The Royal Geographical Society of Queensland Ltd
Dear Members, and so we come to the end of 2020 – a difficult year for the Society and for many in our community. I hope you and your families have come through the challenges of the year in good health. We are, indeed, fortunate in Queensland to have so far avoided the ravages of the COVID-19 epidemic so distressing to see in other parts of Australia and in other countries. We all hope that 2021 will be an easier year. If restrictions continue easing, as they are at present, RGSQ plans to resume gatherings at Gregory Place in the New Year.
On a brighter note…….
The RGSQ Christmas Party: this year, rather than our usual in-house Christmas party for members, we will have a Christmas picnic lunch on December 5th. at Grey Gum picnic area on the eastern side of the main ridge of Mt Coot-tha, between Channel 9 and Channel 7 studios. Thanks to our TAAC committee volunteers for organising a sausage sizzle, bread, and Christmas cake. Please also BYO extra food, desserts, drinks & fold-up chairs. Please see more details in this Bulletin. I look forward to seeing many of you there.
Since we cannot have our customary slide show and Christmas Quiz at Gregory Place, here are a few Christmas teasers for you to ponder over ….. (check answers at the end of the December 2020 Bulletin)
Q1: In which modern-day country was St. Nicholas born?
Q2: What Christmas tradition began in Melbourne in 1938?
Q3: From which country did eggnog come?
Q4: Which country started the tradition of putting up a Christmas tree?
Q5: In Australia’s version of the song ‘Jingle Bells’, what mode of transportation is used instead of a ‘one-horse open sleigh’?
Q6: Christmas Island in Australia has an annual migration of which animal?
On behalf of Council and staff I extend my best wishes to all members for a happy and safe Christmas-New Year season. I hope that 2021 will be a much better year for all of us and I look forward to seeing you in the New Year at Gregory Place.
With best wishes
Dr. Iraphne Childs, President
From the President
Dear members, I hope you are keeping well and enjoying the spectacular displays of our jacarandas and silky oaks in full bloom at this time of year.
Thank you to all those members who attended the AGM via zoom on 20 October and who participated in the poll in advance of the meeting to progress important resolutions, including the election of a new Council for 2020-2021. All resolutions were carried and endorsed at the meeting. The incoming Council comprises an excellent balance of experienced continuing members, plus one new member. Together they provide academic, business, educational and professional expertise. I am honoured to have been appointed as President for another year and look forward to working with Councillors, staff and members to move our Society forward in 2021 and especially to see what can be accomplished before the end of 2020, this very unusual year.
At Government House
On the 1st October, I represented the RGSQ at Government House at an afternoon tea celebrating the Queen’s birthday. At a table with Dr Ross Hynes, the President of the Royal Society of Queensland and Mr. Stephen Sheaffe, President of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, we discussed how the challenges of 2020 had affected our respective societies. During the proceedings, His Excellency, The Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, patron of all three Societies, presented three documents, two of which have great historical significance for Queensland’s Foundations and will henceforth be kept in the Queensland State Archives:
Queensland’s birth certificate - a copy of the Letters Patent, signed by Queen Victoria dated 6 June 1859, establishing the separate Colony of Queensland. This copy was brought back to Queensland by Governor de Jersey following his visit to the National Archives in Kew, UK in November 2019.
“Bowen’s Instructions” – this is the original document, signed by Queen Victoria, dated 6 June 1859, issued to the first Queensland Governor Sir George Bowen who arrived in Brisbane on HMS Cordelia. These instructions guided Governor Bowen in establishing the system of democratic government prescribed by Queensland’s first Constitution and the Letters Patent. In 1868, Sir George Bowen left Queensland to serve as Governor of New Zealand, Mauritius, and Hong Kong before returning to England. He, apparently, took the original instructions document for Queensland with him! After persistent and eventual successful overtures to Sir George and Lady Bowen’s descendants, the redoubtable Queensland Women’s Historical Association (QWHA) acquired the original document in the 1960s. On 1st May 1992, the QWHA presented a selection of items belonging to Sir George, including Bowen’s Instructions, to then Governor Sir Walter Campbell.
