Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Anthony Watts and Andrew Bolt want "Lights out for the Great Barrier Reef"

Sou | 4:37 AM Go to the first of 3 comments. Add a comment

The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from more than one source. Those sources include climate change.  Dr. Selina Ward and Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg have prepared a report for Earth Hour on the Great Barrier Reef.  You can download it here.

The report discusses the main threats to the reef under the headings of temperature, ocean acidification, sea level rise and storms.

Expert-in-everything-nothing Andrew Bolt doesn't like the Great Barrier Reef

Andrew Bolt has used the report to write another of his diatribes against Australian icons (archived here). Actually it's mainly an article saying how "scientists don't know nuffin'".  In particular, Andrew Bolt, huddled over his keyboard 3,000 km away in Melbourne claims to know more about the Great Barrier Reef that the world's top authorities.  Andrew has a particular dislike of Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland.

Anthony Watts laps it up (archived here). Anthony of course, lives much further away from the Great Barrier Reef than Andrew does.  Still, Anthony's motto is "all the scientists are wrong" (except science deniers like Richard Lindzen).  Anthony wrote:
Andrew Bolt asks in his column – Why won’t other journalists tackle Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, too? Maybe such dud predictions should be called “claimet change” for all the failed claims? – Anthony

Could it be that other journalists recognise Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg as an expert?  Could it be that he's right a lot more often than wrong? Could it be that other journalists don't want to see the reef disappear in their lifetime - or ever?

Irreversible damage to the reef if we don't slow global warming

So what did Andrew write? Andrew decides the experts are wrong when they were reported in the Guardian as saying:
“The Great Barrier Reef will suffer ‘irreversible’ damage by 2030 unless radical action is taken to lower carbon emissions, a stark new report has warned,”

Why does Andrew Bolt think they were wrong?  Well, according to Andrew, a fellow science denier, Peter Ridd, reckons:
"the reef was in “bloody brilliant shape” and said unnamed scientists were “crying wolf” — and getting funding. 

Peter Ridd, the anti-environmentalist

Is Peter Ridd missing out on funding?  According to his website, in addition to his handsome taxpayer-funded salary, Peter Ridd has got grants of more than $400,000 coming his way.  He's not the most successful at attracting project funding, but it's nothing to be sneezed at either.  (If you want to more know about Peter Ridd and his connections, read this Media Watch exposé.  He's a stooge for right wing interests hiding behind a mis-named "Australian Environment Foundation".  Another shonky taxpayer-subsidised group devoted to unprotecting the environment at best, allowing it to be wrecked.)

Is there really a wolf?

What about the wolf?  If you were to believe Andrew Bolt and Peter Ridd, you'd think everything was hunky dory.  Andrew Bolt wrote:
THE ABC was among the first to fall for it, of course. In 2002, it reported the Great Barrier Reef was as good as dead already.  Host Kerry O’Brien groaned that our “once-spectacular” reef was “threatened by global warming” and “up to 10 per cent of the reef has been lost to bleaching since 1998”, turning it “bone white”....
...In 1998, Hoegh-Guldberg warned the reef was under pressure from global warming, and much had been bleached white.

Was Kerry O'Brien wrong in what he wrote? Was Ove Hoegh-Guldberg wrong in his warning?  Not according to Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), which reports:
The summer of 1997-1998 was one of the hottest recorded on the Great Barrier Reef in the 20th Century. Mild bleaching began in late January and intensified by February/March. Extensive aerial surveys of 654 reefs conducted by scientists at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) showed that 21% of offshore reefs had moderate to high levels of bleaching compared to 74% of inshore. 

Andrew scoffs at coral bleaching, writing:
In fact, he later admitted the reef made a “surprising” recovery.

Of course, Andrew Bolt is typical of science deniers and doesn't link to anything supporting what he writes.  So whether the recovery was "surprising" or not, this is what happened afterwards:
Most reefs recovered fully with less than 5% of inshore reefs suffering high mortality. The worst affected reefs were in the Palm Island area where up to 70% of corals died.

