Dr Peter Ridd – Culture Wars On The Great Barrier Reef – IPA Academy

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9 February 2024
Dr Peter Ridd – Culture Wars On The Great Barrier Reef – IPA Academy - Featured image

Dr Peter Ridd delves into these questions and shows how alleged poor health and threats to the Reef are overstated for political purposes, which raises important questions about the credibility of our scientific institutions with IPA Academy attendees.

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Below is a transcript of the lecture.


Peter Ridd:

We’re going to talk about the Great Barrier Reef, but actually, more importantly about the state of scientific institutions. We had a talk by Stephen the other day about trust in science and the enlightenment and that type of stuff. And whereas I would say you should totally trust science if you know that it’s science. You can’t necessarily trust the institutions. The institutions of science are very different from science itself. So we’re going to talk about the Great Barrier Reef, and I’m actually going to do, I’d like to get a little bit of feedback from you if I can. And partly because I want to know what you guys think. You’re not necessarily a representative sample of the youth of today.

So I’ve got a picture on the wall there, a pretty manky picture of Australia I’m afraid. And A, B, C, D, whereabouts is the Great Barrier Reef? Who says it’s A? Who says it’s B? Who says it’s C? Who says it’s D? Who says it’s all of the above? Yeah, it’s probably more like A, B, C and halfway down to D, All right. But some of that. Actually, most people have no idea where the reef is. If you haven’t been up there and you haven’t really looked on a map, you don’t have any idea. So it’s huge. It’s about 2,000 kilometres long. In fact, just a few moments ago, they released the report, the government has released the report to UNESCO about whether the reef should be listed as endangered. And one of the things they’ve said is that Australia has saved 140,000 tonnes of mud has been saved from going out onto the reef by all the actions that government has saved. That’s equivalent to, I think they said, I don’t know, 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools of mud are now not going out onto the Great Barrier Reef.

That sounds like a lot of mud, 140,000 tonnes. But when you spread it on a thing that big, when you do the calculation, it means in that 10 years you’ve saved half a micron of mud has spread out over the whole thing. Half a micron. A micron is 1000th of a millimetre you have now saved. So basically, you’ve done nothing. This thing is so big that those Olympic-sized swimming pools are just completely irrelevant. And that’s part of the problem that we’ve got. We’ve got this genuine general ignorance about the reef. All right, so the next thing I want to talk about is what are the threats to the reef? We’ve got medical drugs, so drugs that when you have a headache, tablet passes through your body, goes out to sewage treatment plant, then out to the Great Barrier Reef is a problem apparently. Sunscreens, when you’re swimming, antifouling paints on the bottom, coal dust of all things, and even land-derived everything actually is damaging the Great Barrier Reef.

So this is a picture of the Great Barrier Reef from Torres Strait down to about Gladstone down here. The most important thing about the reef is that it’s a long way from the coast. Who’s been to the reef? How long did it take to get there? Where did you go from, Cairns?

Audience:

We were at [inaudible].

Peter Ridd:

Okay, so even longer. Probably took you two or three hours to get out there. Yeah, all right. Up here, you might be 20 Ks offshore to the nearest reef. Here, it might be 100 to even 150 kilometres. It’s a long way from the coast. And that tells you something immediately about the impact of what pollution’s going to be. So there’s 3000 of these individual reefs. So these are each individual reefs of the Great Barrier Reef.

Now, let me ask you a question we’ve all heard, and you should know the answer to this question. The reef is in diabolical shape. We’ve lost half our coral in… actually, we’ve lost half our coral about four times in the last 20 years. Of those 3,000 reefs, how many that were around maybe 100 years ago, how many of those 3000 reefs have still got coral on them?

Audience:

3,000?

