This post started as a Climate clippings which last appeared in August 30 last year. This post outgrew the CC format and ended up asking again Do we seriously want to save the great Barrier Reef?
Coral bleaching is becoming the new normal
From the New Scientist – The Great Barrier Reef has suffered its most widespread bleaching yet:
- Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has experienced its third mass bleaching event in five years. For the first time, all three sections of the reef have been severely affected.
The damage occurred in February when the reef was exposed to the hottest month of water temperatures on record.
Aerial surveys conducted by Terry Hughes at James Cook University in Australia and his colleagues during the last two weeks of March revealed that 25 per cent of the reef had been severely bleached and 35 per cent moderately bleached. The northern, central, and southern sections of the reef were all hit.
Severe bleaching also struck in 1998, 2002, 2016 and 2017, but was confined to one or two sections. This is the first time that all three sections have simultaneously experienced severe bleaching, says Hughes. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Terry Hughes and Morgan Pratchett – We just spent two weeks surveying the Great Barrier Reef. What we saw was an utter tragedy
Michael Slezak and Penny Timms – Great Barrier Reef found to be coral bleached from north to south for first time
February was the hottest month of sea surface temperatures on BOM records, and that was the first bleach without an El Niño. The 2020 bleach is considered the second worst in the last five years. Here is a comparison:
The reef is adapting somewhat but at the expense of the branching coral which is home the most fish biodiversity.
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg talks about the likely loss of the Great Barrier Reef
ABC RN’s The Science Show is creating a new series Climate grief with interviews of people who have worked to save the planet from climate change. First is marine scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Professor in the School of Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science at The University of Queensland talking with Jonica Newby who you might remember from ABC TV’s Calalyst.
It talks about his lifetime of love and work with the Great Barrier Reef. A quick check reveals that he is 61 and has published over 500 journal articles which been cited over 50,000 times.
There is still magic to be experienced on the Reef but it has changed drastically. On the optimistic version of what comes next he says that if we limit warming to 1.5°C by 2050, only 10 to 30 per cent of the GBR will remain, and it will be mostly of poorer quality than we inherited.
So why does he still work hard and with enthusiasm?
Work is being done to seed the reef with heat resistant variety of corals, but as Newby says you might do a tennis court-size patch of reef, but the GBR is the size of Italy.
Yet this is what Hoegh-Guldberg is doing in order to give future generations the best chance of re-establishing coral reefs from the ruins of global warming, which now seem inevitable, once emissions are stabilised.
He’s working on the 50 Reefs project a plan to triage the reefs with the best chance of survival. The plan was developed by The Ocean Agency during the filming of the 2017 Netflix Original Documentary Chasing Coral.
The initiative was developed:
- in partnership with the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society, and funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Tiffany & Co. Foundation and Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.
The idea was to find the reefs that would last the longest under the threat of climate change, to protect them from over-fishing and pollution, and preserve them so that future generations can use them to seed and speed up the recovery of as much as possible of current reefs.
50 reefs were found in Indonesia, The Philippines, Madagascar, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tanzania. Here’s a map of most of them:
Now they are trying to find out how to transplant and seed corals at scale, because at present they can only do four or five samples at a time.
The best we are being offered by the IPCC is a 50% chance of staying within 1.5°C which would require drastic annual reductions of GHG from 2020.
We may indeed get a temporary reduction from Covid 19, but UNFCCC meetings intended to lock in reduction plans at the December Conference of Parties in Glasgow are in disarray. Moreover, countries have shown a reflex action to draw in to a domestic focus, and away from global co-operation.
Within the major emitting countries climate action is on hold. At least Anthony Albanese in opposition sees using renewable energy and the revival of Australian manufacturing as central to remaking Australia rather than ‘snapback’ to a now illusory former ‘normality’.
Here in Queensland in early 2017 when looking at whether we really wanted to save the Great Barrier Reef Annastacia had just gone to India to lobby for the revival of the Adani Carnmichael mine proposal. Three year later she is still promoting new coal mines which are incompatible with saving the GBR.
Most IPCC scenarios involve overrun, a period when the temperature is higher than 1.5°C. It is sad that Ove Hoegh-Guldberg feels he has to devote his whole energy on triage action on the basis that this will happen, in order to facilitate a repair job that may be possible in the centuries to come when a new stabilisation of atmospheric GHG concentrations is found after the magic of life in the oceans has been shredded.