Back in February this year Malcolm Turnbull (acting for the Commonwealth Government, of course) stumped up $60 million to future proof the Reef. Now we have Great Barrier Reef gets funding boost as PM tells ‘doomsayers’ to be optimistic. Via the NY Times and Gizmodo There’s $500 million more now to save the Great Barrier Reef:
- including $200 million in funding to reduce agricultural pollution and $100 million for “reef restoration and adaptation,” which includes a project to grow stronger corals in laboratories. Other projects include killing off invasive species like the crown-of-thorns starfish and community engagement and enforcement
Everyone, except the ABC, is telling Turnbull, that’s fine and dandy, but won’t do much good unless we get serious about climate change.
In fact Professor Terry Hughes tweeted:
We’re not going to fix the challenge of climate change for coral reefs by killing a few starfish in Queensland http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6371/80 …
The link is to a new paper by Hughes et al Spatial and temporal patterns of mass bleaching of corals in the Anthropocene. The paper is pay-walled, but they looked at 100 reefs around the world and found that the average interval between bleaching events is now less than half what it was before. The interval between bleaching does not now allow full recovery, and it is increasingly likely that we will get annual bleaching in the coming decades. Hughes posted this image from the paper:
In Do we seriously want to save the Great Barrier Reef? I said I’ve been citing a 2011 study by K. Frieler et al which found that:
- preserving more than 10 per cent of coral reefs worldwide would require limiting warming to below +1.5°C (atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) range: 1.3–1.8°C) relative to pre-industrial levels.
- in December last year a new report led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that if current trends continue, by 2050 more than 98% of reefs world-wide are expected to be exposed to bleaching-level thermal stress in each year. Reefs need 10-15 stress-free years to recover, if they are going to at all, and proximity to other healthy reefs is important.
The joint media release from Turnbull and others says:
- Like reefs all over the world, the Great Barrier Reef is under pressure. A big challenge demands a big investment – and this investment gives our Reef the best chance.
- Australia is committed to taking strong domestic and international action on climate change.
And key outcomes include:
- A global goal to hold average temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
A couple of weeks ago David Spratt in 1.5°C of warming is closer than we imagine, just a decade away cites a range of studies that put 1.5°C around the second half of next decade, or as early as five years away. The favourite date seems to be 2026. Spratt says:
The Paris text was a political fix in which grand words masked inadequate deeds. The voluntary national emission reduction commitments since Paris now put the world on a path of 3.4°C of warming by 2100 (as illustrated), and more than 5°C if high-end risks including carbon-cycle feedbacks are taken into account.
We have to face the fact that the world has given up on coral reefs as we know them, and we are not complaining.
Alice Klein in New Scientist in Our grandchildren may never see the Great Barrier Reef recover reports on a recent Terry Hughes et al paper in Nature – Global warming transforms coral reef assemblages (both paywalled). The story is simple and brutal:
The current damage began with a fierce ocean heatwave in early 2016, which directly killed many corals. Overall, 30 per cent of coral cover was lost, making it the worst die-off on record. A second heatwave at the start of 2017 then killed another 20 per cent. While some areas have recovered, corals are still dying in the worst-hit regions.
Alarmingly, the corals’ tolerance of short periods of very high sea temperatures or of longer periods of less severe heat was just half as much as forecast by NASA and other research teams.
When the corals go, so do the fish:
- Some coral species were harder hit than others. For example, in the northern section of the reef, which was worst affected in 2016, more than three-quarters of staghorn and table corals were wiped out, whereas most dome-shaped corals emerged unscathed.
This is problematic because dome-shaped corals don’t provide the same protection to fish as intricate staghorn and table corals, says Hughes: “They don’t create the same nooks and crannies for hiding in.”
This shift has already affected fish diversity, according to a study by Laura Richardson at James Cook University and her colleagues. They found a sharp decline in the number of butterflyfish, for example, which are highly dependent on staghorns.
Here we have bleached coral:
Selina Ward at The Conversation has an article How the 2016 bleaching altered the shape of the northern Great Barrier Reef on the Hughes research which you can read. It includes this image of post-bleaching ‘recovery’:
However, the NS asks the question, will a thriving reef soon be a thing of the past?
Charlie Veron, the first full-time researcher on the Great Barrier Reef (1972) and the first scientist employed by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (1974), often known as the ‘Godfather of Coral’ having participated in 67 expeditions to all the major reef provinces in the world, having written more than 100 scientific papers on reefs plus seven books, including the three-volume Corals of the World, has since 2008 together with a number of colleagues been producing an open access website about coral taxonomy, bio-geography and identification – Corals of The World. The site is used by more than 20,000 researchers and scientists across the world, and the information it provides has helped shape crucial conservation decisions for places like the Great Barrier Reef.
So now we hear the database could be in jeopardy due to a lack of funding. Veron doesn’t expect to get any of the $500 million.
Problem is he knows what he is talking about and is prone to speak honestly. Unlike the chief of the CSIRO, as Will Steffen from the Climate Council reports in CSIRO chief ignores scientific evidence of climate change as biggest threat to reef.
- Marshall claims that poor water quality was the main reason for the recent devastating and unprecedented bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017.
- Marshall claims that reefs will recover in two years.
Wrong, and wrong!
Disgraceful, really. Steffen said:
Addressing water quality is just a bandaid solution that is only useful if we also tackle climate change, the root cause of coral bleaching. Yet Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution levels continue to rise (by 0.8% the past year) without credible federal climate policy in place.
For the record here’s the more detailed breakup of the funding:
- $201 million further improving water quality with changed farming practices such as reduced fertiliser use, and adopting new technologies and land management practices.
- $100 million harnessing the best science to implement reef restoration and funding science that supports Reef resilience and adaptation.
- $58 million expanding the fight against the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.
- $45 million supporting other work, particularly increasing community engagement such as Indigenous traditional knowledge for sea country management, coastal clean-up days and awareness raising activities.
- $40 million enhancing Reef health monitoring and reporting to track progress and inform better management.
The funding will be distributed through the Great Barrier Reef Foundation which will seek extra corporate funding. The AFR ran an article Great Barrier Reef will recover from coral bleaching, says John Schubert.
Dr John Schubert, former head of the Business Council of Australia, actually said:
There is a lot of work to be done but I’m confident when the temperatures stop rising we can have a reef that can recover over time, but it will never be the same as 100 years ago.” (Emphasis added)
He did not say how much time would be required, which is just as well because no-one knows.
Ian Dunlop spells out the fiduciary duty of politicians and bureaucrats with respect to climate change. He suggests that if they fail there will be legal action.
Can’t come soon enough.