Climate Change, Acidification, & the Oceans, Conservation & Sustainable Management, Ocean Ecosystems

What the GBRMPA chair DID NOT say about my coral bleaching article

In April 2016 I submitted an article to The Marine Professional – a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST) focusing on the mass bleaching event that had hit the Great Barrier Reef at the time.  In their September 2016 issue, The Marine Professional featured a comment from a reader, in which he stated that he shared the article with Dr. Russell Reichelt – chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.  The reader alleged that  Dr Reichlet told him that the article “contains some accurate things mixed with half truths and alarmism”.

A number of  coral reef, marine biology, and climate scientists have been in touch to express their concern about Dr Reichelt’s alleged comments on my article.  After liaising with Dr Reichelt’s office*, I am pleased to be able to set the record straight on what he did – or rather did not say.

*I did contact Dr Reichelt directly, but he replied via his office not directly.

After corresponding with Dr Reichelt’s office to determine where the “half truths and alarmism” were in the article, I have been informed that, whilst Dr Reichelt recalls the article being brought to his attention, he never made any such comments about the article.  In fact, he hadn’t even seen the article to comment on in the first place.  He has since read the piece and agrees that it is factual.

I have not attempted to contact the reader to find outwhere his comment came from.

Below is a copy of the article I submitted to The Marine Professional.   For those who want to see the article after it has been through their editorial process, please see the June 2016 edition of The Marine Professional.

Continue reading “What the GBRMPA chair DID NOT say about my coral bleaching article”

Climate Change, Acidification, & the Oceans, Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood, Marine Life, Ocean Ecosystems

‘Food for Thought’ (Ocean Fertilization)

2013 proved to be an “interesting” year for American entrepreneur George Russ, chief scientist and CEO for Canadian-based Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC).  In March HSRC offices were raided by Environment Canada.  Their crime?  In 2012 the HSRC dumped approximately 110 tonnes of iron dust off the coast of Haida Gwaii into Pacific Ocean Canadian and international waters as part of an ocean fertilization experiment.  This, Environment Canada say, is illegal under Canadian law, and a violation of at least two international conventions – the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, and the London Convention on the Dumping of Wastes at Sea.  Environment Canada’s actions may have come somewhat as a surprise to the HSRC who, despite not obtaining the required licence from Environment Canada, maintain numerous Federal Government departments didn’t just know about the ocean fertilization plan, but were involved in it.  The controversy surrounding ocean fertilization was, perhaps, less surprising for Russ than the HSRC.  Under his now-defunct San Francisco-based company Planktos Inc., Russ had previously attempted similar experiments off the Galápagos Islands in 2007, and the Canary Islands in 2008.  In both instances, the experiment was halted before it begun.  In May 2013 Russ was removed from the HSRC.

There are two arguments for fertilizing the ocean, of which the first is indicated in the name ‘Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation’ – boosting fishery resources by increasing the food supply.  Over the years, the Haida’s Pacific salmon population had declined.  Despite building hatcheries and repairing watersheds, the salmon did not bounce back.  Fertilization was seen as a potential solution.  The basis of the marine food web relies on phytoplankton – photosynthetic organisms that live in the upper surface waters, down to a depth of around 200 metres, the point at which sunlight does not significantly travel any farther down…

The full article was published in – and can be read in – The Marine Professional, a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST).

Image: Swimming through Ferns. Credit: Roger Tabor, USFWS (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Conservation & Sustainable Management, Ocean Ecosystems

‘Renewed Interest’ (Wave Power and the Environment)

The ocean provides a number of resources for people around the globe.  Food is perhaps the most traditional of these resources, but also materials, such as sand for construction work, and possibly even metals vital for much of the technology we use today.  We find a host of medicinal properties, and inspiration for new technologies.  We are also turning to the ocean for renewable, clean forms of energy, a vision which arguably took one step closer in February this year when the world’s first wave-energy farm connected to the electricity grid was switched on in Western Australia.  The project has been a long-term vision for Carnegie Wave Energy, an Australian company based in Perth.  Costing approximately A$100 million, the company develop CETO – a series of fully submerged buoys that move up and down with the ocean swell.  This predictable movement creates hydraulic pressure that drives onshore hydro-electric turbines, supplying 5% to HMAS Stirling, Australia’s largest naval base located on Garden Island.  These 11 meter steel buoys have a secondary use too – creating sufficient pressure to desalinate seawater by a usually energy intensive process called ‘reverse osmosis’, thus delivering a third of the freshwater used by the base.