These two documents provide a detailed description of Queensland’s foundations and join other documents in the State Archives - the original Order in Council and the Proclamation read on 10 December 1859 from the balcony of Adelaide House, now in the grounds of the Anglican Cathedral in Brisbane.
The Government House Collection – Items of Historical and Heritage Interest – a booklet describing more than 1500 historical items, including portraits, works of art and furniture acquired and held at Government House over the past 160 years.
Copies of Bowen’s Instructions and the Items of Historical and Heritage Interest booklet have now been donated to the RGSQ library.
Dear members, I hope you are keeping well and enjoying our spring weather. Lots of opportunities to do gardening if you are able to. I have really enjoyed catching up with many members on the phone over the past few weeks. Thank you for taking time to answer my calls and to have a chat. It has been a good opportunity to know more about members personally.
The AGM: In the final week of September you will receive documents (e.g. Notice of Meeting, 2019-2020 Annual Report to Members) relating to our Annual General Meeting on Tuesday 20 October. In recognition of Covid-19 related restrictions and in line with current corporate guidelines the meeting will be held via teleconferencing this year, utilising the ZOOM platform. There will be no in-person attendance at Gregory Place for this year’s AGM. While varying from what would apply in normal circumstances, arrangements will achieve the same outcomes of giving all members the opportunity to register their vote, either via an RGSQ website poll or via postal vote, on important resolutions. The voting paper is a simple one-page document listing the resolutions listed in the Notice of Meeting which also includes information on nominating councillors, participation in the AGM via teleconference using Zoom and the voting procedure. All members are encouraged to participate in the on-line AGM meeting. If you wish to participate but do not have access to appropriate on-line facilities contact the RGSQ office to explore alternative access possibilities. Please feel free to ask any questions relating to the AGM process and /or any matters related to the AGM by calling the RGSQ office on 3368 2066.
RGSQ 2021 calendar: The Publications committee have been working to produce the RGSQ 2021 calendar using 12 images from the competition entries, including the 3 prize-winning entries. Calendars should be ready for sale in October at $15/each via the RGSQ website online shop & at RGSQ premises. The price for postage will be additional based on weight for the number of calendars purchased. An order form will shortly be distributed to members. We hope you may consider this option for your Christmas presents this year!
The photo competition: The RGSQ Publications committee met on 8th September to judge the 45 photo entries submitted by 15 members for the inaugural RGSQ Geographic Landscapes photographic competition. Judging was anonymous (i.e. without entrants’ names attached to images) and criteria used for judging included composition, geographic feature, storytelling, creativity, emotion/expression. Thank you to all members who entered the competition and congratulations to the prize winners:
Stuart Watt, 1st prize (2-nights at O’Reillys): Qld Channel Country above Cooper Creek
John Fairbairn 2nd prize (12 months free membership): rocks & lone fisherman, Point Lookout, Stradbroke Island
John Tasker 3rd prize (bottle of red wine): reflections in Wivenhoe Dam at sunset
I look forward to seeing you “remotely” in your homes at the AGM zoom meeting.
Dr Iraphne Childs
Dear members, with all the depressing statistics about COVID-19 here’s some joyful news from our amazing humpback whales who are back in our coastal waters.
As they move north along Australia’s eastern coastline on their annual migration from Antarctica, their numbers, now thought to be approximately 30,000, have increased again this year. Humpback whales feed in summer in the polar waters of Antarctica, and migrate to tropical and subtropical waters of Australia to breed and give birth in winter. This results in thousands of humpbacks swimming past Australia’s east coast between May and early November each year. The peak months are usually September and October when it is not unusual to see a mother whale travelling with her calf. Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island is the closest place to Brisbane where you can enjoy land-based whale watching. Hervey Bay around Fraser Island is widely regarded as one of the best destinations to see whales because they stay there for an extended period with mothers and calves resting and playing in the calm waters.