Peter Ridd:

Yeah, it’s 3000. Every single one. We haven’t actually lost a single reef at all. Not one. Now you might say, well, how do you know that we haven’t lost one of the… maybe we lost a reef in 1920, when there was no science going on. And that’s a very good question. Well, the answer is that, well, these are the reefs here. So this is a picture, there’s Cairns and this is sort of the deep water, 60 kilometres from Cairns to what we call the Shelf. And these are all the reefs.

And if you do a sort of a 3D diagram of these things, you can see, each of these reefs, 3000 is this platform that comes off the bottom of the ocean, maybe 50 to a 100 metres deep. And it comes more or less to the surface than these flat-topped hills. So we know where all the 3,000 reefs are. They’ve grown up over about a million years. About 20% of the time, the sea level is high and the coral reefs grow. When the sea level, 18,000 years ago, the sea level was down here, these were flat-topped hills. So Cairns was a long way from the coast. And there are all these flat-topped hills, which are now coral reefs. And then they get covered and they grow. So we know where all the 3,000 reefs are because there’s this great big calcium carbonate blob.

The reefs build themselves up. When the coral dies, it actually builds itself up because coral is like concrete when it dies and it doesn’t rot. So we know all the 3,000 reefs and every single one has still got great coral on it. Now we’re going to show in a minute that sometimes the coral on some of those is not all that good. There’s not a whole lot of coral, but there is coral on all of them. And we’re going to show that it’s highly variable.

So there’s a picture of a reef, Lodestone Reef, just off Townsville actually. You get this beautiful water and you get most of the coral on the outside of the reef and a whole lot of coral inside. And that white sand, we’ve got a whole bunch of white sand there. What’s the white sand? It’s actually smashed coral, right? It’s very good.

So you often have quite delicate coral and when a storm goes through, it just gets completely trashed. But actually, that’s not what causes most… probably though they’ve never really done measurements on this. Probably what causes most of the sand is that fish, the parrotfish and other types of fish, chewing away at the coral. And the coral passes through them and they basically excrete sand. So they’ve estimated that the island of the Maldives, the Maldives in the Indian Ocean is about 85% come out the backside of a parrotfish. And that’s what these things are. And now some of that sand gets washed off the back, but most of it stays on the top of the reef.

So I’ll just talk a little bit about this. You see this dead coral on the top? There’s no coral there. And that’s because at low tide, the sea level obviously goes down and that area is exposed to air and coral can come out of into the air for a short period of time, but not for too long. And this has all been killed. Any ideas why that’s been killed, why there’s all this dead coral on the top of the reef? It has to do with sea level rise. Actually, the opposite of sea level rise. What’s the opposite of sea level rise? That’s a hard question. The sea level has fallen by about a metre in the last 5,000 years. And therefore, these corals that grew up to that level have actually been killed when the sea level fell. It took a long time. But there’s all this dead coral. And actually, a lot of, I must say mostly marine biologists often think that dead coral has been killed recently when it’s actually been killed a long time ago.

If we look at this is the coral cover. So if on a reef, you sort of looked at that reef, not all of it is coral. There’s sand, there’s living stuff like, of course, there’s coral and algae and various other stuff that’s not coral.

So if you look down on the ground, well on the sea floor there’ll be some coral and there’ll be some other organism. And this is the normalised coral cover for the whole Great Barrier Reef surveyed by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, 100 reefs every year since 1985. I was at AIMS when they started this, I remember it. So 0.3 means that 30% of the seabed is covered with coral. And you can see, well, this was a pretty bad year and now we’ve got record amounts of coral. Anyway, it’s looking pretty good. And by the way, the type of coral that apparently we’ve now got too much of is the plate coral and the staghorn coral.

