Losing Nemo: Scientists Mourn Great Barrier Losses

April 21, 2016

Sydney Morning Herald:

Scientists surveying the mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef say only 7 per cent of Australia’s environmental icon has been left untouched by the event.

The final results of plane and helicopter surveys by scientists involved in the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce has found that of the 911 reefs they observed, just 68 had escaped any sign of bleaching.

Overall, severe bleaching of between 60 and 100 per cent of coral was recorded on 316 reefs, almost all of them in the northern half of the barrier reef. Reefs in central and southern regions of the 2300 kilometre Great Barrier Reef have experienced more moderate to mild affects.

The mass bleaching event has been driven by significantly higher than average sea temperatures as a result of the current El Nino event, coupled with a long-term warming of the oceans due to climate change.


While the barrier reef has experienced mass coral bleaching events in the past – notably in 1998 and 2002 – Professor Terry Hughes, convenor of the bleaching taskforce, said the current event was by far the biggest.

Professor Andrew Baird, from the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said north of Port Douglas, “we’re already measuring close to 50 per cent mortality of bleached corals”.

“At some reefs, the final toll is likely to exceed 90 per cent.”

But in the southern regions corals have largely escaped damaging levels of bleaching due to cooler sea temperatures, Professor Hughes said, and it is expected most will survive and regain their normal colour in coming months.

The damage on the barrier reef is part of a global mass bleaching event that has hit corals hard in many places including Hawai, Fiji and New Caledonia. It is only the third global event in recorded history, with the other two occurring in 1998 and 2010.


Stretching for half a kilometre or so, Loomis Reef is the place where the alarm bells started going off.

Prof Justin Marshall has been diving this reef, about 270km north of Cairns, for 30 years. Right now he is, to say the least, angry.

“My veil is down,” he says, no longer bothering with the kind of polite niceties common among academics.

“I have cried. I have broken down in front of cameras. This is the most devastating, gut-wrenching fuck up,” says Marshall, of the University of Queensland.

Back in November, researchers and staff on the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station started to see the early signs of coral bleaching – faded colours, odd fluorescent hues and chunks of white.

The Great Barrier Reef, of which Loomis is just one of 3,000 reefs, is in the death throes of its worst ever coral bleaching event – part of the third global mass bleaching since 1998.

Latest figures show that 93% of the reef has been impacted by bleaching. The worst affected areas are in the reef’s north.

“Loomis Reef was an amazingly diverse, beautiful little reef about 500 metres long – covered in lots of different coral. Now it’s going to be a big ball of slime,” Marshall says. The past tense, it seems, is deliberate.

“It’s in an area that tourists use – you can pretty much snorkel there right from the shore. You don’t need a boat.

“At the closer end on Loomis there is a nice Porites coral – they can be thousands of years old. The one on Loomis would be maybe hundreds.”


Washington Post:

Hughes tweeted the map above, writing, “I showed the results of aerial surveys of on the to my students, And then we wept.”

“This is, by far, the worst bleaching they’ve seen on the Great Barrier Reef,” said Mark Eakin, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch, which partners with the Australian National Coral Bleaching Taskforce. “Our climate model-based Four Month Bleaching Outlook was predicting that severe bleaching was likely for the [Great Barrier Reef] back in December. Unfortunately, we were right and much of the reef has bleached, especially in the north.”



10 Responses to “Losing Nemo: Scientists Mourn Great Barrier Losses”

  1. ubrew12 Says:

    The largest living structure visible from Space is now visible primarily as a skeleton. There’s only one thing to do: draw a chalk-outline around the skeleton and bid onlookers “Move it along, folks! Nothing to see here” (and you can be sure our media will play that role). And its global.
    Here’s a quote from a researcher just back from Kiribati: “It was a horror show,” Baum said. “Rationally I know what’s happened, but emotionally it’s very hard to accept it. It seems like it can’t possibly be real that this vibrant, healthy reef that I’ve been working on so long and studying so intensely — specifically because it was one of the healthiest reefs in the world — that it could just be dramatically transformed in a matter of months into this graveyard.”

    We all know what to do with graveyards: whistle past them.

  2. Sean Munger Says:

    Incredibly sad.

    I have never heard a denier try to explain away coral bleaching. I assume it’s one of those issues that just never crosses their radar screen, but you all probably have more experience in the denialosphere than I do. Is this something they ever address?

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Google “WUWT coral bleaching” for a taste of what the deniers say.

      In true denier fashion, they misinform, misdirect, and obfuscate. They maintain that bleaching and reef destruction is caused by viruses, storms, starfish, and Al Gore, and grasp at the straw that some small numbers of isolated reefs seem to be able to adapt and recover.

      It’s pretty hard for them to deny that coral bleaching is occurring, that it’s a recent phenomenon, that it’s getting worse, and that the best evidence shows that it’s due to global warming, so they pretty much stay away from the topic. Much easier to talk about the “pause” and manipulate graphs than to explain away pics of “dead bodies”.

      This 2016 die-off of the Great Barrier Reef will catch them with their pants down—-considering how much pooh-poohing of AGW-caused bleaching they have done over the past few years, they have no way out this time.

      (PS Look especially for pieces by Witless Eschenbach, one of Watt’s more demented contributors)

    • otter17 Says:

      You can hop on over to some of the articles on the recent event from one of the news collecting sites like Yahoo News and find some prime examples.

      It is the same type of playbook as used in the Arctic sea ice denial cases. The real crazies will claim that it isn’t happening at all. Some go by the tired standbys that it has always happened this severely, that there will be new growth in other regions, confusing the issue of bleaching versus death, etc. The more sociopathic just claim they don’t care about corals, though I think most of them realize that such a stance doesn’t do well with the general public. Of course, in most all cases, the interpretations are nowhere to be found in the article or interview questions for which the denier is posting, but hey that has never stopped them from attempting to spread the fringe opinions of denial blogs and political opinion outlets.

  3. izen Says:

    @-Sean Munger
    “I have never heard a denier try to explain away coral bleaching. I assume it’s one of those issues that just never crosses their radar screen…”

    A little over a year ago this issue was raised with Prof Richard Tol at the ‘…and then there’s physic’ blog, an economeritrician who claims some warming will be beneficial and is a science ‘advisor’ to the GWPF.

    His responses, precis’ed, were ,
    “Coral has been around for millions of years, it can’t be in any real danger.”
    (It was pointed out that Coral undergoes mass extinction events with new species evolving to fill the empty niches. Most coral seen at present is of species that indicate a relatively recent evolution and spread. )

    “The Sydney Opera house gets many more tourists than the GBR, most people can’t tell a dead reef from a healthy one, and a bit of the reef can be protected, kept and maintained as a GBR ‘theme park’, like Venice.

  4. grindupbaker Says:

    If it’s correct that a warmer Atlantic strengthens Pacific easterly Trades and a higher GMST is more La Ninaish with stronger GMST pauses and the 1 m/s wind velocity increase since 1990 is a long-term trend starting not a natural variation, then in the few years prior to the 2035/2036 El Nino the water around northern half of Australia will be too warm for Great Barrier Reef coral survival, much warmer than 2014.

  5. Well, I’m off to Cairns for a holiday in June taking my stepson and his mate, both 12. Neither has had the opportunity to snorkel on the reef and they were both pretty excited about it…until this. Its going to be a sobering lesson in what our generation has left or them.

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