Friday, 2 December 2016

Warming causes epic reef die-off: expert

Case Smit reply

 to the Sunshine Coast Daily that was published on 2 December – see below.

Image: Tourism Qld.
The burning of fossil fuels has caused the largest die-off of coral ever recorded on the Great Barrier Reef, Australian scientists say.

Two-thirds of all coral in the northern third of the reef is dead after a mass bleaching event earlier this year, new dive surveys show.

Leading reef expert Professor Terry Hughes says warmer waters caused by man-induced climate change have cooked corals in the north, which had been the most pristine part of the World Heritage-listed ecosystem.

The worst-hit stretch is from Port Douglas north, where 67 per cent of shallow-water corals have died in the past eight to nine months.

At Lizard Island, north of Cooktown, 100 per cent of corals are dead.

The central and southern stretches of the reef fared far better, because the water didn't get as hot

In the central third of the reef, six per cent of bleached corals are dead.

In the southern third - where One Nation leader Pauline Hanson went this week to prove the reef isn't dying - the reef is doing very well, with the coral death rate is just one per cent.

Prof Hughes is the director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

He undertook extensive aerial surveys at the height of the bleaching, and says follow-up dive surveys in recent months confirm the north has taken "a giant step backwards".

On Thursday, the federal government is due to update UNESCO on its reef protection efforts, as it tries to keep it off a list of World Heritage sites in danger.

Prof Hughes says coral death rates in the north are likely to make that task much harder.
"In its ongoing dialogue with UNESCO, Australia has said the outstanding universal values of reef are in tact because of the pristine condition of the northern reef. That's simply no longer the case."

He noted UNESCO's failure, so far, to draw links between the climate change policies of countries and the World Heritage sites they manage.
"It seems that should be a logical step," he said.

Australia is relying on its Reef 2050 Plan to convince the UNESCO to keep the reef off the in-danger list.

But Prof Hughes, who sits on an independent panel set up to help implement the plan, says it's about fixing water quality problems and avoids the primary threat of climate change.

In defending its reef management plan last week, federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg pointed to Australia's participation in the Paris climate change pact.

But a recent review by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) found existing international efforts to cut emissions are well short of what's needed to achieve the pact's goal of limiting warming to two degrees or less.

"The Great Barrier Reef has seen three major coral bleaching events since 1998 and that's with one degree of global warming," Prof Hughes said.

"With 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming, we will not be in a safe place for the reef - and we're not even on track for either of them."

Graeme Kelleher, who headed the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for 16 years, last week said Australians must not buy the political lie that they can have the reef as well as projects like Adani's new Queensland coal mine.

"We've lost 50 per cent of the coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef in the last 30 years and the main cause of that is the burning of fossil fuel. I sincerely hope UNESCO rejects the claim that the government is doing enough," he told AAP.

Case Smit - reply to the Sunshine Coast Daily (with the help from experts)

If ever we needed an example of the new word “post-truth”, it was found in your article (Warming causes “epic” reef die off – SSCD Nov 30). Your “leading reef expert” (Prof. Terry Hughes) is obviously anxious to preserve his Great Barrier Reef research funding by stoking the alarmism of the extreme greenies and the political left without regard to the facts.  For instance, he implies that the current coral bleaching is unprecedented when in fact, no research on it was done before 1928/29 and there had already been 26 episodes reported by 1982.

Coral bleaching is a common phenomenon from which corals recover, usually within a decade or so.  A bleaching episode does not spell the end of the Great Barrier Reef in spite of what some people would have us believe.

Bleaching is ascribed to a wide variety of causes of which unusually warm water is just one, but Prof Hughes has absolutely no grounds for stating that man-induced climate change is the present culprit.  For a start, apart from the recent abnormally strong El Nino, the global temperature has been almost steady for the best part of 20 years in spite of continuously increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

There is in fact no evidence at all that there is a relationship between increasing carbon dioxide levels and the global warming that has been happening since the most recent ice age.

Case Smit

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