The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has uploaded some footage of John Brewer Reef that is part of the Underwater Museum of Art, the footage was apparently taken by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in February. It does not show a lot of bleached coral, but it does show some badly bleached individual colonies – and a lot of healthy beige corals. (Remember, my first short film, about Beige Reef, explaining that most corals the world-over are beige in colour.)
I was not expecting to hear about widespread coral bleaching. I’ve been watching the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) fluctuate around +10. This is a measure of the Barometric pressure (hPa) difference between Tahiti and Darwin. During a La Niña it is usually cloudier and therefore cooler along the east coast of Australia, though water temperatures are warmer than on the other side of the Pacific. Seeing the global satellite temperatures coming down with Australia’s February 2022 anomaly at minus 0.5 °C – in other words, half a degree cooler than the 30-year average – I was not expecting to read about coral bleaching.
Yet according to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, water temperatures have been up to a full 2 °C hotter and they are claiming the warming and the coral bleaching is now widespread and most severe in the central area with ‘most reefs severely bleached’ off Townsville. I am now organising to visit John Brewer Reef in mid April (2022), when an underwater photographer will be available to film long transects so we can get an idea of the health of the corals. Local dive operators have indicated to me that there is some coral bleaching but that it can be difficult to find amongst all the healthy corals, so I am also organising for a local guide.
I have been wanting to film coral bleaching since I visited the Ribbon Reefs back in January 2020. Do you remember the short film that followed, my second short film, after all the swimming, only to find The Monolith and other well-known corals had completely recovered from what had reportedly been devastating coral bleaching in 2016? I was too late. The Monolith was back to being a brilliant beige.
More recently I was at Heron Island looking for coral bleaching. I was shown where all the corals had bleached stark white back in early 2020, but by November 2021 when I visited, they were fully recovered. I was too late. I was told the bleaching lasted all of two months, with no significant coral mortality.
It is my experience that it is difficult to find corals bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef. The bleached corals either quickly recover – before I get there – or apparently rot and disintegrate so there is no evidence of them. Remember though, we did find some dead plate corals, covered in algae, at Britomart Reef and I show them in my third film, Finding Porites. We hypothesised that those plate corals died from bleaching, but I didn’t see any actual bleaching on that week-long trip to Myrmidon reef that also involved a lot of swimming and looking.
If I finally manage to get some footage of widespread coral bleaching and it is during a La Niña event I’m not going to complain.
I have been wanting to visit a badly bleached reef and capture it in that state so I can monitor its recovery for quite a while now.
Remember, I went to Pixie Reef and, with Leo and Stuart, got all that transect footage and all the transect photographs back in February 2021 – the reef was apparently one of the very worst bleached reefs according to a peer-reviewed publication by Terry Hughes. (Scroll down from the link to the Pixie Reef Data Page 2021 and you can open the 360 photographs from 36 transects laid in February 2021 at this reef and make-up your own mind about the state of this reef.)
Much of Pixie Reef, did look bleached from a drone at 120 metres up, which is about the altitude that Terry Hughes flies when he undertakes his surveys out the window of the airplane.
When you get down to Earth and under-the-water, well Pixie Reef was magnificently healthy. I am going to visit it again, soon, to check how it is this year.
Be sure to know what I find when I visit the reefs off Townsville and Cairns, consider subscribing for my monthly e-newsletters. (The email is usually sent on the last day of each month – if you can’t find it check your junk folder.)
If you were wondering what I was looking at as I floated above the corals at Pixie Reef (face down) while Stuart photographed me from the drone 120 metres up, it is the blue staghorn/Acropora coral in the feature photograph at the very top of this blog post. This reef, Pixie Reef, is listed as one of the worse bleached of all the Great Barrier Reefs, yet we found it so healthy.
This blog post was updated on 26th March 2022.
John Brewer was smashed by crown of thorns in the 70s and was in a very debilitated state when Doug Tarca’s ill fated floating hotel was allowed to be moored there in 1988.
I did a survey on the thing for a Sydney business group who also asked me to find an alternative more attractive site for it somewhere on the GBR if they bought it after it’s inevitable financial collapse.
Getting approval for another site of course was another matter, so it was picked up by a specialist recovery vessel and went to Vietnam and later North Korea.
I dived around John Brewer in 1975 and it was pretty chewed up by the COTs with very sparse fish numbers.
Do you have any photographs and/or footage from that reef back in 1975?
Nice transect footage from the reefs fringing Magnetic Island taken just recently.
Water is usually very turbid and most corals the world over are beige in colour. This transect would suggest there has been little change in the health of the corals since I was swimming there in May last year. I went with my husband John for a long weekend, Magnetic Island is just off Townsville. I swam out on my own from Geoffrey Bay (snorkelling), and after I saw a tiger shark, headed back to shore.
