Vision or imagination

The Guardian brought an interesting article, one with far reaching consequences. At, we see a few things and it is time that some people are put in front of a hearing committee where they get to answer very direct questions. Fail even one answer and we will confiscate whatever they own and they get to do hard labour for double digit years. Initially, my mind was even less nice. I mistook his first name Col for Colonel, so I was ready to put him in front of a firing squad without a sense of hesitation.

Well, there was hesitation, because I always want evidence, evidence is crucial here, and as the persons have been speaking out, they have the right to a defence, I do believe that any person has the right to defend themselves.

So what gives?

The by-line is actually the one that gives the immediate goods. With “Col McKenzie calls on government to stop funding work of Terry Hughes, saying tourists ‘won’t do long-haul trips when they think the reef is dead’“, to which my initial response is ‘are you fucking kidding me?‘ You see, we have seen the news from several sources and the reef is in serious danger. The quote from Terry Hughes giving “In April 2016 Hughes made international headlines after releasing his final report on extensive aerial and underwater surveys, which showed that of the surveyed reefs (911 individual reefs), only 7% had escaped coral bleaching.” it gives that 93% of these reefs has coral bleaching. So when I read “McKenzie said that gave the impression the reef was “dead”. “All driven off the back of the negative comments made by a researcher paid entirely by commonwealth funds“, my initial thought is to curse at McKenzie like a sailor for an hour after which I can add that 93% of the reef might not be clinically dead, but it is on life support, whilst there is no medical aid given to the reef. And let there be no mistake, the moment the reef is showing to be dead, incomes will stop to a much larger degree than those exploiters think it will.

The second quote by Hughes gives us: “His Science paper, published on 5 January, found that coral bleaching events were now happening too regularly to allow the reef to adequately recover” that gives evidence that Canberra has let this happen. By listening to Dick McKenzie (eh sorry, I meant Col), they have again and again given preference to corporate exploitation above the environmental needs.

Is that actually true?

Well, that is also under debate, you see with “tourism representatives and operators like McKenzie should stop blaming scientists for reporting what was happening to the reef and start targeting major polluters to ensure change” as well as “his most recent peer-reviewed articles in Science and Nature, which deal with the increased incidence of coral bleaching as a result of rising sea temperatures“. So the issue is clearly larger. The question comes how are the temperatures rising? Is it merely polluters or is there a larger issue. You see, at some point we had ‘The 2,300km-long ecosystem comprises thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands made of over 600 types of hard and soft coral‘, I am talking in the past tense, because are there still over 600 types of hard and soft coral? More important, how is such a large space affected to the degree of 93%?

There is evidence that damage is being done, and some of it by Australians. I think it is time for some laws to change. That was seen in the Cairns Post yesterday (at we see: “During a recent patrol blitz during the Christmas-New Year period, GBRMPA and partner agencies detected 41 instances of people fishing in the wrong zones, including no-take areas“, I suggest that we change a few laws, like setting the minimum fishing ban of 5 years when caught in a ‘no-take‘ zone and if Col McKenzie is serious about keeping the reef viable and healthy than he will move for this law change, or he can shut up and take a long walk on a short peer. You see people like Col McKenzie are what I consider to be ‘greed driven‘. Now, this might seem harsh, but let me explain. The Courier Mail gave us part with “The Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, which represents 110 operators, said it was concerned about back-to-back mass bleaching but more worried about “doomsday scientists’’“, so is Prof Hughes a doomsday scientist? When you show that only 7% of the 911 reefs have escaped bleaching, there is a massive issue, if these numbers can be verified it should count as evidence. It in addition shows Col McKenzie to be an utter idiot, him hiding behind ‘his’ AMPTO, where 110 exploiters are trying to get in the last pennies for as long as they can, because it is their livelihood. In addition serious questions should be asked at the office of the GBRMPA and their chief scientist David Wachenfeld. He is now in my view accountable. He must now show, with scientific certainty where his ‘more optimistic‘ is founded on. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority should now be held responsible for their actions and give evidence on how the reef will restore, and as the article (at gives us “Whatever we do locally, this is a global issue“, I see it as a political cowardly backdoor stating that the damage came from outside Australia. Now, yes, there are global ramifications and there is no denying that, yet how was this part affected, by what factors? The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is unlikely to have clear scientific data, merely political excuses and speculations. Now for the most that is not wrong or out of line, but when I see “more worried about “doomsday scientists’’“, they can now either clearly show that the work of Professor Hughes is flawed and in error, or the GBRMPA will be demanded to get a new chief scientist replacing David Wachenfeld by April 1st, which will be a nice joke for all around.