Five per cent with high mortality.  70% died in the Palm Island area.  And that was back in 1997-98.  In more recent years:
During the summer of 2002 a mass bleaching event occurred that was equivalent to or slightly more severe than the 1998 event. ...In January and February 2006 a further bleaching event took place on the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, especially around the Keppel Islands. AIMS surveys revealed that although bleaching was largely confined to this region, the extent of the bleaching in this area was even worse than in previous years, with up to 98% corals bleached on some reefs, resulting in nearly 39% mortality on the reef flats and 32% on the reef slopes.

What about Kerry O'Brien in 2002?  Andrew Bolt doesn't provide links to sources but it wasn't hard to find it.  Andrew was wrong in his attribution.  It wasn't Kerry O'Brien, it was reporter Joanne Shoebridge who was reporting what the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said:
JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: There've been six episodes of coral bleaching over the past two decades, and they're becoming more frequent and more severe. 2002 was the worst yet - whole reefs turned a ghostly white.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says up to 10 per cent of the reef has been lost to bleaching since 1998.

The Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral

Andrew goes on about other predictions and events, focusing on the recovery afterwards.  What he fails to mention is that monitoring shows that already the reef has lost half its coral in the last three decades for a number of reasons - including coral bleaching (about 10% of the loss), storms (48%) and the crown of thorns starfish (42%).

Andrew cites the AIMS as an authoritative source, claiming:
Indeed, an AIMS study found the previous 110 years of ocean warming were good for coral growth.
I couldn't find any AIMS report that stated that.  On the contrary, this is what AIMS reports.
"The study shows the Reef has lost more than half its coral cover in 27 years. If the trend continued coral cover could halve again by 2022. Interestingly, the pattern of decline varies among regions. In the northern Great Barrier Reef coral cover has remained relatively stable, whereas in the southern regions we see the most dramatic loss of coral, particularly over the last decade when storms have devastated many reefs. " says Peter Doherty.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in its latest "Coral bleaching risk and impact assessment plan" has as its first sentence in the Executive Summary:
There are a multitude of threats to coral reefs, but the increased frequency and severity of coral bleaching events under a changing climate is among the most pressing.

Coral at the upper limit - stressed by rising temperature

Among the most pressing threats to the reef is coral bleaching.  Why is it such a threat?  Well, here is what the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has to say:
Rising sea temperatures over the past 30 years have meant corals on the Great Barrier Reef are now at their 'normal' state of thermal thresholds. This means when temperatures increase again, particularly during summer months, corals will exceed these thresholds and move to a state of thermal stress.

Put simply, the corals are living in a sea that's at the upper limit.  It's now as hot as they can normally tolerate.  Just a bit hotter and they get stressed.  A bit more heat and they bleach.  A bit more heat and they die.  Again from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority:
The two warmest five-year average sea surface temperatures have been recorded in the last decade. Analysis of coral cores in centuries-old corals suggests that current temperatures are warmer now than over the last three centuries. The summer of 2010 saw the highest recorded sea surface temperatures in Australia....
...The average annual sea surface temperature on the Great Barrier Reef is likely to continue to rise over the coming century and could be as much as 1°C to 3°C warmer than the present average temperatures by 2100. 
Whatever climate scenario is used, it is predicted that by 2035, the average sea surface temperature will be warmer than any previously recorded. 

It's the speed of change, not the change itself

As is reported in the Guardian:
Hoegh-Guldberg’s work has included testing the response of corals to various temperatures at a lab on Heron Island, situated on the Great Barrier Reef. The research has shown that a “business as usual” temperature increase of 4C will prove catastrophic for the reef.
“Even under the best-case scenario of 2C, corals disappear,” he said. “But with business as usual, it’s game over. You look in the tank and the corals have died, bacteria have taken over, the sand has dissolved.
“It’s a very, very poor place. If you were to replicate that on the Great Barrier Reef, it would hardly be worthy of the word ‘great’. It simply won’t be a coral reef.”
“Corals have adapted in the past to temperature change, but the problem is that we are pushing the oceans through such a rapid temperature change that the corals are getting left behind.”

