Barrier Reef still vulnerable says AIMS CEO Ian Poiner

The Australian recently published a letter from AIMS CEO Dr. Ian Poiner (only online as far as I can tell) written in response to Jamie Walker’s reef wipeout story.  See our coverage of this debacle here, here and here.

This year the Australian Institute of Marine Science has observed that there is no mass coral bleaching on the southern Great Barrier Reef. Your story (“Report undercuts PM’s reef wipeout”, 3/2) uses these observations to contradict the view that the reef is threatened by climate change. This is not the case. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the healthiest coral reef ecosystems in the world, but climate change is a significant long-term threat. Coral reefs exist in locations that are near their physiological limits, making them especially sensitive to stresses caused by rising sea surface temperature and ocean acidity.

The GBR has already experienced two mass coral bleaching events (1998 and 2002), during which hundreds of square kilometres of reef died. While the reef has shown capacity to recover from mass bleaching, the frequency and scale of such events have a significant bearing on the likelihood of recovery. Frequency and scale are directly related to rising sea surface temperatures and there is ample evidence of warming waters on the Great Barrier Reef.

One or two seasons of no bleaching do not mean that the GBR is not threatened. It is over-generalisation to the point of unreality to extrapolate from one set of observations to what is going to happen to the GBR in the long term.

Dr Ian Poiner, CEO, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Cape Ferguson, Qld

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