There are also many whale-watching boat tours available from Southeast Queensland coastal centres. I hope you may have an opportunity to view these spectacular visitors during the current migration, either from a land-based vantage point or on a whale watching boat trip.
A major concern being monitored by conservation groups and the Queensland Government Fisheries Department is that, with the increasing numbers of whales swimming by our shores and the year-round positioning of drumlines and shark nets off popular swimming beaches, there is an increased risk of entanglement for the whales.
This August saw the fifth whale entanglement in only three months of the 2020 whale migration season along Queensland’s coast. A humpback whale calf was caught on a drumline’s hook, positioned off Main Beach, Stradbroke Island. Fortunately, the calf was freed and returned to its waiting mother after an intense five-hour rescue operation by Queensland Fisheries. Earlier this year, four humpbacks were entangled in Gold Coast shark nets in the space of just one month.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has called for a transition away from shark nets and lethal drumlines toward solutions such as drones, boosted lifeguard presence, and removal of these devices during the whale migration season (AMCS August 17, 2020).
An announcement from the Minister based on scientifically monitored trials is expected soon.
AGM and Council nominations
The RGSQ annual general meeting is on 20 October. If any member would like to nominate for the 2020-2021 Council, please email the Office at firstname.lastname@example.org for a nomination form or to discuss a role on the Council please feel free to contact me at 0419 756 936.
Matilda Boseley The Guardian June 19 2020 Whales are moving up Australia’s east coast
Australian Marine Conservation Society 17 August 2020. Humpback calf caught on Stradbroke Island drumline https://www.marineconservation.org.au/humpback-calf-caught-on-stradbroke-island-drumline
ABC News 28 June 2020Humpback whale census record set to be smashed along Australia’s east coast https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-28/humpback-whale-record-set-to-be-smashed-on-australia-east-coast/12393334
Dear Fellow Members, I hope you are continuing to stay safe as we move into further lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in Queensland. At the time of writing, we wait with concern to see how this and also the recent influx of interstate visitors and the unfortunate resurgence of cases in Victoria and NSW affect our state. I hope that any of your family and friends are safe in Victoria and NSW. If all continues to go well in Qld, we will aim to resume more RGSQ activities from August.
Qld landscapes photo competition
In phone conversations with members over the past few months many have reported that sorting out years of family and travel photos has kept them busy during the “stay at home” period. We thought it would be interesting to see some of the places in Qld that you have visited on your trips, so RGSQ is pleased to announce a Qld landscapes photo competition with enticing prizes – see details in this Bulletin. I hope you will participate and look forward to seeing some of your excellent photography.
Border restrictions? This amazing little bird doesn’t adhere to them and doesn’t carry a GPS!
In June 2020, local critically endangered Eastern Curlew “AAJ” successfully made her maiden flight to China, flying non-stop some 8,000 kilometres from the mudflats of Queensland's Moreton Bay to Shanghai.
For the past two and a half years researchers have been tracking the movements of three-year-old AAJ as she foraged for crabs and other crustaceans on the mudflats of Moreton Bay. When the mature Eastern Curlews migrated north in mid-March, AAJ remained behind. The waders usually arrive at breeding grounds in Eastern Russia by May, making AAJ's late departure unusual. It may be a new discovery about young Eastern Curlews, that they leave later than older birds. AAJ was one of three Eastern Curlews that were fitted with tiny trackers so their movements could be monitored on the way from Brisbane to China. In late April, under the cover of darkness AAJ began her epic non-stop journey. She headed up the Queensland coast, over the New Guinea Central Highlands and across the western Pacific Ocean.
Ten days after taking off, AAJ landed on mudflats adjacent to Yinyangzhen, north-east of Shanghai. She will spend the northern summer feeding on crustaceans along the Yellow Sea Coastline.
