In June, the International Coral Reef Symposium and others sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Australia regarding the fate of the Great Barrier Reef. This week, Paul Barry on Media Watch vented over the failure of The Australian to cover this letter, as if it were some major scientific breakthrough.
Below is the text of the letter:
June 25, 2016
To: Honorable Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister, Commonwealth Government of Australia
From: The International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS), June 19-24, 2016, Honolulu, Hawaii The International Society for Reef Studies (ISRS) And their combined voices of over 2,500 coral reef scientists, managers, policy makers and stakeholders.
The International Society for Reef Studies is the leading scientific organization that produces, publishes and disseminates scientific knowledge and understanding of coral reefs worldwide. As is well known, coral reefs are among the most biological diverse ecosystems on the planet and provide ecosystems services to over 500 million people worldwide. Coral reefs, however, are threatened with complete collapse under rapid climate change. Fifty percent of coral reefs have already been destroyed by a combination of local and global factors. Additional serious degradation will occur over the next two decades as temperatures continue to rise. As a result of reef destruction, a quarter of all marine species are at risk and the associated economic losses will expose hundreds of millions of people to decreasing food security and increased poverty. This year has seen the worst mass bleaching in history, threatening many coral reefs around the world including the whole of the northern Great Barrier Reef, the biggest and best-known of all reefs. The damage to this Australian icon has already been devastating. In addition to damage from greenhouse gasses, port dredging and shipping of fossil fuels across the Great Barrier Reef contravene Australia’s responsibilities for stewardship of the Reef under the World Heritage Convention. We call upon the Australian Commonwealth Government to stop endorsing the export of coal, and specifically to stop or revoke the approval of new mines, including those in Queensland, which have the potential to become the world’s biggest and most harmful single sources of atmospheric pollution. Australia is a currently perceived as a laggard compared to other developed countries in pursuing the urgent pathway to a low carbon economy, and committing to deep action on climate change. We urge you to improve the protection of the Great Barrier Reef on climate change, and lead-not-follow on this critically important global issue.
— Robert H. Richmond, Ph.D. Ruth Gates, Ph.D. Convener, ICRS President, ISRS Past President, ISRS
One of the signatories, Dr Ruth Gates, is a coral expert currently working at the University of Hawaii. In a March, 2016, BBC article by one Alex Riley the following claim is made (emphasis added):
Corals are dying worldwide. Since 1950, for example, an estimated 19% of corals have been lost – poof, gone. Today, nearly a third of all reef-building species are threatened with extinction.
The reason? Dynamite fishing and trawling certainly play their part, devastating through destruction and converting once rich ecosystems into underwater deserts. But the principle culprit is our rapidly changing world.
Burning fossil fuels on land has infused the air with atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide. By some estimates, the oceans not only soak up 90% of that heat but also 26% of the carbon dioxide – which reacts with water to form a weak acid. It is a two-pronged attack on aquatic life, and the defences of many corals simply are not strong enough.
Presumably Gates endorses this claim, since the article is included in her own blog. One wonders how she reconciles her claim in the letter sent to the Prime Minister that “50% of coral reefs have already been destroyed” with the rather less alarming figure of only 19% since 1950, most, if not all, of which would have been occasioned by industrial pollution and environmentally unsounded fishing practices, not climate change.
Walter Starck: The Reef’s Self-Serving Saviours
Note also the specious claim that dissolved CO2 in the ocean is forming a weak acid. This is one of those myths that keeps on giving, despite the fact that the pH of the ocean is still very healthily alkaline. (see Walter Starck’s “Global Warming’s Grand Inquisitors” for more on “acidic oceans”.)
Gates is involved in genetic research in an attempt to engineer climate resilient corals. Her own research has shown that corals can and do adapt to changing environmental conditions (bleaching is one such example).
A 2016 article in The New Yorker contains this passage (emphasis added):
In 1998, a so-called “bleaching event,” caused by very warm water, killed more than fifteen per cent of corals worldwide. Compounding the problem of rising temperatures were changes in ocean chemistry. Corals thrive in alkaline waters, but fossil-fuel emissions are making the seas more acidic. One team of researchers calculated that just a few more decades of emissions would lead coral reefs to “stop growing and begin dissolving.” Another group predicted that, by midcentury, visitors to places like the Great Barrier Reef will find nothing more than “rapidly eroding rubble banks.” Gates couldn’t even bring herself to go back to Jamaica; so much of what she loved about the place had been lost.
But Gates, by her own description, is a “glass half full” sort of person. She noticed that some reefs that had been given up for dead were bouncing back. These included reefs she knew intimately, in Hawaii. Even if only a fraction of the coral colonies survived, there seemed to be a chance for recovery.
The same article tells us that:
Last summer, the foundation awarded her and a collaborator in Australia, Madeleine van Oppen, four million dollars to pursue the idea.
It would be a huge shame if this natural ability of corals to survive in a changing world were to stand in the way of a stream of funding that should see her well into comfortable retirement. Since corals seem to be able to adapt to conditions so far encountered, how then to ensure that things go smoothly? Why, jump onto the meme that the forthcoming rapid pace of climate change will outstrip the ability of corals to adapt, of course.
The only problem with that is that the world is not warming rapidly and, unless some as yet undetected amplification mechanism kicks in, the pace of any warming attributable to CO2 is likely to decline as the CO2 absorbing bandwidth becomes saturated.
The letter is nothing more than a political manifesto designed to help keep the myth of CAGW alive and well. And true to form, the ABC has once again done its bit to keep the alarmists in business.