In Chapter 1 of my book, Our beautiful world in harmony, I talk about coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, caused by warming sea temperatures and Australia’s recent surge in industrialisation projects. The Great Barrier Reef is 1,400 miles long and is the longest and largest coral reef in the world. It lies off the N.E. coast of Queensland, Ausltralia. This blog goes into the issue in more detail and cites from articles in The Guardian, The Atlantic.com and the campaigning organisation Fight for our Reef.
According to Ben Smee in The Guardian (18th April 2018), the 2016 heatwave in Australia caused the death of 30% of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef. A study by scientists, led by Prof Terry Hughes (Director of ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies), and published in Nature, examined the link between the level of heat exposure, subsequent coral bleaching and ultimately coral death. Hughes commented,
“When corals bleach from a heatwave, they can either survive and regain their colour slowly as the temperature drops, or they can die.” Across the whole of the barrier reef, 30% of the corals died during the period March to November 2016. The figure below shows that losses were greater in the warmer northern part of the barrier reef but coral deaths were recorded as far south as off Rockhampton, Queensland.
The loss of coral cover along the Great Barrier Reef in 2016. Photograph: Nature/Hughes et al. 2016
North of Cooktown, coral losses of between 75-100% were recorded. The study found that “initially, at the peak of temperature extremes in March 2016, many millions of corals died quickly in the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef over a period of only two to three weeks”. Those corals that died were the temperature-sensitive species, such as staghorn and tabular corals; other corals were more resilient to temperature changes which resulted in radical changes in the mix of coral species on hundreds of individual reefs”.
Staghorn corals play crucial roles in reef-building, and in providing food, shelter and other services to the remarkable array of associated species (fish, crustaceans etc), a number of which are important to humans. See: https://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/fact_sheet_red_list_staghorn_corals.pdf
This article, entitled “Staghorn Corals and Climate Change, published in pdf by the Species Survival Commission, gives a great deal of information about staghorn corals.
Prof Hughes and his researchers estimated that half of the corals in shallow-water habitats in the northern Great Barrier Reef have already been lost but their conclusion is that the Great Barrier Reef is certainly threatened by climate change, but it is not completely doomed yet, “if we deal very quickly with greenhouse gas emissions”. Their conclusion was: “If the targets in the Paris agreement are met, the reef will survive as “a mixture of heat-tolerant [corals], and the ones that can bounce back”.
The Atlantic.com article also draws on the Nature article but gives further detail about how the study was conducted. See:
It also refers to a further study, conducted in 2017 when warm waters struck the reef again and triggered another bleaching event. The results have not yet been published but Hughes is quoted as saying:
“Combined, the back-to-back bleaching events killed one in every two corals in the Great Barrier Reef. It is a fact almost beyond comprehension: In the summer of 2015, more than 2 billion corals lived in the Great Barrier Reef. Half of them are now dead.”
Hughes was also clear about the cause of this coral bleaching and death: human-caused global warming. The accumulation of heat-trapping pollution in the atmosphere has raised the world’s average temperature, making the oceans hotter and less hospitable to fragile tropical corals.
bleached staghorn corals
The Australian-based Fight for Our Reef Campaign has no doubt about who is the greatest culprit in causing this warming of the barrier reef water – Adani Group coal supply chain. The following comes from their latest email:
A couple of weeks ago we emailed you with the shocking news. Adani Group representatives had been quietly meeting with federal Trade Minister Steven Ciobo and the government’s Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC) – trying to secure funds for their Reef-wrecking coal project and their suppliers via this backdoor channel.¹
We asked for your help to expose Adani, and the response has been incredible. We dialled up the pressure with thousands of emails to Minister Steven Ciobo. And with the world watching we ran a mobile billboard during the Commonwealth Games – calling on the Federal government to not give Adani any of our taxpayer dollars through EFIC.
The reaction to our billboard was overwhelming. Honks, whistles and cheers as the billboard drove past, exposing Adani’s backdoor plans to people living in Minister Ciobo’s electorate and international visitors alike.
Let’s turn this moment into unstoppable momentum. We’ve reached 9,000 emails calling for Minister Ciobo to rule out taxpayer funding.
The Commonwealth Games may be over now but our effort to stop Adani getting their hands on taxpayer money isn’t finished yet. To protect our Reef from the pollution this mine would unleash, the Minister must rule out any EFIC funding going to the Adani Group’s coal supply chain.
If Adani succeed, and get this money, it will be bad news for our beautiful Reef. The mining and burning of coal from Adani’s colossal Carmichael coal mine would generate billions of tonnes of new carbon pollution, heating our oceans and endangering the future of our beautiful but damaged Great Barrier Reef.
We have to ensure that Adani does not get their hands on our taxpayer money. The window of opportunity is closing fast. Tell Minister Ciobo to rule out any EFIC money going to the Adani Group and its suppliers.
We exposed Adani and stopped the $1 billion NAIF loan of taxpayer money. Public pressure has gotten banks around the world to rule out funding this Reef-wrecking coal mine. Together we can stop Adani getting taxpayer money from EFIC.
Yours, for our Reef.
With the Fight For Our Reef Campaign team
P.S. Outrage is growing. More and more people are talking about Adani’s sneaky attempts to get our taxpayer money for their Reef-wrecking mine. But it’s going to take more voices to turn this momentum into change. Add your name to the thousands of Australians fighting for our Reef – no taxpayer money to Adani!
¹ Source: ABC News – Adani Finance Agency Talks Suggest Door Not Shut on Taxpayer Funds
And in May 2018, further concerns about another company applying to start mining in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. The latest email from the “Fight for Our Reef Campaign” states the following:
Thank you for contacting the federal Minister for Environment and Energy and asking him to reject the Waratah Coal mine proposal and protect our beautiful Great Barrier Reef.
Waratah Coal, a Clive Palmer associated company, is currently seeking approval for a new coal mining project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. If built the mine would be 33% bigger than Adani’s Carmichael coal mine and would be a disaster for our precious Reef.
While we didn’t manage to have the mine proposal rejected outright, we were successful in ensuring any impacts to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and Marine Park must be considered as part of the assessment process.
In its application Waratah Coal stated that the mine would have no impact on the Great Barrier Reef. They failed to acknowledge the extra coal ships that will plough through the Reef’s waters, the dredging that will be required to expand the port of Abbot Point and above all the climate change-related impacts on the Reef caused by the burning of coal from this mine in power plants.
Thanks to you and the other 8000 people who contacted the Minister – we drew the Minister’s attention to the impacts the mine would have on the Great Barrier Reef.
To preserve the remainder of our precious Reef we must rapidly reduce carbon pollution, not open up new mega mines. With your help we will continue to fight this and other Galilee Basin mines to ensure the Reef has a future.
Thanks for all that you do.
For our Reef,
Dr Lissa Schindler