In fact, it’s the most beautiful coral. It’s what people go to see. It’s a very delicate coral. It tends to get clobbered by cyclones. It’s eaten by the crown-of-thorns starfish, it’s crown-of-thorns starfish favourite food. And it’s also the one that’s most affected by bleaching, which we’ve all heard about. So I’ve drawn on here, red dot is apparently the first ever bleaching event that ever hit the world, ever, was in 1998. And then another one here. And then you’ve seen these here. What you notice here is just how much coral was lost from those four unprecedented bleaching events in six years. And by the way, the coral that was lost the most was the stuff that was most susceptible, which is the Acropora. So we had these four events which totally destroyed all the Acropora. And guess what? At the end of it, we had record amounts of Acropora.

So you can see this is just completely ridiculous what’s going on here. So you can break it into the northern zone, the central zone, and the southern zone, a third of the reef. What do you get out of that? Well, I’ll come to… let’s go smaller. This is the Capricorn Bunkers, one-tenth of the reef, basically the southern most bit of the reef. And if you go to an even smaller, so just go to one reef called One Tree Island Reef. Look at that, 0.1 to 0.8. So at the reef level, you have just huge changes in the amount of coral. And this is the beauty of this AIMS data, is that they actually show what caused the loss. So two crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, two cyclones. You go from 80% coral cover, which is massive, right down to 5% or something like that. And that’s very, very typical on any reef.

So when that cyclone went through Townsville last week, fortunately, it was only a category one really, maybe a category two. But if it had been a category four, the reefs that we’ve been working on out there would’ve gone from spectacular to be complete wipeout, and the tourist operators operating there would be in real trouble. It would be like being a forest operator, and there’s been a huge bushfire going through. It’s that damaging.

But what you also notice is that, yeah, it was really bad there. Within 10 years, you go from bust to boom, to bust to boom. What you have is a thing where basically, if you want to try to show that the reef is in terrible shape, every 10 years or so, or maybe 20 years, a particular reef is going to get a wipeout. And even on the scale of the whole Great Barrier Reef, every 20 years or so, you’re going to get a really bad situation. So that was largely caused by a couple of big crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, which are entirely natural, right? There’s nothing unnatural about that. And one enormous cyclone that basically tracked down the southern third of the reef and wiped up a huge amount of coral.

All right, so then the next thing I want to talk about is the coral growth rate. And this is the growth rate of coral. So the big block corals lay down rings like tree rings. So you know, tree rings, you can drill a hole, you can see how much they grow each year. The big block corals do exactly the same thing. And because some of those corals are literally hundreds of years old, you can actually see what the coral growth rate is going back a very long time. Now there’s a very famous paper that came out in, 2007 or ’09 or something like that, which showed back in 1900, the growth rate to the year 2005. It went along and then it collapsed to this point here. And you’d predict that if it kept on going, then we’d have much less coral by today.

Now, we reanalyzed the data. In fact, there was a couple of huge problems that they made. The biggest one being that they actually changed the sampling method after exactly that point. And they went from monitoring great big corals to monitoring little baby-type corals. And that was the main reason we believe that caused this crash. Now, that’s not the biggest problem that we think they made a mistake. You can argue about that. The biggest problem is that since 2005, they haven’t updated this data. You could go out there. In fact, we even costed it in the IPO. We costed how much would it cost to go and see, are they right that by 2024, has it come down to here? Or is it like what we reckon that it’s actually over there? You can go out and measure it right now if you want to. But they haven’t done that. Why haven’t they done that? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

Now, this is my graph, which is, you can ignore this end bit if you don’t believe what we did. But this goes back to 1600, right? So this is the AIMS data, apart from the last few years. This is the growth rate. And you can see, well, maybe it increases, these are the uncertainty bars. Maybe it’s increased, but it sure as hell hasn’t dropped, has it? So at least from 1600 to 1990, there’s been no change in the coral growth rate.

All right, so let’s talk about bleaching. The water’s pretty warm in summer, and what you may have noticed, if it was a really, really still day, if you just snorkel down and you go down probably about three to four metres, there’s usually a sudden temperature change. It’s actually feels a lot, but it’s probably only half a degree. But what happens on very, very clear days when there’s no wind, there’s no waves, and therefore, the surface of the water heats up. Most of the sunlight is actually absorbed in the surface few metres. So the surface of the water gets very, very hot. The waves then don’t mix the cool water up and you get very hot water on the surface. It can be two or three degrees hotter than lower down. And the coral really doesn’t like that. And it, what they call bleaches.