The Eastern Curlew population has declined by more than 80 per cent in the past 30 years mostly due to the destruction of mudflats along the East Asian Australasian Flyway, which is a migration superhighway for birds. Around 1,400 critically endangered Eastern Curlews roost around Moreton Bay, the last large flock in Australia. There is pressure to develop parts of the Moreton Bay wetlands close to where AAJ was first found. The area is listed under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty to protect important wetland habitats. In 2013 Toondah Harbour was declared a Priority Development Area by then premier Campbell Newman. The controversial $1.3 billion development proposal would see part of the wetlands reclaimed to make way for 3,600 residential dwellings, a new port facility, ferry terminals and a 200-berth marina. Around 43 hectares of the development will encroach on the Ramsar wetlands. There's also the broader impact of up to 10,000 more people, noise pollution, increased watercraft disturbing birds, feeding grounds and roost sites. After two proposals were knocked back by the Federal Government, a revised plan was given the green light in 2018 to proceed to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) phase. In July 2020, a petition, gaining more than 5000 signatures, was presented to the Queensland Government by community group Redlands2030 calling for an independent inquiry into the Toondah Harbour development. Meanwhile, AAJ is foraging on the Shanghai mudflats, fattening up ahead of her return journey to Moreton Bay in a few months’ time.
Dr. Iraphne Childs
Redlands 2030.Will Toondah kill off the Cleveland CBD? https://redlands2030.net/cleveland-cbd-economic-report/April 10 2018
Dear fellow members, I hope you are continuing to stay safe as we move into the next stage of relaxing COVID-19 restrictions in Queensland. While we wait to see how the stage 2 easing of restrictions and the mass protest gatherings over the last few weekends affect infection rates, it is hoped that RGSQ will be able to resume some activities in August. We will keep you posted on our arrangements.
Queensland Day 2020
June 6th commemorates the day in 1859 when Queen Victoria signed Letters Patent for the State’s “birth certificate” establishing Queensland’s official separation from New South Wales as an independent colony. Moves towards statehood for Queensland began with a public meeting in 1851 to consider separation from New South Wales. The state flag was first introduced in 1876 - Queensland then a self-governing British colony with its own navy. Queen Victoria also granted the Queensland Coat of Arms, the oldest State Arms in Australia in 1893 and the first Arms assigned to a British colony since 1661. The Coat of Arms symbolises the Queen's constitutional authority in the State and since 2012 used as the government’s corporate logo. The brolga has featured on the Queensland Coat of Arms since 1977 and in 1986 it became the official bird emblem of Queensland. The koala was officially named the faunal emblem of Queensland in 1971 and the Cooktown orchid became Queensland's floral emblem in 1959, during celebrations to mark the state's centenary.
Queensland Day Honours
Queensland Day on June 6th, 2020 was celebrated in the usual way by the granting of awards by Queensland’s Governor, His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey. This year two people whom many members may know were recognised.
Professor Gregory J.E. Hill: Many of us know Greg as a Geographer. He has received an AO in the general division for distinguished service to education, particularly the development of tertiary facilities in regional areas. He began his career as a primary school teacher, completed a BA Honours (Geography) and a PhD (wildlife/statistical ecology) at the University of Queensland. He taught at UQ for 15 years during which time I was fortunate, in my early lecturing career to teach a couple of courses with Greg. I have always been grateful for the valuable mentoring he gave me. Greg moved to Darwin in 1995 where he was the Foundation Chair in Tropical Environmental Science at Charles Darwin University. In 2010 he became Vice-Chancellor at the University of the Sunshine Coast continuing in this position until his retirement in 2019.
Dr Colin J. Limpus: Those of us interested in marine science and conservation know Col and his tireless work with sea turtles in Queensland. He has received an AO in the general division for distinguished service to environmental science, particularly to the conservation of sea turtles and as a mentor of young scientists. In 2017 Col marked 50 continuous years of research at Australia's most important mainland loggerhead turtle rookery, Mon Repos in Bundaberg. Col’s research helped convince the Queensland Government of the day to declare the waters off Mon Repos a marine park in 1990 and to make turtle exclusion devices compulsory on fishing trawlers in 2001.