The idea of using waves to generate power is not a new concept, with the first patent being filed in 1799 by Pierre-Simon Girard, a mathematician and engineer specialising in fluid mechanics.  He died without seeing his turbine come into fruition.  Later attempts at building a working model included the Wright Wave Motor, built in 1897 in Southern California – and now buried in sand at the foot of the Manhattan Beach pier.  With difficulties arising from high costs, failing turbines, a lack of research funding, and concerns over impacts to the environment, interest in wave energy dwindled until the 1970s with the oil crisis forcing energy companies to seek alternative forms of powering the human planet.  Many of these difficulties remain today.  The Portuguese-based Aguçadoura Wave Farm project, for example, halted, with its owners ending up in voluntary administration, and the hydraulic rams that make up the machines suffering a (fixable) technical fault.  The ram makers – Pelmis Wave Power – went into administration in 2014.  Despite the numerous challenges, Carnegie Wave Energy are not the only ones who believe wave power is a viable option for meeting our energy demands.  Research published in 2012 by Kester Gunn and Clym Stock-Williams (E.ON New Build & Technology) estimate the theoretical global wave power resource to be 2.11±0.05 TW…

The full article was published in – and can be read in – The Marine Professional, a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST).

Image: Pelamis P2 wave energy device.  Pelamis P2 device, pictured at European Marine Energy Centre, Orkney, in July 2011. Pelamis inventor Dr Richard Yemm was presented with the Saltire Prize Medal by First Minister Alex Salmond on March 27, 2012 – in recognition of his contribution to the development of the marine renewable energy industry. Credit: Pelamis Wave Power (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Marine Life, Ocean Ecosystems, Technology for Ocean Science

Known unknowns (Life in the Mariana Trench)

In the western Pacific Ocean lies the Izu-Bonin-Mariana (IBM) arc-trench system, created from the subduction of the Pacific plate which began some 51 million years ago and continues today.  The IBM is home to the deepest known point in the ocean – the Mariana Trench, which in its famous Challenger Deep, reaches a known depth of 10,994 meters (± 40 meters).  Early explorations of the Trench focused on determining its depth.  When on 23 January 1960 Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard and US Navy submariner Captain Don Walsh took the first manned vessel – the bathyscaphe Trieste, down the Challenger Deep to 10,911 metres (35,797 feet), they were uncertain whether they would make it back to the surface.  Make it back they did, and what they saw down in the Deep surprised and delighted all….

The bottom appeared light and clear, a waste of snuff-colored ooze. We were landing on a nice, flat bottom of firm diatomaceous ooze…. as we were settling this final fathom, I saw a wonderful thing. Lying on the bottom just beneath us was some type of flatfish, resembling a sole, about 1 foot long and 6 inches across. Even as I saw him, his two round eyes on top of his head spied us – a monster of steel – invading his silent realm. Eyes? Why should he have eyes? Merely to see phosphorescence? … Slowly, extremely slowly, this flatfish swam away. Moving along the bottom, partly in the ooze and partly in the water, he disappeared into his night.” ~ Jacques Piccard, Seven Miles Down: The Story of the Bathyscaph Trieste (1961).

Since Piccard and Walsh’s descent, only one other person has been to the bottom of the Challenger Deep.  On 26 March 2012, in his much more advanced deep-sea submersible the Deepsea Challenger, James Cameron reached the bottom at a depth of 10,908 metres (35,787 feet) and remained there for some 3 hours before ascending, bringing with him HD video of this rarely viewed environment.  Thanks to the advancement of robotics, exploration of the Mariana Trench does not rely solely on manned missions.  Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) have provided us with images, video footage, and even samples brought from the deep.  Notwithstanding the difficulties in deep-sea exploration, at 2,550 kilometres (1,580 miles) long, and an average width of 69 km (43 miles), studying the Trench is no small feat.  But with every trip we have learned more about this unique and extraordinary environment and its inhabitants…

The full article was published in – and can be read in – The Marine Professional, a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST).

Image: Galatheid crabs and shrimp graze on bacterial filaments on the mussel shells. The black “scars: on the shells are former anchor points of mussels who have cut their threads and moved on. Image courtesy of NOAA Submarine Ring of Fire 2004 (Volcanoes Unit MTMNM). USFWS – Pacific Region/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Conservation & Sustainable Management, Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood, Marine Life, Ocean Ecosystems

Man-made Marine (Artificial Reefs)