The coral is, there’s a calcium carbonate body of it if you like, but that’s not alive. Only the surface centimetre or so is alive. It’s got a thing called a polyp, which is an animal. And inside that animal is a thing called a zooxanthellae, which is an algae inside it. And the algae, it’s a symbiotic relationship between the algae and the animal coral. And what happens in bleaching is that the coral chucks that algae out. It gets poisonous for some reason. And the algae gives the coral its colour. Without the algae, the coral is just white. And so when it chucks it out, it goes white.

All right, does coral bleaching kill the coral? It mostly doesn’t kill the coral. So although a lot of coral might bleach, most of the bleached coral doesn’t actually die. Now, they often say, well, bleaching is a very modern phenomenon. In fact, I often quote somebody saying it that when he was a PhD student in the 1960s, bleaching was an unknown phenomenon. Well, this is actually a picture, actually a lithograph from the Red Sea of all places, in 1892, showing very, very clearly coral that has bleached. It’s probably the first recorded bleaching. So it’s not a thing that’s unknown, it’s been happening since forever. It’s just a very good evolutionary adaptation. In fact, this is what’s often… this is never said. You’ll never read this, almost. One thing that the corals can do is when they chuck out that zooxanthellae, they don’t usually die. They actually bring back the zooxanthellae and they’ll often bring back a different species of zooxanthellae, which actually is more advantageous in hotter water.

So the bleaching in many regards is a mechanism, by which you can deal with hotter or colder water. All you do is you chuck that zooxanthellae out and you bring in another type and you’re good to go for another one or two degrees hotter or a one or two degrees colder. It can work both ways. So coral bleaching isn’t necessarily a disaster, it’s often just an adaptation to deal with thing.

Aha, here I did have this picture. So this is One Tree Island. This is the amount of coral, and the blue bit is the Acropora. So this is this type of pretty coral. All right, this one’s bleach, but you know what I mean. And you can see that as you go from the bust to the boom, the Acropora booms, and then it goes, and then it comes and then it goes. So of course we’ve got a different species diversity now than we had 10 years ago, because the Acropora grows. This is what always happens. So the excuse they’re using for the record amounts of coral is that, oh, well it’s all Acropora. Well, of course it’s all Acropora. And by the way, that’s the stuff that is most susceptible to bleaching.

All right, here’s another picture. This is one which plots coral growth rates versus average water temperature. So you see for the southern Great Barrier Reef, it’s pretty slow. The northern Great Barrier Reef, Torres Straits, then you go into the what we call the Indo-Pacific warm pool where it’s a degree or two hotter, much faster. So the difference between the southern Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait is not quite a factor of two in growth rate difference, but it is pretty close to it. Now, this is the same species. So if we get one or two degrees rise in temperature, the southern Great Barrier Reef will now be up here and be growing 20, 30, 40% faster, something like that. It’s obvious. There are corals literally living on the coast in Victoria. You can find corals on the coast, but they grow so slowly because it’s so cold that you can’t form a reef. You obviously go to warmer water if you want to see nice corals in them.

The further north you go, the more diverse and fastest growing they are. So climate change, you’d have to say, is going to be good for the Great Barrier Reef. That’s the only conclusion you can draw. All right, so I’m going to talk just a little bit about agriculture. So we mentioned the sorts of things that were happening that all this pollution is going out there killing the reef. So I’m plotting the coral growth rate, we saw this before, versus time since 1600. And the first thing you’d expect if something is being poisoned… who’s poisoned grass? There’s nobody who had poisoned something, their grass? You can poison it and you kill it, stone dead. Or you can not put enough poison on, what happens to the thing? It looks a bit sad, it grows pretty slowly, and that’s it. So if we’ve got some sort of, we’re killing stuff, which we haven’t because we’ve got good coral everywhere, we’re not seeing that.

