“Why Deny the Beautiful Coral Reefs Fringing Stone Island?” by Dr. Jennifer Marohasy

Doctor Jennifer Marohasy, for whom I once had the honor of writing an article, is a scientist I admire very much.

She is among other things an independent thinker down to her very core, which makes her by definition a true scientist — by which I mean: one who follows the evidence wherever it leads no matter the political opposition, the hysteria, the prevailing dogmas, the vitriol, the blowback.

She’s an Australian who, along with Doctor John Abbot (formerly of Central Queensland University), did much study of and work upon issues concerning the Great Barrier Reef.

In 2002, she began documenting her “concerns,” as she puts it, “with the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) ‘Save the Reef Campaign’ including their perverse influence of this campaign on public policy in a long review entitled ‘WWF Says Jump, Governments Ask How High” and a short piece for the IPA Review in March 2003 entitled, ‘Deceit in the Name of Conservation.’”

From her website:

“My initial interest in global warming was driven by a desire to better understand water issues, and in particular the likely affect of increasing levels of carbon dioxide on Australian rainfall.”

The following is a recent and important article she wrote for her website. I encourage you to read it in full — because it is an eye-popping, jaw-dropping illustration of what science (climate science especially, but not exclusively) has come to today:

Why Deny the Beautiful Coral Reefs Fringing Stone Island?

by Jennifer Marohasy

We live in an era when it is politically incorrect to say the Great Barrier Reef is doing fine, except if it’s in a tourist brochure. The issue has nothing to do with the actual state of corals, but something else altogether.

Given that the Great Barrier Reef is one ecosystem comprising nearly 3000 individual reefs stretching for 2000 kilometres, damaged areas can always be found somewhere. And a coral reef that is mature and spectacular today may be smashed by a cyclone tomorrow – although neither the intensity nor frequency of cyclones is increasing at the Great Barrier Reef, despite climate change. Another reason that coral dies is because of sea-level fall that can leave some corals at some inshore reefs above water on the lowest tides. These can be exceptionally low tides during El Niño events that occur regularly along the east coast of Australia. 

A study published by Reef Check Australia, undertaken between 2001 to 2014 – where citizen scientists followed an agreed methodology at 77 sites on 22 reefs encompassing some of the Great Barrier Reef’s most popular dive sites – concluded that 43 sites showed no net change in hard coral cover, 23 sites showed an increase by more than 10 per cent (10–41 per cent, net change), and 17 sites showed a decrease by more than 10 per cent (10–63 per cent, net change). 

Studies like this, which suggest there is no crisis but that there can be change, are mostly ignored by the mainstream media. However, if you mention such information and criticise university academics at the same time, you risk being attacked in the mainstream media. Or in academic Dr Peter Ridd’s case, you could be sacked by your university. 

After a career of 30 years working as an academic at James Cook University, Dr Ridd was sacked essentially for repeatedly stating that there is no ecological crisis at the Great Barrier Reef, but rather there is a crisis in the quality of scientific research undertaken and reported by our universities. It all began when he sent photographs to News Ltd journalist Peter Michael showing healthy corals at Bramston Reef, near Stone Island, off Bowen in north Queensland. 

More recently, I personally have been ‘savaged’ – and in the process incorrectly labelled right wing and incorrectly accused of being in the pay of Gina Rinehart – by Graham Readfearn in an article published in The Guardian. This was because I supported Dr Ridd by showing in some detail a healthy coral reef fringing the north-facing bay at Stone Island in my first film, Beige Reef

According to the nonsense article by Mr Readfearn, quoting academic Dr Tara Clark, I should not draw conclusions about the state of corals at Stone Island from just the 25 or so hectares (250,000 square metres) of near 100 per cent healthy hard coral cover filmed at Beige Reef on 27 August 2019. Beige Reef fringes the north-facing bay at Stone Island. 

This is hypocritical – to say the least – given Dr Clark has a paper published by Nature claiming the coral reefs at Stone Island are mostly all dead. She based this conclusion on just two 20-metre long transects that avoided the live section of healthy corals seaward of the reef crest. 

I will refer to this reef as Pink Plate Reef – given the pink plate corals that I saw there when I went snorkelling on 25 August 2019.

Dr Clark – the senior author on the research report, which also includes eight other mostly high-profile scientists – is quoted in The Guardian claiming I have misrepresented her Great Barrier Reef study. In particular, she states, 

“We never claimed that there were no Acropora corals present in 2012.”

Yet this is really the only conclusion that can be drawn from the information presented in her report, which states in different sections the following: 

“Using a combination of anecdotal, ecological and geochemical techniques, the results of this study provide a robust understanding of coral community change for Bramston Reef and Stone Island.

“At Stone Island, the reef crest was similar to that observed in 1994 with a substrate almost completely devoid of living corals.

“For Stone Island, the limited evidence of coral growth since the early 19th Century suggests that recovery is severely lagging.

“… by 1994 the reef was covered in a mixture of coral rubble and algae with no living Acropora and very few massive coral colonies present …”

Clark and colleagues recorded the corals along two transects, which they explain included a section of the reef now stranded above the mean low spring sea level. The sections they studied are some metres away from healthy corals – Porites and Acropora species, including pink plate corals that I snorkelled over on 25 August 2019.

Please read the full article here.