With best wishes
Dr Iraphne Childs, President
Dear Fellow Members,
I hope you are continuing to stay safe and well as we move into the next stages of coping with the COVID-19 virus. It is now clearly evident that, fortunately, Australia and New Zealand have done very well compared to many other countries. At the time of writing, Qld, SA, WA and the NT have had very few or no new cases for a couple of weeks. Check out the number of cases on the RGSQ home page, updated daily by the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center (worldwide totals) and by the UQ-Qld Centre for Population Research (Qld totals) by clicking on the graphics or links at https://rgsq.org.au.
Re-opening RGSQ premises?
Now that the Queensland government is lifting some restrictions, the RGSQ Council is considering when we could start to re-open RGSQ premises. Initially this would only be for 2-3 volunteers at a time who would feel comfortable about coming in to Fortescue Street to continue working on some projects e.g. the library, maps and archives collections and AGC scanning. This would also be dependent on staff presence. We will review the situation at the June Council meeting. In the meantime we certainly intend to be vigilant, stay at home where possible and await the results from the easing of restrictions especially around Southeast Queensland. It is to be hoped that we do not see a dreaded “second wave” of cases.
A meeting of three Society Presidents
I am sure many members are utilising technologies such as Skype and Zoom to connect remotely with family, friends, work colleagues and networks in other clubs and societies. On 27th April, I had the opportunity to connect with the President of the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia. We had planned to have a three-way presidents’ meeting via Zoom involving RGSQ (Iraphne), RGSSA (Leigh Radford) and the Geographical Society of NSW (Rae Dufty-Jones). Unfortunately, the Zoom hook-up failed and so, instead, Leigh and Iraphne had a phone meeting. Later, Rae contributed to our conversation notes. While all three Societies have suspended activities at least until July, we have been trying to keep our respective members engaged during the “stay at home” period via publications and online activities.
Here are some examples of what we are doing and ideas for the future:
Members’ ideas on any of the above are always welcome.
Dr Iraphne Childs, President
As Governor of Queensland and Patron of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland, I was very pleased to receive an invitation from your President, Dr Iraphne Childs, to reach out to members through the RGSQ Bulletin at this challenging time.
His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, Governor of Queensland. Courtesy of Government House Queensland
It has been a difficult start to the year, with the Society’s meetings, lectures and trips either cancelled or postponed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I know that this experience is a matter of great concern to members. Let me reassure you that Kaye and I have you in our thoughts.
A once-in-a-lifetime event such as this demonstrates very clearly that the Society’s diverse program of events does much more than contribute to improving public understanding of our community and environment. It also plays a vital role in promoting social cohesion by bringing people together to share conversations and collaborate in bringing ideas and plans to fruition. I am very much aware that you will all be missing this interaction.
Somewhat ironically, the COVID-19 pandemic will provide geographers with research opportunities for years to come. Now, however, as the Australian and Queensland governments consider how and when to reduce the restrictions imposed to combat the spread of the coronavirus, our focus must continue to be on remaining compliant, patient, and supportive.
I am confident that the Society, in common with other community-based organisations, will bounce back with renewed energy once this event has passed.
In the meantime, let me reiterate the message on your website – stay safe, but above all, stay curious!
His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC
Governor of Queensland
Dear Fellow Members, I hope you are all keeping safe and well as we cope with the COVID-19 virus. The pandemic is redefining our relationship with physical space: distance, proximity, spread, hot spots, and scale - in a word Geography – everyone is concerned with where. We are thinking about it on personal and local scales, navigating supermarket aisles and converting rooms into home offices. We are dealing with it at the regional scale, moving medical equipment from places with surplus to places in need. We listen to reports from epidemiologists functioning at national and global scales, as they work to understand how a virus could travel so far so fast and cause such devastation.
Australia does seem to be coping well compared to some other parts of the world. As at this writing, our daily number of new cases has decreased to the point where some states have had no new cases and the government is planning to ease some restrictions.