But maybe there’s a chronic slow poisoning of these things. Well, European settlements started here. Pesticide uses started here. Are you seeing an overall reduction in growth rate? No. So we’re not seeing it in that. One of the reasons we’re not seeing it is that here’s a picture of the Great Barrier Reef, and they say all this stuff comes down the rivers and it pollutes the Great Barrier Reef, isn’t that terrible? And they only worry about these rivers coming in from the land, obviously. But look at these enormous ocean currents. The water that comes in from the ocean currents in just eight hours is more than all the water that comes down all the rivers on the Queensland coast in a whole year.

So the rivers that affect the Great Barrier Reef are not the big Burdekin River or these other things. They’re these ocean currents. And that’s why there’s almost no pollution. This is a cross-section from the coast out into the deep ocean. There’s a reef and there’s the continental shelf and the seabed coming up. And this is the amount of nitrogen that comes in from farms and rivers and all the [inaudible 00:21:11], right? So nitrogen is a fertiliser. It’s one of the most important building blocks of life. And we’re normalising everything to the amount of nitrogen that comes in from rain. Did you know that nitrogen… rain has a lot of nitrogen in it? Huge amounts of nitrogen, especially when there’s thunderstorms. So that’s what comes in from rain, one unit.

Coming down, all the rivers from all these terribly polluting farms is two units. So you can see, well actually that’s quite interesting, and it’s not like all the stuff that’s coming down the rivers is from farms. Only maybe half of it is, you can say. But look at these numbers here. The amount of nitrogen that’s cycling across the seabed is 200 units. It’s way bigger than anything’s coming in through here. Now, if this was a totally closed system and you kept on pumping this muck in, well, it’s going to build up, isn’t it? So that would be a problem. But it’s not a closed system, it’s a massively flushed system. So all this water comes in and out, flushing this stuff out. There’s about 200 units are coming in and out from the big ocean currents and these two pathetic little units, and not all of that has come from the farms. So we’re again seeing that, yeah, all right. There’s a little bit of an effect there, but it’s a very, very minor effect on the nutrients here. All right?

And this is what the Great Barrier Reef looks like. The point about this is we’re going to talk about mud. So mud is supposedly killing the Great Barrier Reef. Where’s the mud? If you go out onto the reef, this is what all of the reefs look like. They always look like… well, not quite. I’m going to show you maybe a picture where sometimes they don’t. But that’s what they look like. And if you go and you pick up that calcium carbonate sand, this is what my mates, the geologists used to do, they’ll say, you just don’t find any mud on the Great Barrier Reef except in really, really minute quantities, just insignificant quantities. That’s what they look like.

But if you go to the coastline, you see this, right? So this is Townsville, this is Magnetic Island. There’s some fringing reefs along the side, and this is one of the tricks that they will be using. The Great Barrier Reef is a long way offshore, but there are fringing reefs on these little islands. They’re tiny, tiny. They’re about big as a few tennis courts in size. And they’re now defining these as part of the Great Barrier Reef. And they are in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but they’re not the Great Barrier Reef. And you can see that these ones are affected by sediment.

Now, we did a whole lot of measurements on these. We invented the instrumentation for measuring this, in fact. And it turns out that even these ones here are seeing no more sediment today than they would’ve done 200 years ago because that dirty water is not due to a river plume or anything like that. That’s due to the waves stirring up the seabed, right? The seabed is muddy, but the seabed has always been muddy. There’s 10 metres of mud that’s been laid down there over the last 3,000 years. And so even when Captain Cook was sailing up past Magnetic Island, which he named, if it was rough, he would’ve seen Cleveland Bay as being muddy because if it was lots of waves, it would resuspend the mud. The extra that you see from the rivers is negligible.