Don’t get me wrong, I am fine if Wachenfeld is able to show clearly that the work of Hughes is flawed, yet as the technical journals are peer reviewed, I think that he knows that this is not the case. In addition, as the work is published, there can be clear publications on where the work was wrong and that the results would be overly negative. If he fails, then it is bye bye David, and do feel free to take Col with you on the way out. And with “He said reports 93 per cent of the reef was bleached and dead in 2016” as well as “It turned out to be totally inaccurate. We’ve seen positive signs of healthy recovery and vibrant corals along the length of the reef.” we see the lie that he is hiding behind. I used the same path to show one thing; this is why I used it in the earlier part. You see, the EXACT quote was: “the surveyed reefs (911 individual reefs), only 7% had escaped coral bleaching“, which is in the centre of it. You see, he states that 7% escaped bleaching, ONLY 7% escaped it. The 93% has therefor bleaching to various degrees I imagine. So he does not state that 93% is dead, but that 7% is not bleached and that is clearly a very dangerous situation, especially as sea temperatures are allegedly still rising. The guardian had it right; the Courier Mail quoting Tom McKenzie has been trying to flim flam the people around him. I see it because he currently has skin in the game.

How about the Irish terrier?

Well, at the end I will add his paper(s), in the first one we see “We focus here on reefs that have lost their capacity to remain in or return to a coral-dominated state“, which we see in the paper ‘Rising to the challenge of sustaining coral reef resilience‘. So when we look at the future research of such reefs we see the mention: “An improved understanding of the processes and mechanisms that build or erode resilience is urgently required, in order to predict and avoid undesirable phase-shifts (or to regain a coral-dominated phase). Building the empirical evidence for feedbacks, thresholds and hysteresis needs to be a key focus. Reducing fast and slow drivers of change, where feasible, is a major research and policy challenge“, he clearly tells us that he does not have all the answers on how to fix it (if it could be fixed), but understanding the elements in play is a first requirement. He also shows us two pictures (on page 634) with the caption: “A phase shift from a coral-dominated seascape to a sediment-laden system dominated by macroalgae. Both photographs are from the same site on the inner central Great Barrier Reef, indicated by the hilly backdrop.“, so how many would go to any of the 110 operators to go diving to admire algae? You can just get a fishbowl and watch it grow in your own bedroom. No trip to the Great Barrier Reef required. Next to the pictures he shows on how coral dominance reverts to algae dominance, he here mentions elements like Overfishing (which validates my fishing ban of 5 years), nutrients as well as climate change. Well, we all agree that climate change is a global player, so we can, not now, or ever give a marker on that solution, but we can on over fishing and nutrients. You see, if there is less fish, they (the algae) will have more to eat, or will be unable to keep the waters algae clean, so algae can grow to more and grow there much faster. So perhaps I am really light by giving the fishers in the no-take zone a mere 5 year ban. We might consider confiscating their boat and goods. You see, if a ship’s captain cannot tell where he is, he has not mastered navigation and he should not have a boat, or better stated be its captain in the first place. If a captain is intentionally fishing in a no-take zone, because the fish is much better there, then he is endangering the environment. In this case, the environment that over 110 operators relies upon, so they are also endangering economic circumstances in Queensland, so again we can take his boat and leave him with the debt to work off as an Uber driver. That should set the other captains right overnight. And as it benefits 110 operators, Col McKenzie should request that change to be pushed into law. Should he back down then we have additional evidence that he is merely in it for his own petty needs.

On page 635 the Irish terrier educates us on coral health. With “To date, most overviews and meta-analyses of coral reef status have focused on death of corals, rather than why they have lost their capacity to recover from recurrent shocks. In a demographic context, mortality is only one side of the coin. Changes in fecundity, fertilization success, larval dispersal, and recruitment have played a major role in promoting shifts in abundances and species composition, but replenishment processes have been virtually ignored in comparison to the attention lavished on death and destruction“, which is an interesting part because in that earlier statement Col hid behind the 93% dead (hiding is what I would call it). Hughes tells us that 7% is alive and well, which is not the same and here the important part is seen, because if it is about the health of the reef, it should be about the replenishment processes and the cycle to return to a Coral dominated state, preferably mostly free of algae. Yet there is also critical views to be had (by yours truly, or ‘me’). You see, in my uneducated marine biology mind, I see a flaw on page 636. Here we see: “Bruno et al. [20] proposed that 50% cover by macroalgae represents a reasonable indicator of a phase-shift to dominance by macroalgae. Using this cutoff, they conclude that phase-shifts to macroalgae have occurred infrequently across the world’s coral reefs, because the mean cover of macroalgae (pooled across all sampled sites, habitats, reefs and all years between 1996 and 2006) is typically less than 50%“, now from my point of view this is specific to the Caribbean’s. There are larger environmental differences with the Great Barrier Reef, so even as we agree that as a point of reference it should be valued, can we agree that the elements remain the same? So if we agree that the Caribbean and Florida Keys have other elements, the Great Barrier Reef itself has optional additional indicators and elements that we have not considered? In light of the uniqueness of the Great Barrier Reef it is highly unlikely that it is hindered by fewer indicators.