Richard Bennett says
The mainstream media and their “environmentalists” have long thought that healthy corals are coloured with vivid flourescent colours as seen in cartoons, whilst in reality the corals are much more subtly coloured.
Yes Jen tiger sharks are scary.
But Terry Hughes often sees great whites from his airplane window.
(or maybe they’re just bleached wobbegongs).
John Dawson says
There’s an alarming article in Saturday’s London Times on page 41 – “Fears grow for Barrier Reef after mass bleaching event” from Bernard Lagan in Sydney – which caused me to refer to your site just now Jennifer for another viewpoint.
It starts quite alarmingly – “A new wave of destruction on the Great Barrier Reef is feared as the coral suffers its sixth mass “bleaching” event due to the high sea temperatures caused by global warming.”
It’s behind a paywall but if you have access you might want to comment.
I would only have surface shots from the late 80s – I didn’t own an u/water camera until 1978.
But even in the late 80s JB was pretty ordinary which is why Doug was allowed to plonk the floating hotel in the guts of it I reckon.
My memory of JB in the 80s was of regrowth of all common species virtually everywhere but still mainly small formations.
I am in Fiji working on a project but will check photos when I get back.
BTW I am already a committed Reef Rebel type as are all the experienced professionals in my cohort.
Regarding water temperatures and the BOM claim GBR water temps have been up to 4C higher, if you look at the BOM Pacific Sea Level and Geodetic Monitoring Project
Monthly Sea Level and Meteorological Statistics site you see their measures of the water temp around the Pacific islands, especially Vanuatu you see no water temp increase:
Here’s the BOM’s GBR temp network; I might be reading it wrong but the only temp variation I can find is seasonal and normal:
Here is footage from a really comprehensive recent survey of coral reefs fringing Magnetic Island: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5YVBRM6rac
At Geoffrey Bay more than half the corals were partially or totally bleached in early February.
Overall it would appear that coral cover at these coral reefs is down relative to when surveys were first undertaken back in 1988. This is attributed to both bleaching and cyclones.
Filing a few links here:
The ABC link that I thought I had linked to, with the footage from John Brewer reef is here:
Much thanks to ‘Watt’s Up With That’ for republishing:
Stuart Ireland has just uploaded footage from Moore Reef, off Cairns, it is quite beautiful and only at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stuireland/videos/564933254496057
Anti-factual reporting seems all the rage these days. Thank you for offering something more useful.
The “Reef” has been a “battlefield” for decades.
Does anyone else remember the early days when the Crown of thorns starfish was clear-felling the whole thing?
How about when increasing “turbidity” was smothering the reef?
Variations on a theme; but the turbidity caper was a BIG operation. The guts of it was that ‘runoff” from “agriculture” was choking the reef and aerial photos of big brown stains emerging from river mouths were plastered all over the place. Never mind that, with a few exceptions the vast bulk of the reef is actuality a LONG way from the mainland shore. The constant “south to north-ish” coastal ocean current pushes a LOT of that silt along the coast; hence the occurrence of mud-flats and mangrove “forests” all along the mainland coast
The “saving” of the Reef was actually a “minor’ objective, a diversion.
The REAL target was all of the private farmers , mainly producing that nasty “toxin”, SUGAR.
Interestingly enough, a few decades on and SUGAR is part of a different “planet-saving” caper; alcohol production; not RUM for the mellowing of life, but raw ethanol to be BURNT in CARS!
Now, when I last looked, ethanol was a bunch of carbon and hydrogen atoms with a hydroxyl group hanging off the end. When it burns, what you get are Carbon Dioxide (boooo, hissss) and water vapour ( also an alleged “greenhouse gas” and major contributor to “global warming / Klimate change / global weirding).
Odd that the big nuke in the sky causes much more water vapour to rise daily than all other “sources”.
The LSM is starting to push the reef bleaching story. Horror stories about increasing temperatures killing off the reef. It is my understanding that corals, especially “hard” corals seem to prefer warmer waters.
So, how about we get all exited about a half a degree of water temperature rise, (at what depth) “on the reef”. Think carefully about why it is that the ocean along MOST of the Australian east coast is “swimmable” all year ’round, especially in Queensland. (sharks and box jellyfish notwithstanding).
There has LONG been a very large, roughly circular oceanic current that brings water from the serious tropics down to the east coast, whereupon it become a northerly-flowing current. This current is one of the things responsible for Queensland’s famous “sand” islands and whites and beaches. Also bear in mind that ocean levels have fluctuated wildly over the ages, as is also clearly evident from the geological and soil records. The usual power games are at play here; quelle surprise!!
Glen MICHEL says
Just returned after 3 weeks in Bowen looking at property. Yep, it was windy for 2 and a half of it , but managed a good day out to Stone and Poole and off to Rattray and Gloucester islands. Fringe inshore reefs appeared ok. I think my observations were not too intentful but more accurate than Hughes. At least I was ON the water.