Andrew Bolt goes all-out Monckton

I'd like to ask Andrew Bolt why he is not concerned.  Why he is downplaying the threat.  Worse, why he is denying the threat.  Why he is denying the destruction that has already taken place.  I'd also like to ask him why he is sounding so much like the potty peer these days.  For example:
Yet, here comes Hoegh-Guldberg again, shouting: “Repent! For the end of the reef is nigh!” And see the journalists trailing behind their messiah, questioning nothing, repeating everything. How much of the warming scare is built on such “reporting”?

Give us a break, Andrew.  Read the science.  Read what has happened already and it's only 2014.  The world is only just getting started with climate change.

I know why Anthony Watts fights climate science.  He's said so.  It's because he doesn't want to pay taxes.  Though goodness only knows why he thinks he'd have to pay tax to Australia.  What I don't know is why Andrew Bolt is so intent on hastening the destruction one of Australia's greatest living treasures, the Great Barrier Reef.


  1. A common theme emerges when you Google "Australia's least accurate columnist", "Popovic vs Bolt (2002)", "Bolt vs Popovic (2003)" and "Eatock vs Bolt (2011)". Court judgements sum it up best:

    “Mr Bolt’s conduct in the circumstances was, at worst, dishonest and misleading and, at best, grossly careless. It reflects upon him as a journalist.”

    "(Mr Bolt) was intent on arguing a case. He sought to do so persuasively. It would have been highly inconvenient to the case for which Mr Bolt was arguing for him to have set out facts … that would have substantially undermined (Mr Bolt's) assertion … That view is further confirmed by factual errors made … in circumstances where Mr Bolt failed to provide a satisfactory explanation for the error in question."

    Sound familiar? Different people, different arena, same tactic. With regard to the Great Barrier Reef and Hoegh-Guldberg, Bolt has selectively used non-referenced studies and assertions from "what Annabel Crabb calls the University of East Bumcrack." i.e. he's pulled the sceptic data out of his … Check out the link:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhTwMiI4M1A (Crabb's U of EB at 1 minute 5 second and Bolt's claim that "I've studied it" (Climate Science!!!) shortly after.)

    Here's an example of Bolt's selective inaccuracy: "Indeed, an AIMS study found the previous 110 years of ocean warming were good for coral growth."
    Check out what I think is the link to that study, 'Growth of West Australian Corals in the Anthropocene' Cooper et al (2011)


    And the sentence-and-a-half that Bolt has "interpreted" and condensed into one is: "We show there is no widespread pattern of consistent decline in calcification rates of massive Porites during the 20th century on reefs spanning an 11° latitudinal range in the southeast Indian Ocean off Western Australia. Increasing calcification rates on the high-latitude reefs …"

    So the coral growth occurs in an 11 degree range over a higher latitude or further south in what would have been formerly cooler areas. What about the more northerly reefs and the rest of the sentence Bolt omitted? It's the following AIMS sentence with the key words, in my view, are "contrast", "downward", "responses to temperature":

    "Increasing calcification rates on the high-latitude reefs contrast with the downward trajectory reported for corals on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and provide additional evidence that recent changes in coral calcification are responses to temperature rather than ocean acidification."

    And the "downward" trajectory reported for the Great Barrier Reef reinforces what Ove Hoegh-Guldberg has been saying for ages.

  2. Not only is the reef an inconvenient indicator of the damage we are doing to the environment, but it has the effrontery to form an obstacle to coal ships heading to China. So it is no wonder that fossil fuel industry lobbyists posing as fake sceptics are happy to see it die off.

    1. Millicent.

      You might be interested to know that your sentiment is embodied in the campaign of one of the candidates for the seat of Denison in this weekend's Tasmanian election:


      Vote early, vote often...


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