There are None So Blind – Part 2: John Brewer Reef Fact Check


Coral reef ecologist Mike Emslie from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) recently told RMIT University FactLab that their most recent survey of John Brewer reef showed coral cover to be just 21.8% and the impact of coral bleaching was major to severe.

Anyone would think that the Great Barrier Reef was dying.

Those were the headlines back in March when United Nation’s experts jetted into Australia to assess the state of the Great Barrier Reef. It was widely reported back then that John Brewer Reef was the centre of a sixth mass coral bleaching.

So, I went to see for myself.

Closeup of a plate coral (x 4 magnification) taken by me (Jennifer Marohasy) at John Brewer Reef.
In the centre of this photograph is the plate coral.
Can you see the plate coral in this photograph taken at an altitude of 5 metres above the reef crest. I’m also in the frame. This photograph was taken at John Brewer reef on 12th April 2022.
It is a little harder to know the corals from a distance of 10 metres.
It was lovely floating above the corals at John Brewer Reef on 12th April. You are seeing me from an altitude of 20 metres.
From an altitude of 40 metres it is possible to see more of the reef crest, and you can still see me.
At a distance of 120 metres that is the legal drone altitude limit, it is difficult to see me floating above the corals at John Brewer Reef on 12 April 2022. This is a little lower than the altitude at which AIMS and GBRMPA determine that the corals are severely bleached.

It is impossible to know the health of the corals from an altitude of 120 metres.

The Emperor’s New Clothes is a literary folktale about two swindlers who sell a vain emperor imaginary clothes insisting that anyone who can’t see the invisible cloth is stupid or incompetent.

The article by Eiddwen Jeffery quoting Mike Emslie suggests I am incompetent because I swam around the reef – as though I should have undertaken a proper survey perhaps by looking out an aeroplane window from 150 metres distance.

To know the state of the corals I like to swim under the water. This photograph of me at John Brewer Reef was taken on 10th July 2022.

The Emperor’s New Clothes has become a metaphor for collective denial and hollow ostentatiousness and pretence. As such it perhaps perfectly describes the absurdity of claims by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) that the world should lament severe bleaching including at John Brewer Reef. Their surveys did involve looking out an aeroplane window from an altitude of 150 metres to score the health of the corals, perhaps as a genuflect to the United Nations.

A total of 719 reefs were surveyed from the air between the Torres Strait and the Capricorn Bunker Group in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Then there is the expression: None so blind as those who will not see. I know that they know the Great Barrier Reef is still so beautiful, especially close-up. So, they undertake their surveys from a great distance.

I photographed this coral (magnification x4) under the water at John Brewer Reef during my recent visit on 10th July. Can you see the tiny tentacles extended? I can see beauty even when there is little colour.

I’ve seen soft corals just like this one from the air, with my drone, and they have looked very pale and very bleached. I made a film about exactly this, contrasting the appearance of such corals from under the water to way up in the air. That was one of my very first films shot from a very tiny boat and its called Rose Reef, you can watch it on Vimeo if you click here.

Mike Emslie from The Australian Institute of Marine Science has a bigger boat and is considered an expert. He has determined that John Brewer reef has not much coral and is severely bleached.
John Brewer Reef looking from the south east to the northern lagoon, on 12th April 2022.

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You can read part 1 of this series, by clicking here.



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By GIL