If there are any positive outcomes of this pandemic, one, surely, has to be the reduction in air pollution around the world. Indeed, this is observable from space.
Satellites are a key component of global efforts to tackle air pollution. Data from many major cities show a strong correlation between reduced levels of air pollutants and actions taken to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic. Air pollution around the world has dropped as countries scale back economic activity and drastically reduce travel by road and air. An important and encouraging lesson is that when we remove the sources of pollution, unhealthy air clears up almost overnight. As far as the environment and our health is concerned, this is an excellent thing. However, the lockdown in economic activity cannot continue and scientists warn that, unfortunately, the reprieve in air quality will only be short term. A surge in emissions as economies recover is likely to leave the environment again worse off. Achieving the inevitable transition to a low-carbon-low-polluting future is a major challenge. A weak global economy may threaten investment in renewable energy sources and associated long-term jobs, particularly given the present availability of cheap oil and lobbying to develop more new coal mines for profits in the short-term.
“Could governments and economies view this clean-air episode as an opportunity to begin to re-align policies towards a sustainable future?”
Our cities may again breathe clean air hopefully sooner rather than later.
Melissa Lunden and Meghan Thurlow The stunning impact of COVID-19 social distancing on air pollution (March 31, 2020) https://www.greenbiz.com/article/stunning-impact-covid-19-social-distancing-air-pollution
New York Post China’s skies are briefly clearer while factories stay shut March 3, 2020
Gabriel da Silva, COVID-19 drop in pollution to be short-lived Engineering & Technology 30 March 2020 https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/covid-19-drop-in-pollution-to-be-short-lived
RGSQ President Dr. Iraphne Childs
By Dr Emma Kennedy
The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is currently experiencing its most widespread coral bleaching (a physiological response to heat stress) to date. In January, NOAA satellites detected warmer-than-usual sea surface temperatures, which continued through to March, with February breaking a record as the warmest since records began in 1900. With heat stress accumulating much faster than scientists originally anticipated, survey teams were scrambled from across regions and institutions to assess the impact on corals across the world famous Marine Park’s massive 344,400 sq kmextent. The 2020 mass coral bleaching marks the third major bleaching event in just five years.
Aerial surveys conducted by Prof Terry Hughes from the ARC Centre of Excellence and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Dr James Kerry over a period of 9 days in late March gave scientists the best overview of the damage. Flying a light aircraft 150 m above the ocean, the team’s flight path crisscrossed 1036 of the Great Barrier Reefs approx. 2900 reefs, giving researchers an opportunity to eyeball each reef and assign a score (either <1%, 1-10%, 10-30%, 30-60% or >60%) based on the estimated proportion of corals bleached white. Survey scores released in early April matched the footprint of the heat stress, which was concentrated on inshore reefs. While outer reefs and much of the northern area appeared to escape this bleaching, and some central reef areas – including the tourist areas of Cairns and Port Douglas – were spared, south of Cairns the damage was extensive. A quarter of all reefs surveyed were assigned a “severe bleaching” category (where >60% corals affected), and these reefs were found in every sector of the GBR for the first time. This makes the bleaching footprint the most widespread ever reported for the Reef, and just second to the 2016 GBR bleaching in terms of severity. Just 40% of reefs fell into the “no bleaching” >1% bleaching category. Dive teams were deployed to collect underwater field data to help verify aerial scores, although for many researchers – including my own Remote Sensing Research Centrelab trying to get to our reef sites at one of the worst affected areas in the Keppel Islands – COVID-19 restrictions limited our ability to access field sites.
Of particular concern for scientists was the impact on the southern reefs, which had largely escaped the 2016 and 2017 mass bleaching events, and had been thriving despite crown-of-thorns outbreaks in the Swains reefs. Catastrophic declines in the number and recruitment of corals followed the 2016 and 2017 events. Although some recovery has been observed, it is not known how this year’s bleaching has affected new coral recruits. The time between these major disturbances generally does not allow coral assemblages to recover. This kind of heatwave recurrence was not predicted until later into the 2030s. Part of the reason that little bleaching was documented in the Far Northern Reef areas is that most of the reefs there are extremely damaged, making the small number of living corals harder to observe from above, a phenomenon scientists have dubbed “ecological memory”, or “dead reefs can’t bleach”.