Now, when you look at… I’m going to skip that one, that’s too much. I’m going to skip one, that’s too much, right? So here’s a picture. This is a very famous picture, 2019 Townsville gets wiped out by a flood, the Burdekin River floods as well. And these pictures went out showing, ooh, look at this terrible mud going out and it’s actually got out to the reef. In fact, this is a picture of that river plume on the reef. In fact, Samuel, we went out to this reef, just after this flood, actually. Two years I guess after that flood.

And there’s no doubt there is infinitesimal amounts of mud in that. Now, that looks like really, really dirty water. And this is another trick that. Do you agree that looks like dirty water? It does look like dirty water, but it’s not sediment. It’s like tea. If you go and dip your tea bag in the tea, the water discolours due to the tannins, the large organic molecules in it, and it looks like sediment, right? That’s all that is. The guys did some measurements out there, it was two milligrammes per litre, which basically is bugger all sediment was in that. And when you go out there, you see no sediment. Now the thing is that, all right, well it got out to this reef, there’s no doubt. The biggest river on the Queensland coast, it got there for probably two or three days. That probably won’t happen again for 10 years.

So for the next 3,560 days, nothing for three days, you see very little sediment, insignificant amount of sediment on only three of the 3,000 reefs. So that is the sum total of the insignificance that we have here in terms of the effective sediment on the actual reef. It just doesn’t add up to a hill of beans. All right, there’s a whole lot of figures here. Maybe the people down the back, if you’ve got really good eyesight, you can see that. Doesn’t matter. This is pesticides and this is a whole lot of sites where they measured pesticides. And this is a whole lot of different pesticides which they measured. And all I want you to do is look at, if you can see red or ND, what that means is not detected. So mostly they couldn’t detect.

Now, all the other numbers are basically really, really, really small numbers. So mostly, you cannot detect them. And this isn’t on the Great Barrier Reef, this is just offshore from one of the rivers. This is 40 kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef. And almost everything is already either undetectable, even with the most sensitive scientific equipment, or it’s in tiny quantities. So what you’re seeing here is that no, pesticides just aren’t a problem at all. Now, I mentioned that they stretch the Great Barrier Reef to the shore. So some of these inshore reefs, they look terrible. This is the Paluma Shoals, just north of Townsville. You wouldn’t take a tourist to see that. Look at it. But it’s a very, if it’s just not one that you take to tourists.

Now, the biologists will often say, “Oh dear, that looks terrible, doesn’t it? There’s no species diversity there and there’s no colour there, and there’s all this mud here. That must be due to the farmers.” But it’s not. These have always been like that. The geologists can drill down and because these reefs, they build up with time, they can drill down and look down what the reef was like a thousand years ago. And guess what? It was muddy. That’s what it was like a thousand years ago, and it’s the same as it is now. But it’s very, very clever to imply that this is somehow a degraded reef when it’s just an inshore reef.

All right, we’ve done that one before. So we’ll go on. Right now, the last thing I want to do is the summary, which I’ll put the summary at the beginning, which wasn’t very clever. So the summary is that of all the 3,000 reefs that we’ve got, essentially we haven’t lost a single one. The amount of the coral on the reef is at record high amounts. The coral growth rates haven’t changed for centuries. They might’ve even got faster. They should be faster, but maybe we can’t measure the amount because of the uncertainty in the measurements. They should grow faster because corals always grow faster, well pretty much always grow faster in warmer water. But the reefs are highly variable. So they’ll change massively from this decade to the next decade. Most of the coral death is actually caused by starfish and cyclones, and a tiny little bit is caused by bleaching. That’s what does it. So what you’ve got is a situation where sometimes the reef looks pretty terrible. Individual reefs really can look terrible, and that is a godsend if you’re in the business of trying to catastrophise and scare the children.

