted maybe six and a half minutes to each reef. The claim simply isn’t credible.
Bryce Letcher says
I think a significant part of the issue here is that the general public see the fantastic photographs in tourism media of brightly coloured corals and have the impression that all coral is brightly coloured, except if it’s bleached coral, and of course that means it’s dead.
Education of the public would go a long way toward stopping the misinformation. I wish I had suggestions on how that could be achieved. Clearly the MSM is not interested because that’s not newsworthy. Who wants to see hectares of healthy beige corals?
Thank you for presenting the truth of the matter Jennifer.
phil redding says
The ABC planted Terry Hughes’s story slap bang in the middle of their evening TV news bulletin on Wednesday just to help their “Climate Change”agenda alive along amongst the overwhelming stories about Covid 19 .
Yes Bryce, the ignorance on this subject by the journalism “profession” can only be explained by deliberate obfuscation.
The evidence of the true situation is available for all who want to make an effort at genuine inquiry. (Which is what proper journalism is meant to do)
To give an example –
recently at The Guardian an alarmist story was being presented by a Graham Readfern. The article claimed that corals bleach from the top down to their roots when water temps are elevated for any period.
But then, a picture was presented which purported to illustrate said bleaching, but THE TIPS OF THE CORAL WERE ALL OF A VIBRANT BLUISH/PURPLE COLOR.
So clearly, this type of coral was just mainly a white colour, with highlights at its tips.
Anyone who has ever dived on coral reefs will know that healthy corals come in all shades of the colour spectrum.
How is this diversity detected by fly-past aerial photography from >1,000 ft elevations?
All pale-coloured coral patches must be classified as “bleached”?
(It seems though that Hughes et al are applying their wokeness to the world of coral reefs – brown used to be bad (Bramston Reef), but now white is badder (60% of the GBR. One would find this all quite hilarious if the perfidy weren’t so blatant)
Richard Bennett says
Jennifer you are doing sterling work to expose the Fake News about the coral . Clearly if you find that the coral is not dead/bleached contrary to what the pseudo-scientists are saying then call them out and publicly call them purveyors of fake news and call them unfit to hold professional scientific status. They will no doubt claim such statements are libel, to which you respond “see you in court where you can present your evidence to back your statements”.
Let’s remember also that the coral reefs at Bikini Atoll that were totally obliterated by the atomic bomb tests (23 of them!) 60 years ago have now totally regenerated themselves.
“. . . a reassembling ecosystem, including schools of large fish, reef sharks and robust coral, which may have begun life as little as a decade after the area’s annihilation.
“We found, much to our surprise, not just scattered corals, but very abundant, big healthy coral communities — corals larger than cars scattered about the edges of a hydrogen bomb crater,” he says. “You’re kind of looking at that and thinking, ‘Well, that’s strange.’
“Frankly, the visual and emotional impact of it is just stunning.”
And even more stunning I reckon, is this kind of ignorance –
“Many of his undergraduates, he says, have no idea the tests even took place.”
Ian Thomson says
That article on Bikini is interesting, to say the least.
About the radioactivity of things not affecting life , I have read that Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors ended up longer lived.
Also the Japanese journalist Yoichi Shimatsu claims to be more tolerant of radioactivity, due to being in gestation , on a train, when one bomb was dropped.
There will be studies on that sort of thing , I suppose.
Well done Jen.
There are so many lies about the reef, global warming & on many subjects with academics chasing grants, that it is hard to believe anything coming from any of them today.
I can’t understand how genuine scientists, doing real work can not challenge all the misinformation we are fed, to protect their own & science’s reputation. I guess the treatment of Peter Ridd has many cowered.
Thank god we have a few like you Jen, presenting facts that can’t be challenged. Perhaps if you can continue long enough, some of this will filter through to the general public. However when you think back to the climategate emails, & see the lack of effect that had, I have to wonder if it will.
Jennifer Marohasy says
So much thanks to Charles/Anthony at WUWT for reposting: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/04/11/coral-catastrophes-imagined/
I dont know why the Fake news on ABC re this report (BTW, I did see it) is so well accepted by media, public and other well educated scientists and straight away I questioned the validity of it.
The statements being made were just so untrue and fake it was like watch a soapie series (Days of out lives, summer bay etc etc) , you knew exactly every sentence that was coming next.
In fact I said to my wife the exact words that came out of his mouth well before he said it.
It was like an echo in the room, was pretty funny. We had a good laugh actually.
It is like watching a comedy show when he puts this stuff together and purports it to be true.
He must need his job and government grants really badly to lie like this and distort the truth. I could not sleep at night if I published rubbish like that.
Those shots out of the planes window were very amateurish to say the least.
Anyway, great to hear your voice on this.
I was waiting with bated breath to hear a comment from you,
I am soooo glad you did.
Take care, and have a nice Easter !
spangled drongo says
Thanks Jen for showing these dubious scientists up once again.
Their fake news stories are so well received by the crisis-promoting media that they have no embarrassment perpetually coming up with this stuff.
It might take a while but your efforts will be what are remembered in the long term.
This is the core question regarding the climate emergency: That when the false claims by the fear mongers are shown, with documentation, to be false nothing happens to the 9ne promoting the falsehood.
Douglas Proctor says
I am a 40 year geologist. I know something about reef facies, I.e the relationship between mud flats and coral reefs.
1. Coral dies if exposed for long periods of time, as in when the tide goes out. They wouldn’t live where Hughes stood, especially since coral would stick up higher than what he was standing on.
2. If coral used to be where he was, they would be now covered with mud. That is a facies change and occurs when there is shift in river or ocean currents that deliver mud to an area. OR the local sea level drops. A facies change is easy to prove: dig a pit. Coral is cemented to the substrate. If covered up, it is still there.
3. Coral dies if there is too much mud. Mud clogs the pores. See #2 for this.
All the soft rock geologists know Hughes is a liar. But I bet he brought in a lot of money for reef studies. So they can’t afford to correct him.
The media are ignorant and uncritical. To think we used to believe them. The conspiracy theorists were probably the only ones that recognized the lies and it drove them nuts.
All it takes is a shovel to demonstrate what a liar Hughes is.
“Professor Terry Hughes, head of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies”
How Orwellian! Newspeak is alive and well.
James Cook University is an absolute disgrace. Their treatment of Bob Carter and Peter Ridd for daring to speak out against the AGW fraudsters is shameful. That particular Augean Stable needs a good cleansing, starting from the top down.