Sea Temperatures at the Great Barrier Reef Haven’t Increased in 150 Years, Newly Uncovered Data Show

This is the latest piece by freelance journalist Chris Morrison, who we’ve just appointed our Environment Editor. Chris started in financial journalism in the late 1970s and for nearly 20 years ran a company – Evandale Publishing – that he set up himself and eventually sold.

An 1871 dataset of sea temperatures across the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has been compared to recent measurements logged at the same reef areas. No differences in temperature were found by Dr. Bill Johnson, leading him to conclude: “Alarming claims that the East Australian Current has warmed due to global warming are therefore without foundation.”

The 1871 temperatures were taken by the SS Governor Blackall steamship on a voyage around the Australian east coast to observe a total eclipse of the sun in the north of the continent. Hourly measurements were made between 6am and 6pm every day in the voyage from Port Stanley, north of Sydney, to Cape York and repeated on the journey back. Dr. Johnson, a former research scientist at the New South Wales Department of Natural Resources, allowed for the considerable seasonal variations in temperature across the reef but concluded that nothing much had changed. He said there was no evidence that the system regulating temperature had broken down “or is likely to break down in the future”.

Needless to say, such stories do not tend to appear in the media, most of which is firmly wedded to the notion that human-caused global warming is destroying the coral reefs around the world.  In October 2020, the BBC reported that the Great Barrier Reef had lost half of its coral since 1995, citing a report that said it was due to “warmer seas driven by climate change”. But Professor Peter Ridd, who has spent 40 years observing the reef, noted recently that it was in robust good health. Coral growth rates have if anything “increased over the last 100 years”. The graph below, compiled by Ridd from Australian Institute of Marine Science records, illustrates recent growth.

Agence France-Presse‘s award-winning reporter Marlow Hood recently quoted a University of Leeds paper that said coral reefs anchoring a quarter of marine wildlife will “most likely” be wiped out, even if the rise in global warming from pre-industrial times is capped at 1.5°C – which amounts to future warming of just 0.4°C, as 1.1°C has already occurred since 1820. Mr. Hood describes himself on his twitter feed as the “Herald of the Anthropocene” and was recently given €100,000 by the Spanish bank BBVA , which is heavily involved in Net Zero finance. In his commendation, Mr Hood was praised for his ability to “synthesize complex scientific models and studies and explain them in simple terms”. Certainly, Mr Hood went to the heart of the Leeds paper by further reporting that with an increase of 2°C, reef mortality “would be 100%”. This finding is said to have come from a “new generation of climate models”.

Corals have long occupied an exalted place in the climate tablets of doom. Their demise is commonly projected from the natural bleaching that occurs when they expel symbiotic algae, suggested to occur in reaction to sudden changes in water temperature. However, most bleaching – which also appears to have an important evolutionary function – occurs around weather oscillations, such as the El Niño event. These happen on a regular basis and once localised conditions have been stabilised, the coral usually recovers. Tropical coral thrives in temperatures between about 24°C and 32°C and sometimes grows quicker in warmer waters. Any change in long term global temperatures is unlikely to be a threat and certainly not one as small as 0.4°C. In any case, according to Dr. Johnson’s discoveries, there hasn’t been any change in such conditions on the Great Barrier Reef for at least 150 years.

A more practical threat to coral reefs is the less discussed practice of blowing them up and using them for building materials, jewellery, calcium health supplements and marine aquarium decorations. According to Big Blue Ocean Cleanup, an environmental non-profit organisation, this trade is worth $375 billion a year. This is an astonishing sum. Across the Pacific, Blue Ocean identifies two techniques of destruction. The first is small-scale mining using crowbars and sledgehammers to break off the coral branches. The second involves the use of dynamite.

Needless to say, this has an enormous impact on the surrounding eco-system, killing marine life and leaving a barren ocean behind. Indiscriminate destruction also causes sand erosion and removes coastal protection. Ironically, much of the coral has been used to build airports and resorts in places like the Maldives to house tourists who come to marvel at the reefs.

Coral reefs need protecting. It is not a good idea to drench them in untreated sewage, douse them with toxic chemicals, smash up their habitat with reckless fishing or rearrange the ocean floor with high explosives. But this is relatively mundane environmental housekeeping work. It is a world away from using unproven science statements and climate models to spout ‘save the planet’ rhetoric and push for an unrealistic control-and-distribute Net Zero project.

In the run up to COP26, one of Prince William’s £1 million “Earthshot” gifts was handed to a small Bahamian company called Coral Vita that says it grows coral to replant in the ocean. Writing in the Spectator Australia, the biologist Jennifer Marohasy noted that the Australian government permitted the mining every year of 200 tonnes of coral from the Great Barrier Reef. At the same time, $1 billion Australian dollars was provided to save the ‘dying’ reef. Some of this money, she noted, will be used to replant corals.

She added: “[T]here will be jobs for scuba divers, and it will be filmed by underwater videographers, marine scientists will collect data around the programme and boats will be chartered. There will be money for almost everyone who wants to participate – if they are vaccinated, believe in human-caused climate change and believe the Great Barrier Reef is dying.”

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