I recently got the chance to speak with Dr Charlie Veron regarding the launch of his new book, “A Reef In Time : The Great Barrier Reef from Beginning to End”. As I’ve blogged before, Charlie is an expert coral taxonomist with over 35 years of experience, and already the principal author of over 20 books and monographs on corals including the award winning “Corals of the World” and “Corals in space and time“. The central theme, which remains constant throughout, it that the origins, history, diversity, and ultimate fate of Great Barrier Reef – as with all coral reefs – is, and always has been, controlled by global climates. Thinking that the Great Barrier Reef was once impervious to climate change: “Owned by a prosperous country and accorded the protection it deserves, it would surely not go the way of the Amazon rain forest or the parklands of Africa, but would endure forever. That is what I thought once, but I think it no longer.” This is shaping up to be a seminal book (think Silent Spring by Rachel Carson) which will hopefully serve as a wake up call to the worlds reefs.
Update: Australian viewers can watch Charlie Veron on Catalyst this week (Thursday 8pm). I will try and upload the interview from this on Climate Shifts for overseas viewers.
The link between the scientific community and journalism has always been a delicate one. Throughout my career I have been continually misquoted by the media – in particular the right wing attacks of Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman (who seem to sacrifice journalistic integrity in favour of sensationalism and political agenda). More recently, The Australian newspaper painted the colourful headline “Barrier Reef can adapt to warmer times“, to which the lead author of the study, Dr Madeleine van Oppen later responded with: “the article in today’s Australian is a miss-representation of our work“. Along similar lines, an article in the BBC News entitled ” When science and journalism collide” is well worth a read.
Scientists, operating in a culture which places enormous importance on accuracy and precision, can find reporters’ occasional sloppiness infuriating.
Equally, journalists often find scientists unworldly in their insistence on caveats and qualifications at every turn and their use of technical language, when reporters are desperately trying to simplify complex concepts and make them accessible to a general audience.
After many years of denying that climate change was an issue or even existed, it is refreshing to see Howard and Bush finally coming to the table to discuss what will be the defining issue of this century. At last, they seem to get what people have been telling them for over a decade. Overall, however, the APEC Declaration on Climate Change, Energy Security and Clean Development is weak and elusive of the major issues and responses that are needed.
For example, much of the text is dominated by statements that constrain the steps that we might take to combat climate change to those which do not affect trade or economic prosperity in the Asia Pacific region. Given the two often take opposing directions, this is lame. Not to say we want policies that crash our economies, but surely environmental issues as important as climate change should not always take the back seat to economics? This of course has been the career-long position of our climate-skeptic-now-supposedly-with-it Prime Minister. Of course, he is cozily embedded in the APEC love-in with his ‘aspirational’ and like-minded buddy, George Bush. Unfortunately, given the serious issues of climate change (as outlined in the recent IPCC 2007 report), rating economics over the environment trades the future for short-term gains today. This may be politically expedient for our poll-driven Prime Minister, but is not good long-term economic management.
The Australian business community understands it far more than leaders like John Howard or Peter Costello. A recent poll indicates that climate change is at the top of the list of business risks – primarily because it stands to radically amplify the uncertainty of the future and consequently escalate business risk. Surely, APEC should have sort to balance the priorities of economics and the environment.
It’s been pretty hard to avoid the extensive media coverage of the APEC meeting in Sydney over the last week, particularly the outcome of the “Sydney Declaration on Climate Change and Energy” (read more here)
Some interesting asides for the regions coral reefs:
“We (the ministers) look forward to future work that will help to conserve marine and coastal resources, including the safeguarding of coral reefs” (link)
President G.W. Bush commits to supporting Indonesia’s reforestation program with $20 million USD :
The Indonesian leader thanked the US administration for giving assistance and attention to Indonesia`s efforts to protect the environment, especially those to address climate change and coral reef destruction” (link)
… and an excerpt from the declaration itself:
Improved dialogue and policy and technical co-operation is valuable in underpinning our efforts. We … welcome the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security which is aimed at enhancing the conservation of marine biological resources (link)
More on this from me in the coming days.
Meanwhile, the more cynical might enjoy the following blogged over at ZDnet:
They talked global warming down in Australia. All those leaders from the U.S., China, Japan, Russia, host-nation Australia, Indonesia and fifteen other nations agreed that they aspire to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Boy, that’s reassuring. These leaders didn’t do anything radical, like promise to do anything. Good intentions and high aspirations, that’s the ticket.
While the need to protect vulnerable people around the globe is widely recognised, people are less aware of the need to protect the vulnerable areas of the earth itself, including its rivers and oceans.
Climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge confronting the international community. The study of oceans and reefs offers us insight into the consequences of not taking immediate action to combat this challenge.
On a recent trip to Heron Island, I visited the Heron Island Research Station (HIRS) and met with Dr Selina Ward, a scientist at the Centre for Marine Studies (CMS) at the University of Queensland, which operates the station.
Research from the CMS and the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) reveals that there are two main threats facing reefs around the globe: rising sea temperatures, which leads to coral bleaching, and increasing ocean acidification.
Weird ‘Engine Of The Reef’ Revealed
Science Daily A team of coral researchers has taken a major stride towards revealing the workings of the mysterious ‘engine’ that drives Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and corals the world over.
The science has critical importance in understanding why coral reefs bleach and die, how they respond to climate change – and how that might affect humanity, they say.
Scientists at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University and the University of Queensland have compiled the world’s first detailed gene expression library for Symbiodinium, the microscopic algae that feed the corals – and so provide the primary energy source for the entire Reef.
An interesting article in The Age newspaper this morning reports a collaboration between BHP Billiton, the worlds largest mining company, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. The collaboration aims to document the diversity in coral reefs – no small effort considering it is estimated that the number of species that inhabit reefs is greater than one million! This is set to be an exciting project, especially as it is documenting both the Great Barrier Reef (Heron & Lizard Islands) and Ningaloo Reef. Read more over at Creefs, and The Age article below.
BHP digs deep for reefs plan
September 3, 2007
CORAL reefs are probably the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. But just how diverse is not known, according to Ian Poiner, chief executive of tropical marine research agency, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).
Estimates of the number of species that make coral reefs their home ranges between one and 9 million.
“They are relatively small areas — less than 2 per cent of the ocean area — but they are incredibly important, both from an environmental, social and economic perspective,” said Dr Poiner.
The knowledge gap is now being redressed in CReefs, the coral reef component of the Census of Marine Life, a global research effort involving 80 nations in a 10-year study into the diversity and distribution of marine life in oceans.
Last week resources giant BHP Billiton announced $3.4 million in financial support for the Australian leg of the CReefs program. It is BHP’s biggest ever backing of an environmental research project.