Reef in danger

Government caught in cover up.

Article from Sydney Morning Herald and the Guardian

More than one-third of the coral reefs of the central and northern regions of the Great Barrier Reef have died in the huge bleaching event earlier this year, Queensland researchers said.

Bleaching occurs when abnormal conditions, such as warm seas, (El Nino) cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae. Corals turn white without these algae and may die if the zooxanthellae do not return.

Corals to the north of Cairns – covering about two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef – were found to have an average mortality rate of 35 per cent, rising to more than half in areas around Cooktown.

Researchers inspected 84 reefs and found coral mortality rates of 50 per cent or more in the north of the Great Barrier Reef.

Professor Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said he was “gobsmacked” by the scale of the coral bleaching which far exceeded the two previous events in 1998 and 2002.

“It is fair to say we were all caught by surprise,” Professor Hughes said. “It’s a huge wake up call because we all thought that coral bleaching was something that happened in the Pacific or the Caribbean which are closer to the epicentre of El Nino events.”

The El Nino of 2015–16 was among the three strongest on record but the starting point was about 0.5 degrees warmer than the previous monster of 1997–98 as rising greenhouse gas emissions lifted background temperatures. Reefs in many regions, such as Fiji and the Maldives, have also been hit hard.

The northern end of the Great Barrier Reef was home to many 50- to 100-year-old corals that had died and may struggle to rebuild before future El Ninos push tolerance beyond thresholds.

These revelations come fresh on the heels of news that the Turnbull government intervened to remove the reef from a UN report dealing with the effects of climate change on various eco-systems.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt was not involved in Unesco decision, his office says.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt was not involved.

However, the Environment Department intervened via Australia’s ambassador to UNESCO to have Australia removed to avoid unwanted publicity that could hurt tourism to the reef.

“The department expressed concern that giving the report the title ‘Destinations at risk’ had the potential to cause confusion.”

“The Minister was not aware and was not briefed or involved,” he said.

Professor Steffen from the ANU said he had come across such government intervention only once before in his international work, when the Russian government sought to provide dodgy data on how much of their great forests were being lost to logging or forest fires.

“For a liberal, western democracy like Australia to behave in this way is frankly quite disgusting,” Professor Steffen told Fairfax Media, adding it was “totally pointless and absolutely counterproductive”.

“It makes the government or whatever entity it is that’s trying to squash science in the long run look bad,” he said. “In fact it just draws more attention to the issue that they are trying to cover up.”

He said Australians had to realise that pouring millions of dollars into protecting the reef, while helpful, would do little in the long run to save it unless global warming was halted.

“The more resilient you can make the reef the longer it may be able to hold out.” Professor Steffen said. “But the science is pretty clear – the rate at which we’re pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is going to overwhelm the most resilient of reefs.”

Mark Butler, Labor’s shadow environment minters, said Malcolm Turnbull “is trying to bury the existence of climate change”.

“This is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and we have a responsibility to act to restore health and build resilience,” Mr Butler said.

“What we don’t need is a government that won’t act on climate change and won’t allocate any new funds to protect the Reef,” he added. “The best way to help the reef and to boost tourism and economic growth is to take serious action on climate change ….”