Particularly concerning for scientists was the impact on the southern reefs, which had escaped recent mass bleachings in 2016 and 2017, and had been thriving despite crown-of-thorns outbreaks in the Swains. UQ’s remote sensing research group surveyed the stunning Hardline Reefs last year as part of their project to map the Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Emma Kennedy
While events on the Great Barrier Reef often focus media attention, the bleaching was not just restricted to the Park: in February our dive team returned from the remote Coral Sea after surveying kilometres of corals. Coral bleaching does not always equate to mortality. Generally, warmer-than-normal temperatures (defined by scientists as “Degree Heating Weeks” DHWs – the period of time water temperature remains >1 degree C above the maximum monthly mean for that that area) that exceed 6 DHWs are associated with significant coral loss. Accumulated heat stress was not as high in 2020 as in 2016. As we transition into winter, temperatures are starting to cool and the stress is beginning to alleviate. Only with time will scientists be able to understand the true long-term impacts of this summer’s heatwave.
With 64,000 Australian jobs reliant on the Reef, the economic impacts of bleaching could be felt for years to come. The GBR brings in an estimated $6.4 billion to the economy. Dive Instructor Tanya Murphy described it as “Gut wrenching - unless we cut down on carbon pollution urgently, tens of thousands of tourism workers like me who are currently on jobseeker payments due to coronavirus are going to be out of work permanently”. Meanwhile the Morrison Government has announced a $100 million commitment (of the $443 million given to the controversial Great Barrier Reef Foundation) towards a Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP) to explore technological solutions from cloud brightening to larval reseeding of damaged areas.
Bleaching data for the 2016 and 2017 global mass-bleaching event showed damage concentrated north of Cairns, and in the central areas from Cairns to Townsville respectively. Southern reefs had largely escaped recent warming, until this summer. Credit: Terry Hughes, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
While these innovations are exciting, without a concerted effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions both at home and abroad, the future of the reef seems bleak. Corals are extremely vulnerable to elevated ocean temperatures. The 2019 IPCC report warned that limiting global warming to <1.5°C was critical to ensure the survival of functioning reef systems that support over a billion people by providing food, coastal protection and jobs globally. In an online discussion on the scientific findings of the Great Barrier Reef surveys live-streamed to over 300 scientists and reef managers, James Cook University’s Prof Morgan Pratchett, involved in coordinating the bleaching response, said “we need to act to reduce the severity of bleaching events … the only way to do that is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions”
“Our planet’s summer from hell is not over by any means”
As Australia’s long and desperate summer finally draws to an end, seasons shift and the heatwave migrates into the Indian Ocean, researchers in the Maldives are already noting the first signs of bleaching on their reefs. As we begin to survey the aftermath, scientists across the planet are now trying to find a way to check on their local reefs in this difficult time.
Heat stress data from the Bureau of Meteorology shows “Degree Heating Days” an accumulation of above-average warm days (climatology taken from 1993-2003) over the Australian summer (1stDec to 31stMarch), derived from IMOS L3S AVHRR sea surface temperature (SST) products. Heat stress accumulated on southern inshore reefs this summer. Credit: BOM
The Great Barrier Reef, indicating location of surveyed reefs that were most severely affected (more than 60% corals estimated to be bleaching red circles) and those that were least impacted (<1% corals bleaching, green circles) by the heatwave. In total, 1036 reefs were surveyed. Credit: Terry Hughes, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Bleaching corals in the Keppel Islands. The Keppel Islands near Rockhampton were one of the worst affected areas, but because of COVID-19 restrictions, University of Queensland scientists were not able to access their reef sites to assess bleaching impact. Credit: Oliver Lanyon
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