Smashed by Debbie – Middle Island Corals

Written by:
24 April 2019
Smashed by Debbie – Middle Island Corals - Featured image

This is the third in a series reporting on the reef adventure – Part I (Denying the Littoral Zone at the Great Barrier Reef) here and Part II (The Eerie Ancient Coral Reef at Bowen, with a Crocodile) here

We have been led to believe that smashed coral is our fault – that when it is lying on the sea floor as untidy piles of grey it is because of catastrophic human-caused global warming. But just maybe coral bleaching and cyclones are natural, and not even increasing in extent.

I visited four reefs during my recent adventures off Bowen. One of these, the reef fringing Middle Island, has been very badly damaged by cyclone Debbie, which hovered over Bowen in April 2017.

Jen getting ready to take more photographs, off Middle Island, 22 April 2019.

Just two years later much of this reef is unattractive – but certainly not desolate.

After gearing-up I jumped over-board from The Skipper’s boat with my little red Olympus (TG-5) camera on Monday – and my new snorkelling buddy Matt.

Every time I stopped swimming, watched, and waited I saw something special swim past.

This green turtle swam past me, over all the broken grey corals at Middle Island reef, 22 April 2019.

There were also large, colourful parrot fish. But I didn’t manage to capture them on this short video – my first attempt at underwater movie-making.

As I snorkeled sometimes the backdrop was broken coral. Other times I swam over meadows of algae. But I never had to swim far before seeing something special – like a mushroom or staghorn coral. They were often solitary: the very early stages of regeneration at an otherwise often ugly reef.

This mushroom coral (Fungia sp, family Cnidaria) was in a meadow of algae – alone at the Middle Island reef, on 22 April 2019.
A lonely Acropora, evidence of regeneration off Middle Island, 22 April 2019.

Occasionally I would stumble on an area of faster growing soft coral with sponges.

In some places soft corals and sponges are already growing back, off Middle Island on 22 April 2019.

That the cyclone had smashed large Porites coral clear in half gives some idea of how powerful it was.

A Porites coral smashed in half, most likely from the force of the waves pounding from the cyclonic winds two years ago off Middle Island when Cyclone Debbie struck.

But even delicate black feather corals are coming back … one at a time.

Black feather coral, growing alone on a hollowed out Porites – under the water off Middle Island, 22 April 2019.


The first/feature photo is of me (Jennifer Marohasy) getting ready to jump in, with a view across to the north eastern edge of Middle Island, off Bowen, on 22 April 2019; photo credit John Barnes.

The first link embedded into this post is from the Bureau’s website suggesting a declining, certainly not increasing, trend in the incidence of cyclone. I’ve just downloaded this page and am archiving it here: TropicalCycloneTrends-20190424

Also, it should be noted, that the Bureau did overhype the category for Cyclone Marcia, as I detailed in an article for On Line Opinion, also archived here: CycloneMaricawasnotcategory5-Queenslanders . The Bureau were much more accurate when it came to reporting of Cyclone Debbie.

This article first appeared at

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