In this article, Dr Jennifer Marohasy contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into the Great Barrier Reef, conducted as part of the IPA’s Project for Real Science Program.
The Project for Real Science is an initiative of the Institute of Public Affairs to rebuild the integrity of scientific research in Australia.
I was back at John Brewer Reef yesterday looking for the same coral that was reported as badly bleached in March 2022. Do you think I could find it?
Some journalists have a tendency to extrapolate from the specific to the general. For example, Graham Readfearn, writing in The Guardian on March 22, 2022, extrapolated from the condition of one coral at one reef to the entire Great Barrier Reef. Quoting marine biologist Adam Smith he wrote 18 months ago:
We’ve definitely just seen corals that are stressed and white… This is one of the healthiest reefs off Townsville and one of the best reefs on the whole Great Barrier Reef. So for these corals to be stressed and damaged… well, it’s likely it’s the same at other reefs…
The online clickbait was a photograph of Smith looking at a branching Acropora with some bleaching, growing from the centre of a plate Acropora that showed no bleaching at all.
Just a few days later the situation was reported as even more dire with Readfearn this time quoting government scientists:
“The Great Barrier Reef has been hit with a sixth mass coral bleaching event, the marine park’s authority has confirmed, with aerial surveys showing almost no reefs across a 1,200km stretch escaping the heat.
The Guardian understands a United Nations mission currently under way to check the health and management of the reef will be briefed on the initial findings of the surveys as early as Friday in Townsville …
Government scientists said the confirmation showed the urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions that were driving the repeated mass bleachings. [end quote]
The story went around the world, accompanied mostly by stock images of bleached coral or aerial footage from so high in the sky it was impossible to see individual corals. There was a map to make it even more official.
The government scientists had spoken and almost everyone believed them – that this represented a sixth mass coral bleaching, and the Great Barrier Reef was ruin.
After the bleaching in 2016, leading marine biologists claimed 65 percent of the world’s coral reefs had been destroyed, yet I’ve been unable to find even one reef that hasn’t recovered.
In short, it is my experience that leading marine biologists and government scientists just make stuff up. In my opinion many of them should be in jail for fraud.
Anyway, I organised a trip to John Brewer reef. I was there just a few weeks after the headlines in The Guardian, on April 10, 2022, with underwater macro photographer, Leonard Lim, and
on April 12, 2022, with underwater cinematographer Stuart Ireland who filmed transects. We have the beginnings of a documentary that you can watch here.
On those two visits and on every visit since, I have gone looking for that same coral that featured in The Guardian; that was shown as evidence that,
“One of the Great Barrier Reef’s healthiest coral reefs [John Brewer Reef] has succumbed to bleaching.”
I photographed that same coral in July, with my daughter holding a colour chart in front of it. You can see with reference to the university colour chart that the corals that were bleached in March were healthy by July corresponding in colour to a healthy E4. The University of Queensland Coral Watch chart explains, “Avoid measuring growing tips of branching and plate corals since they are naturally white.” .. below the white tip they are more usually shades of beige.
Back in July 2022, I did not extrapolate from the condition of the corals at John Brewer Reef to any other reef. I was content to just report my findings for this reef and particularly this one coral for at that moment in time. The article that I posted explained:
Just as a team from the United Nations were flying into Australia at the behest of James Cook University Professor Terry Hughes – seeking to have the Great Barrier Reef’s world heritage status downgraded – Adjunct Associate Professor Adam Smith was posing for photographs at John Brewer Reef for The Guardian newspaper. At that time, back on 20 March (2022), the mild bleaching and fluorescing at John Brewer reef was being described by Professor Smith as part of a fourth mass bleaching event and in an article for The Conversation, Professor Smith suggested it could take the corals 12 years to recover.
My daughter and I were back at John Brewer reef on Sunday 10th July, the coral that was featured in The Guardian on 22 March as severely bleached is now a healthy beige. It appears to have made a full recovery in less than three months.
Most of the corals at the reef crest at John Brewer are now various shades of beige to chocolate brown, and so the reef is looking exceptionally healthy.
That was the extent of what I wrote.
There was more information in the captions accompanying the ten photographs, but again this information was limited to John Brewer Reef. The blog post was republished by the Institute of Public Affairs.
Facebook subsequently attached a ‘warning’, indicating that my article had been ‘Fact Checked’ and found to be ‘misleading’.
This is a serious accusation.
Only because Scott Hargreaves, Executive Director at the IPA, was prepared to check the detail of the RMIT University FactLab allegation, my article was not simply removed from the IPA website. Scott saw through the hypocrisy. He encouraged me to submit an appeal, which I did on August 2, 2022. That appeal was dismissed on August 5 with reference to an unrelated blog post as evidence I inappropriately extrapolate from the specific to the general this time with reference to the speed of recovery from the bleaching.
In April 2022, when John Brewer reef was reported as bleached white, it was actually unusually pink.
Many of the large brown plate corals had kicked out their symbiotic algae and so the natural pink pigmentation in the corals at this reef could be seen. The pink colour is from florescent proteins in the coral’s polps that is often masked by the zooxanthellae, which are the corals symbiotic algae more usually a brown or green colour. There were some corals at John Brewer Reef in April 2022 that had bleached white, but relatively few, perhaps 10 percent. More had bleached pink, and some had not bleached at all.
I went looking for the exact same coral that The Guardian had featured as a symbol of catastrophe in April 2022, and then again when I visited with my daughter in July 2022 – and I have looked for it every visit since.
I was at John Brewer Reef in October 2022, and again yesterday on October 1, 2023 and I found that same coral, again. It has grown some, and it is looking so healthy.
Everyday, every day we are confronted with misinformation from government scientists paid by Australian taxpayers to look out for the Great Barrier Reef – instead they lie about it. More concerned about job security than the truth, they claim the reef is sick, when the reef is healthy.
And so, children around the world have been led to believe that the Great Barrier Reef is dying. When it is not.
There are children who lie awake at night fretting, when they could be told the story of the branching Acropora coral at John Brewer Reef that bleached a little in March 2022, but was all recovered by July that same year. That it went a bit white after stressing unnecessarily and kicking out some of its zooxanthellae.
They could be assured that it is still there. That it has grown bigger.
It is still there, and when I looked really carefully at it, which I did yesterday with a magnifying glass and a flash light, I could see it even has florescent tips.
I went out to the reef yesterday on one of the regular charters with Adrenalin Snorkel and Dive. It was just me, the crew, and a bunch of regular tourists. Later this week I am returning with some celebrities including Peter Ridd.