The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) have been tasked with reporting on the state of the corals and coral cover. They surveyed John Brewer Reef in March, made no mention of any coral bleaching in their report, and stated coral cover to be just 21.8%. There are no photographs.
Underwater photographer Leonard Lim visited this same coral reef a month later and his extraordinary underwater photographs show a coral wonderland with more than 100% coral cover across much of the reef crest that extends for nearly 5 kms. At the reef crest a great diversity of different corals compete for light – often growing one over another. It would be absurd to suggest there was only 21.8% coral cover here.
AIMS misleadingly report that coral cover at John Brewer is just 21.8% by surveying only the perimeter of this reef. Their methodology is absurd, and it avoids those habitats with most coral cover.
Anyone serious about accurately reporting coral cover at John Brewer reef would swim around the perimeter and also over the top where most of the coral is – this is what photographer Leonard Lim did.
Each of Leonard Lim’s photographs are a work of art, and also an accurate depiction of this reef for that moment in time. From Leonard Lim’s photograph we can see how coral cover varies with the different reef habitats as does the form of the different coral species. They are flat topped across the reef crest where sea level is such a limit to growth. Around the perimeter the corals are sparser and taller.
There is such diversity and such beauty at this reef. Yet the New York Times is reporting a sixth massive coral bleaching event and The Guardian is explaining that John Brewer Reef is at the centre of it all. These sources of news for millions of people are taking their lead from taxpayer funded activists at leading Australian research institutions including the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) that purports to accurately show coral cover by reporting it to one decimal place (21.8%) while it is only in the small print that it is explained they only survey the perimeter of coral reefs.
Then of course there is Terry Hughes from James Cook University. He is straight forward about his reasons for lamenting the beauty of this wonderland. He was on national radio last year saying that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Area deserved to be downgraded by the United Nations because he didn’t like Australia’s climate change policies.
Journalist Fran Kelly made the very reasonable comment that a listing should have something to do with actual impacts.
‘…if we look at it more broadly though, Terry, I mean, if climate change impacts are used as a justification for an endangered listing, then every reef must be, therefore, listed in danger because climate change is a problem [all over the world]. Every World Heritage Site that is affected in any way by climate change, must be listed as endangered. Is that the logical extension of this?’
The University Professor gave a very political reply.
‘Not really. There are 29 World Heritage Sites that have coral reefs. Four of them are in Australia. But other countries that are responsible for those World Heritage properties have much better climate policies [not necessarily better reefs] than Australia does. Australia is still refusing to sign up to a net zero target by 2050, which makes it a complete outlier. And I think this draft decision from UNESCO is pointing the finger at Australia and saying, If you’re serious about saving the Great Barrier Reef, you need to do something about your climate policies.’
Everybody claims to want to save the Great Barrier Reef but very few take the time to visit it. Professor Hughes flies over it at an altitude of 150 metres and scores the state of the corals out an aeroplane window. I would argue it is impossible to know their true health from this altitude. Certainly to see the exquisite beauty captured so perfectly by photographer Leonard Lim it is necessary to get under the water.
It is a travesty and a tragedy that one of the most beautiful and biodiversity ecosystems on this Earth is being falsely reported as dying.
It is evident in Leonard Lim’s photographs and also in the soon to be released long documentary filmed by Stuart Ireland that there are bleached corals at John Brewer Reef and many corals are fluorescing which is a form of bleaching.
The brightest pink and purple corals have expelled their symbiotic algae and increased their levels of natural pigmentation. This fluorescing is happening late in the season. These same corals are likely to be replete with new algae, with new zooxanthellae) within a few months. Corals naturally vary their colour during a single year though it is rare to see such a large number fluorescing. This was last observed at the Great Barrier Reef in 1998 and 2017.
Coral bleaching was reported during the very first scientific expedition to the Great Barrier Reef undertaken by the Royal Society in 1929. There are paintings of coral bleaching observed in 1867 by Eugen von Ransonnet from a diving bell in the Red Sea.
Also, with me on 12th April was underwater cinematographer Stuart Ireland. He is currently editing a long documentary that shows not only the corals we swam over, but also the cheeky clown fish, clouds of blue chromis fish and a friendly white tipped reef shark. I saw metre-long Maori wrasse, tiny nudibranchs, and speckled sweet lip – all swimming in the crystal-clear warm waters of this most magical reef that is one of thousands that comprise the Great Barrier Reef, which is still one of great wonders of the world.
My visits this week (Sunday 10th and Tuesday 12th April 2022) were arranged through Adrenalin Snorkel & Dive, and I’m already planning a next trip with Paul in October.
All my research is funded by the B. Macfie Family Foundation through the Institute of Public Affairs.