But the good thing is that coral loss is always followed by recovery. If your grass dies because it’s too dry and it doesn’t come back, well there’s some problem there, actually. But if when it rains, it comes back, well, there’s no problem, it was just a dry year. You can tell whether something is resilient.

Pollution impacts are negligible. The Great Barrier Reef is massively flushed with a Pacific Ocean, just monumentally. The corals, frankly, they don’t know about Australia. They know about the Coral Sea and they know about the Pacific Ocean. But they may have heard a few stories about this land somewhere in the west. They can’t smell it in the water except for the odd flood that comes in. It’s just irrelevant. We’ve got pesticides not present, farm sediments not present, and farm nutrients and fertilisers are in trivial concentration.

I want to just finish on this latest UNESCO report. I can’t get it there… the UNESCO report, to UNESCO has come out, and one of the utterly disgusting things that I think you’d have to… maybe you’ll agree with this, is not only is have they saved a trivial amount of sediment going out on the reef with all the things they’re doing. And they’re doing some crazy things, supposedly to save the reef that doesn’t need to be saved. But they’ve just closed down the North Queensland gill net fishery for barramundi. So no kind of barramundi because you might kill the reef. Well, where do the barramundi live? They live on the coast, they live in the rivers and they don’t swim out to the reef and there’s no… yeah, all right, there might be some very trivial link between the Mangrove swamp and the reef that’s long, but you’re drawing a very, very long bow.

They then talk about how they need to save all the wetlands along the coast. Now I’m with them, you should save the wetlands. And there’ve been some massive degradation in the wetlands. But do you really think that saving some terrestrial swamp south of Townsville is going to save the Great Barrier Reef, which is 60 to 100 kilometres off the coast? This is not going to happen. But that’s nothing. If you think that is crazy. It’s not even on the map here. They’re going to stop gill nets of certain species over here on the Mornington… I’ve forgotten the name of the island. The islands that just here in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria, because somehow this is going to protect the Great Barrier Reef. It’s 700 kilometres from where they’re going to stop the gill netting to the Torres Strait, let alone to the reef itself. And they show no linkage here. So what they’re using is the Great Barrier Reef` is just being used as a tool to do a whole lot of things, control the farmers, stop the fishing and using it as an excuse for the whole net-zero thing.

It’s just an excuse. It’s based on appalling science. It’s not science at all. And of course, it’s impossible to get any debate on this. But with the Great Barrier Reef, there is no case to answer. We’ve got record amounts of coral. The coral growth rate hasn’t slowed down, there is no pollution. We have corals on every single… there is no case to answer. So then the question is, well how on earth did we get to a position where institutions have literally scared the whole world? And believe me, it’s the whole world. I’ve got relatives back in England and they’ll explain to me, because they have no idea what I do for a living. They’ll explain to me how the Great Barrier Reef is buggered and that we should all be ashamed of ourselves in Australia. I say, “Yeah, okay.” So this is the problem which we’ve got. We think we’ve got a magnificent story to sell in terms of demonstrating problems with the institutions, but it’s very impossible to get that out there.

For example, the ABC, I’ve been told by the ABC that they will not run any of my views on the reef. They actually were quite good with us on the academic freedom problem, the freedom of speech. I can’t actually knock them on that. But I know that I’m blacklisted because I was told by an ABC journalist that, “I’m sorry, we can’t do you because we’ve been told from the editorial level that you’re like a vaccine denier type ban.” That was before Covid, right? So this is the problem that we’ve got. We’ve got a really, really good story, but we’ve got to somehow get it out there and hopefully we’ll do that. That’s what we’re trying to do in the Reef Rebels programme. But we’re trying to get across this problem that we’ve got right across science. It’s not in all science, obviously, and most is rock solid. The most science that we use is rock solid. But a lot of the recent stuff isn’t so good. Thanks very much.

This transcript with Dr Peter Ridd for IPA Academy from 9 February 2024 has been edited for clarity.

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