A Whitewash is Not Colourful – Part 1: John Brewer Reef Fact Check

RMIT University claim that I have misrepresented the state of the corals at John Brewer Reef – if not the entire Great Barrier Reef.

They have come to this conclusion not by visiting John Brewer Reef. If they had visited the coral reef they would have found, as I did, a coral wonderland. Instead their ‘fact check’ article, being promoted by Facebook, is propaganda.

Fundamental to science is observation and the closer-up the better. Anyone who actually visited John Brewer Reef during the period it was reported as badly bleached would have found an unusually colourful coral reef.

I first visited John Brewer reef on 10th and 12th April when it was purportedly at its most stressed, and I have never seen a more colourful reef in all my fifty years of diving at the Great Barrier Reef.

The reef crest was especially spectacular with normally chocolate brown corals transitioning to pink.

The pink colour was from a protein produced by the coral polyp in response to the higher temperatures experienced during February 2022. As I show in my new film A Coral Bleaching Tragedy, corals have been bleaching colourful, a phenomenon also known as fluorescing, since at least the 1970s and probably for the last few thousand years which is the age of the modern Great Barrier Reef.

Most people would prefer their corals pink, rather than beige. Yet, such brightly coloured corals may be so stressed they are hardly growing at all. It is a little-known fact that many corals only become colourful when they are stressed.

The corals that are turning pink in this photograph are stressed, they have began to lose their symbiotic algae. This photograph was taken at John Brewer Reef on 10th April 2022 by Leonard Lim. When I returned to this same section of reef on 10th July 2022 it was back to beige and chocolate brown.

A recent article (Optical Feedback Loop Involving Dinoflagellate Symbiont and Scleractinian Host Drives Colorful Coral Bleaching) by biologists from the University of Southhampton and also Queensland’s own James Cook University published in the journal Current Biology (Volume 30, Issue 13) explains that:
1. Colourful bleaching is a recurring phenomenon in reef regions around the globe;
2. Colours result from blue-light-driven host pigment upregulation following bleaching;
3. Photoprotective host pigments in bleached tissue can aid symbiont recolonization; and
4. Colourful bleaching can be indicative of brief or mild heat and/or nutrient stress.

Most corals at reefs around the world are their healthiest when they are beige in colour. Many beige-coloured corals have naturally florescent tips.

Some of the tips of this beige-coloured Acropora coral are purple. The photograph was taken by Jennifer Marohasy at Stanley Reef on 7th July 2022. This is another one of the coral reefs off Townsville that has been reported in the popular press as badly bleached.

The nonsense article written by Eiddwen Jeffery and published by RMIT University begins with the title: ‘Free Market Think Tank Tries to Whitewash Coral Bleaching Claims’.

No. My central thesis is that the corals at John Brewer Reef were bleaching colourful.

Yes – Colourful!

It is such a pity that our universities, Facebook, and the popular press are so concerned with keeping-up appearances – by which I mean continuing to publish misinformation suggesting that places like John Brewer Reef that are home to the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) are turning white when this is not the case and has never been the case.

The whitewash is unfortunate because it maligns the still beautiful Great Barrier Reef. None of the so-called experts interviewed in the RMIT University article mention, or attempt to explain, the complexity of coral colour. It is a fact that mild heat stress can cause coral polyps to not only lose their symbiotic algae but also to produce a protein making them even more colourful. This was the situation at John Brewer Reef earlier this year, when the same reef was being described as at the centre of a sixth mass coral bleaching and it was incorrectly assumed this meant the corals were turning stark white.

I wonder if Eiddwen Jeffery from Melbourne has ever visited John Brewer Reef or any of the other nearly 3,000 coral reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef? She is a communications expert from Melbourne. Melbourne is a city that has recently suffered repeated lock downs with its citizens only allowed to go outside for an hour each day. I can’t image that such a regime is conducive to knowing or understanding our natural environment. It more likely creates obedience to established narratives.

The photograph of the blue coral and yellow fish that features at the top of this blog post was taken at John Brewer Reef on 10th April 2022 by Jennifer Marohasy with an Olympus TG6.

To know when the next instalment of this saga (Part 2 and 3 of John Brewer Reef Fact Check) is published subscribe at https://jennifermarohasy.com/subscribe/

Then you will also know when my new film, which is all about John Brewer Reef, is next in a cinema near you.

My new film that is all about the colourful bleaching at John Brewer Reef was recently shown at the New Farm Cinema in Brisbane followed by a Q&A session; that is me second from the right with the red scarf. We had a full house. This was a private showing sponsored by the Institute of Public Affairs and Australian Institute for Progress. It would be wonderful if RMIT University sponsored a screening in Melbourne, followed by a Q&A including some of the so-called experts cited in the Eiddwen Jeffery article.
I photographed this clown fish (in its blood-red coloured anemone) at John Brewer Reef when I visited again earlier this month. Coral reefs really are special places, with so much colour and so much life. I would so like the opportunity to show all of this to audiences in Melbourne if only RMIT University would sponsor a screening of my new film.

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