August 27, 2013

'Save our Reef'

Hans Poertner is Professor of Marine Biology at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven in Germany. He has just co-authored a new study, Inhospitable Oceans*, in which he concludes that the increase in acidity of Earth's oceans is occurring ten times faster than ever before in the planet's history. Sea water is naturally slightly alkaline but it absorbs carbon dioxide from the air. More greenhouse gas emissions means greater acidification. Species that build shells made of calcium, such as corals, are increasingly at risk: warm-water corals are the most threatened.

Scientists studying climate change are currently focusing on the role of oceans. Warm surface water is circulated to lower depths, and this is believed to be a key factor in global climate systems. Next month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due to publish its first report since 2007, and oceans are expected to figure large. Heat absorption by sea water may be one reason why the rate of global warming has slowed slightly in the last 15 years.

There has, not surprisingly, been very little mention of climate change in the build-up to the Australian Federal election. You may think the campaign started months ago, but the LNP officially launched theirs on Sunday, at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane. The self-financing of each party's campaign follows their official launch; prior to that, campaigners travel around at the taxpayers' expense. Labor launch on 1 September, just a week away from polling day, which is farcical, if you ask me. 

While Tony Abbott performed among the party faithful, across the Brisbane River a couple of thousand** demonstrators were making their feelings felt about the risks to the Great Barrier Reef from the expansion of existing coal ports and proposals for new ones up and down the Queensland coast. This is another topic that's failed to make it on to an election platform, although feelings were running high where I was. Many like-minded people marched together, some of them affiliated to GetUp, Lock the Gate Alliance, Greenpeace, the Greens, Friends of the Earth,, Six Degrees, Beyond Zero Emissions, Sea Shepherd, Wilderness Society and the Australian Marine Conservation Society, but most of them just ordinary people worried about a wonder of the world. The potential destruction of the Reef would be everyone's loss, not just those in Australia and Oceania. 

Many people don't want more coal ports: there are too many already; they're too big; their operation necessitates too much dredging, hence damage to ecosystems; and then oversized bulk carriers follow narrow channels through coral islands instead of going round the Reef. It's not just environmentalists that don't want any more coal mined and exported; it's fishers and farmers and tourism operators and tourists and walkers and twitchers and off-roadies and lovers of the natural world. Do you fall into any of those categories?

Below are pictures of people who take Australia's global responsibility to look after the Reef very seriously. Have you made your voice heard yet?

Whether you are in Queensland or Quebec, call Andrew Powell, State Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, on +61 7 3239 0844 (email, and Mark Butler, Federal Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, on +61 2 6277 7920 (
* published in the peer-reviewed Nature Climate Change, and based on five key components of ocean ecosystems – corals, echinoderms, molluscs, crustaceans and fish
** estimates of numbers range from 1000 to 4000


  1. Hi Jude I was at this rally too - it really was great to completely take over the city with so many people and I agree it felt like a community movement not just hard-core greenies, the diversity is evident in your pictures. The plight of the Reef and our other special places that greedy industry and government seem set to plunder is something that concerns us all deeply right across Australia.

  2. that's odd, i replied to this ages ago. must have hit the wrong button!
    it was great, wasn't it, to fill the streets rather than looking a bit thin on the ground, as we've done on previous occasions.
    i am writing this new reply post-election, of course, so i am now even more fearful for Australia's wonderful landscape and biodiversity. i dread to think what havoc conservative governments – now at all levels – will wreak.

  3. I think your latest post sums up my views on the election results too - 'oh, god!' indeed!! The fact that the coalition's only clearly articulated policy seems to be to undo the sound changes and progress made over the last few years under Labor (e.g. carbon tax) just about sums it up... there will simply be no progress in the next 3 years and most likely the opposite, degeneration of policy, environment and social change, and goodness knows what other mess with that buffoon representing Australia on the world stage! But at least we still have free speech and a right to protest, things could be much worse.

  4. The buffoon has already acquired himself a statesmanlike demeanour as he struts the corridors of power clutching his big briefcase, i have noticed. I bet he's been practising at home. Hopefully, he won't feel the need to say everything three times now he's got the job he wanted.
    GetUp didn't seem to experience free speech when they tried to get their anti-Murdoch video aired pre-election though, did they?