More than any other species humans have landscaped the Earth, altering it to suit our needs.  What may be less obvious is we are also landscaping the oceans – and have been doing so for a very long time.  Historical artefacts suggest that artisanal fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea and Australia were utilizing discarded rocks as fish aggregation devices around 3,000 years ago.  The first recorded modern artificial reef came from Japan 500 years ago, where rubble and rocks were used to grow kelp.  180 years ago, logs were placed in coastal waters around South Carolina as fish aggregation devices.  Today artificial reefs can be found throughout the world, very often placed – if not created – to fill a specific purpose.  At Australia’s Cable Station Beach an artificial surf reef created by modifying an existing limestone reef with granite rock, has resulted in surfable waves an average of 130 days of the year.  Artist Jason deCaires Taylor created some 450 cement-cast figures for The Silent Evolution at the underwater museum MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte) off Cancún Mexico, with the idea of drawing people away from fragile reefs.  Off the south-eastern Iberian Peninsula, anti-trawling reefs have been placed around sensitive seagrass beds to reduce the impact of illegal bottom trawling.  To tackle the problem of coastal erosion in Portugal, researchers have suggested that artificial reefs designed to either dissipate wave energy or rotate waves to reduce longshore currents could prove useful tools.

Artificial reefs come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials.  Reef restoration projects typically use limestone boulders or concrete/ceramic structures, often textured, shaped, and interlaced with cavities in such a way as to provide a heterogeneous reef-scape to mimic the preferred habitat of a number of different species.  Not all reefs are purpose-built.  Florida USA is home to the two largest artificial reefs in the world, both created from the sinking of decommissioned vessels (USS Oriskany and USHS Vandenburg).  Rigs-to-reefs programs convert defunct offshore oil and gas platforms into artificial reefs for conservation and fishery purposes as well as reduce rig decommissioning costs.  In well-managed jurisdictions, placing artificial reefs is no simple task.  Many factors need to be taken into account, such as the stability of the environment they are to be placed in, and the impact of the reef to the physical processes as well as the organisms residing in the area in which it is to be placed, and of course any human uses of the area…

The full article was published in – and can be read in – The Marine Professional, a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST).

Image: Coral Will Not Be Denied. Credit Oblivious Dude/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Marine Life, Ocean Ecosystems, What The Oceans Do For Us

What the Great Barrier Reef Does for Us

Stretching some 2,300 kilometres over 14 degrees of latitude, the Great Barrier Reef lying off Australia’s east coast is the largest reef system in existence.  Hugely complex, the Reef supports among others some 3,000 species of mollusc, 1,625 species of fish, 600 soft and hard corals, 133 species of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins.  The Reef is also used by people, originally by Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders for food and materials, then by Europeans for both its resources and tourism.  In response to a political row over mining rights on the Reef, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act was introduced in 1975, its primary objective “to provide for the long-term protection and conservation of the environment, biodiversity and heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef Region”.  The introduction of the park was heralded a success, an exemplar of marine protection that allowed well-managed human use of such a complex and delicate ecosystem.  In 1981 it received UNESCO World Heritage status for its “outstanding universal value”.  It was the first reef ecosystem to receive World Heritage status.

Times have changed for the Reef.  In 2012 Dr Glenn De’ath, principal research scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, lead a damming piece of research.  Between 1985 and 2012, 50.7% of the Reefs initial hard coral cover had declined, primarily as a result of tropical cyclone activity (48% of the mortality), outbreaks of the carnivorous crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) (42% of the mortality), and bleaching (where the corals lose their symbiotic zooxanthellae, 10% of the mortality).  Crown-of-thorns outbreaks are closely linked to poor water quality and high nutrient loads in the Reef, resulting from the clearing, farming, and urbanization of water catchments, and increasing variability in rainfall associated with climate change.  Warming waters increases bleaching events, and ocean acidification reduces coral growth rates. Last year researchers Dr Hampus Eriksson and Dr Maria Byrne from Stockholm University and University of Sydney respectively reported serial depletion of holothurian (sea cucumbers) species taken for the Queensland East Coast beche-de-mer fishery, demonstrating that some of the fisheries allowed in the Park may not be as well-managed as we may hope.  More recently talks of dumping dredge spoil near the Reef, and the development of a series of mega-ports in Queensland, including associated shipping developments and routes through the Reef has garnered public outrage.  Next year UNESCO will decide if they will list the Reef as ‘in danger’.

The Australian/Queensland Government’s draft ‘Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan’ has been debased by the Australian Academy of Science, noting that “while the draft plan acknowledges the greatest risks to the Reef are ‘climate change, poor water quality from land-based run off, impacts from coastal development and some fishing activities’, it fails to effectively address any of these pressures”.  “The science is clear”, Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, “the Reef is degraded and its condition is worsening. This is a plan that won’t restore the Reef, it won’t even maintain it in its already diminished state”.  But does it matter?  Sure, the Reef has intrinsic value, but what has the Reef ever done for us?

The full article was published in – and can be read in – The Marine Professional, a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST).

Image: Scuba In The Great Barrier Reef, Michaelmas Cay. Credit The.Rohit/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)