IPA Today

Good News About Corals – As Legislation Introduced To Devastate Farming

Written by
9 August 2022
Originally appeared in Dr Jennifer Marohasy's Website

It is no coincidence that the latest Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) report claiming record high coral cover was released on the same day the net zero legislation passed the lower house of the Australian Parliament, on 4th August 2022.

In March, AIMS was claiming more than 90% of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) to be severely bleached. That was in the lead up to the federal election, the climate change election.

Now in August, just a few months later, the same organisation is claiming healthy corals and record high coral cover across more than two-thirds of the GBR.

These two results are irreconcilable. It is not possible that 90% of the reef was severely bleached in March and at the same time the corals were healthy and expanding their range.

The bottom line is that the surveys claiming ‘90% bleached’ were out an airplane window which is at such a distance it is possible to image anything about a coral reef. And so this survey was intended to help make the upcoming federal election all about climate change. By concluding the GRB was dead and dying from climate change. Now that election is over and there has been a change in government – to a government that will legislate net zero – the narrative has changed at least for this moment in time.

Various people have been emailing me asking why I’m not reposting the good news about the corals. If you watch my hour+ long interview with David Mauriello (aka Diamond) from the Oppenheimer Ranch Project you can get some insights into my thinking, and what next. (Diamond is encouraging me to crowd fund to keep going with my more honest surveying of the GBR.)

If we congratulate AIMS when they throw us morsels of good news, we are no better than the fishes. As I explain in my interview with Diamond: AIMS should be defunded.

Cyclone numbers have been trending down since the 1970s, and consequently coral cover around the perimeter of many reefs is trending up. Meanwhile one of the many sad ironies is that that the net zero legislation is meant to save the reef from climate change.

This legislation won’t save the corals, but it will decimate farming, because as it is rolled-out farmers will be told they can’t keep using nitrogen fertilizers if they are within a Great Barrier Reef catchment. The legislation is intended to force every business to reduce its emissions and the focus in Great Barrier Reef catchments will be on fertilizer use.

Some have suggested that I should be celebrating the new AIMS report because it is saying coral cover is at a record high. But look at the actual figures. The report is claiming less than 30% coral cover at about half of the reefs surveyed.

This is an absurdly low percentage.

The low percentage coral cover is because only the reef perimeter is surveyed BY AIMS for those reports, which is the equivalent of reporting on the population of Sydney after skirting around the outer suburbs. Such a method would give no indication of population trends in more densely populated inner-city areas, and so the AIMS report gives no indication of coral cover at reef crests.

Furthermore, despite advances in both underwater and aerial drone mapping, which could provide automated quantitative assessments by habitat with a photographic and/or visual records, AIMS persists with a method that involves towing an observer who guestimates coral cover. Their method is subjective and archaic.

Various people have asked me to quantify the accuracy of the AIMS method. But this is to some extent pointless if the survey method excludes the reef habitat that typically has the healthiest corals and the most coral cover – the reef crest.

Coral cover at reef crest, where most of the coral is concentrated, is often more than 100%. The reef crest is like the central business district (CBD) of a city, where people live one on top of each other.

It is people in these suburbs, most of whom have never visited the GBR, who voted in the new government that will enshrine legislation to put people who live on farms out of business – at least farms in GBR catchments.

According to those who designed the legislation ‘polluters’ have routinely been allowed to just increase emissions.

Labor says it will work with businesses to reduce their emissions baselines (think: limits) ‘predictably and gradually over time’.

No detail has been released.

There will be discussion papers. They will explain what we all need to do – but especially ‘polluters’ think miners and farmers – to reduce annual emissions by 2030 and eventually 2050.

The new government following the ‘climate change election’ and to ‘save the Great Barrier Reef’ is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 43% below 2005 levels by 2030, which is a 15 percentage point increase on Australia’s previous 2030 target. It reaffirms Australia’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.


The image at the very top of this blog post was taken by me under-the-water at John Brewer Reef on 10th April 2022. This reef was repeated described as the centre of the latest mass coral bleaching and described in the aerial surveys by AIMS as 31 to 60% bleached.

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Jennifer Marohasy

Jennifer Marohasy is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs

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