So when we look at the figure on page 636, we see the three areas and the setting of algae and coral. So people like Col McKenzie will see that as an indicator that the corals are healthy in the reef, yet the part he forgets is that the other two have been exploited and brought damage upon by the events that gave the VOC (Dutch East India Company) growth, Dutch traders went into those regions to grow their wealth as well and as such a massive wave of exploitation became fact. The VOC would in comparison be the largest corporation in history. Its value in today’s coin would be in excess of $7.25 trillion, which is larger than Apple, Google, Rothschild’s wealth and Amazon together. There is no way that they would not have a disastrous impact on the local corals and its health. Consider thousands of foreign treasure seekers, moving there within a short time span, impacting its environment in a mere decade, all needing food, nearly all of them plundering Corals and local flora and fauna to make into trinkets, consumer goods and sell whatever they can. The problem here is that there are no records. There is no paper stating how many thousands of coral necklaces were made as polished coral looked like Gemstones and sold as much in Europe. Now this is partially speculation from my side. But is there any evidence that the Coral part of the Caribbean’s was not 15%, but a lot higher before 1600? So if that would be true, how is the interaction of algae now versus then? Would it be fair to state that there might have been additional options to push the algae domination to revert back to corals?

On page 637 we see not merely the flaw of Australian government but the carelessness that they have shown. With “Systematic monitoring of the Great Barrier Reef by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) began in 1992, decades after two major outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish and the earlier degradation of near-shore reefs due to increased runoff of sediment and nutrients in the 19th and 20th centuries“, showing clearly that the Australian elected governments were at least two decades late to the party. That callous disregard for the health of this reef is now resulting in a near death experience for the same said reef.

The professor also takes a look at the Diadema antillarum, or sea urchin. These little blighters have lovely spines and they are well known devourers or algae, which is good for the algae. On page 638 we see how the population of these critters took a massive dive in 1984, from well over 15 per M2, they have sunk to below 5 per M2, so that also impacts Algae as it can grow much more freely and impact Corals to a much larger degree. So as the ecology is pushed out of its balance we see the impact on a few levels and the last part was based on nearly 3500 records from 74 published sources.

The entire report is 25 pages and shows massively more parts that should scare the 100 operators to near death. In addition it shows not only the invalidity of the words of Col McKenzie, it shows that his actions against this research shows that he is merely an exploiter of the reef and as such he should not be given any regards (as I personally see it). That is, unless he can give us clear scientific data that opposes Professor Hughes and his work. Yet this work refers to 112 other academic works, so unless there is clear scientific evidence coming from David Wachenfeld (who might want to remain employed past April 1st), we need to really realise that the reef is in a serious dangerously unhealthy place and much harder actions are required.

From my point of view, based on the published parts, I am appalled that people like Col McKenzie are playing politics with a reef that is in mortal danger to a growing degree, the fact that David Wachenfeld is much more optimistic might be fine, but only if he comes on the record on the clear evidence driven reasoning of that. It should be peer reviewed, for the mere reason that the GBRMPA (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) should be about the reef and keeping it safe, not cater to its exploiters (loosely stated). Now we understand that these operators (not just the 110 on the side of Col) want a healthy reef, it is their bread and butter. Yet the reality is that there is clear evidence that there is an issue and it needs to be addressed. In equal measure the work of Terry Hughes must be critically examined by his peers. Last there is the doomsday part. We need to see who those doomsday speakers are, because the media is not beyond a misquoted reference or two. In some cases it happens unintentional in some cases less so. Playing politics with the Great Barrier Reef should not be allowed, there should be a law against it. It is perhaps one of the few rare times where I want the environmental parties to be in charge.

The paper I am adding has a lot more interesting sides, it is linked to a BBC story (at, with “Mumby concurs. “It makes us realise that some corals have a number of strategies to cope with stress that we don’t understand very well,” he says. “That is good news and we now need to understand exactly how they do it.”“. I am willing to accept that the life and death cycle of Corals is perhaps a lot larger and when we consider that we all accept that there are unknown parts, we should equally consider that there is still a question mark residing with the work of Terry Hughes. Is there a chance that there a much more complex interaction of life and death for corals? Perhaps that is true and that might be on the mind of Professor Hughes as well, yet can we take that chance? If we are wrong, we lose the reef and perhaps one of the largest and one of the most unique biome on the planet. Would you want to be the politician who signed off on taking risks with its existence?

So if we accept that 93% shows bleaching to some extent, can we remain to be callous if we are clearly shown that there are dangers and the only way to give guarantee that the Great Barrier Reef truly survives is to limit the risk factors that it is currently exposed to

That’s not doom saying, that is playing it safe for the generations of people that follow us.

Hughes et al 2010


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