Scientists Proven Wrong? Great Barrier Reef Found Relatively Unaffected By Global Warming

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Great Barrier Reef tourist operators found less than 5 percent of the natural wonder has died off from “bleaching,” despite claims from scientists that most of the reef had been killed off by the effects of global warming.

“Scientists had written off that entire northern section as a complete white-out,’’ Chris Eade, owner of the diving boat Spirit Of Freedom, told The Courier-Mail in an interview.

“We expected the worst,” Eade said. “But it is tremendous condition, most of it is pristine, the rest is in full recovery. It shows the resilience of the reef.”

Eade said dire predictions about the demise of the Great Barrier Reef has hurt tourism businesses — a $5 billion industry. He’s particularly angry with scientists who estimated bleaching had hurt 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef, mostly concentrated in the northern half.

“Between 60 and 100 percent of corals are severely bleached on 316 reefs, nearly all in the northern half of the Reef,” Terry Hughes, the lead coral reef scientist at Australia’s James Cook University, said in April.

Hughes’ research was based on aerial surveys of 911 reefs, and found 316 reefs were “severely bleached.” But that’s not what Eade and other reef tourist operators have observed taking people out for daily dives.

“It wasn’t until we got underwater that we could get a true picture of what percentage of reef was bleached,’’ Craig Stephens, who manages Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, told The Courier-Mail.

Stephens has surveyed the reef and compared his findings to a similar survey he did 20 years ago. He found almost no change between what he saw back then and today.

“Coral mortality in the outer shelf reefs north of Lizard Island was between one and five per cent,” according to findings exclusively obtained by The Courier-Mail. This stands in sharp contrast to reports from April of 50 percent bleaching in the northern section of the reef.

“The discrepancy is phenomenal. It is so wrong. Everywhere we have been we have found healthy reefs,” Stephens said.

Coral bleaching can occur when ocean temperatures rise, causing reefs to “expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Cold water can also cause bleaching.

This year’s incredibly strong El Nino warming event heated up the tropical Pacific Ocean and sparked a massive bleaching event that’s got marine scientists worried. They say bleaching events will get worse as global warming continues

Some scientists reportedly cried when they saw the extent of bleaching at some Pacific reefs. Media coverage of coral bleaching has focused on doom and gloom scenarios predicting a massive die-off of the world’s coral reefs.

But recent research has shown some coral reefs are coming back to life much more quickly than scientists believed possible.

Scientists found Coral Castles teeming with life during a 2015 dive, despite declaring the reef dead 13 years ago.

“Everything looked just magnificent,” said Jan Witting, the dive’s lead scientist who works at the Sea Education Association, told The New York Times.

“Last year, the whole place was holding its breath,” Witting said. “The whole ocean’s in bloom this year.”

Rangiroa lagoon in French Polynesia had rebounded just 15 years after being devastated by the incredibly strong 1998 El Nino warming event.

“Our projections were completely wrong,” marine biologist Peter Mumby told BBC News in 2014. “Sometimes it is really nice to be proven wrong as a scientist, and this was a perfect example of that.”

Mumby’s team initially predicted it would take the reefs 100 years to fully recover, but it only 15 years. At the time, 1998 was also declared the hottest year on record by climatologists.

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