Tuesday 19 August 2014

More on the Great Barrier Reef, and: So we're doing 'Mutiny on the Bounty' again are we?

Bligh and his followers being set adrift.
Each day I go round to my favourite coffee shop here in Byron Bay, Barefoot Roasters, and while
Rodney and his team are making up the coffees for me and my work colleagues we have a discussion on current events.
Most of these conversations in the current era revolve around the current Australian federal government, led by Tony Abbott.
Rodney's oft repeated line is 'how are we letting Tony Abbott get away with all this illegal shit?'
And most days I am stuck for a reply.
I feel much the same as Rodney, when I listen to the news and AM, my favourite current affairs show on Radio National, I spend most of my time in gobsmacked-amazement at the antics, stupidity, and general beyond-belief carryings-on of those clowns in our government.
Clowns implies humour, however (sadly) there's nothing funny about what they're up to.
Our practice of setting asylum seekers adrift on lifeboats and telling them to get back to the country they set out from is probably the most iconic news item that we know about.
When we were discussing this it put me in mind of the most famous setting adrift of all, the mutiny on the Bounty.
This mutiny has been made into three movies, most recently with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, but previous to this the best known version was made in 1962 with Charles Laughton as Bligh and Clark Gable as Christian.
Mostly Christian has been portrayed as the good guy, though the reasons for the mutiny, and subsequent setting adrift of Bligh and his followers were complex.
The facts are as such: [extract from the oh-so-helpful Wikipedia]
The Mutiny on the Bounty was a mutiny aboard the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789.
The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian against their captain, Lieutenant William Bligh. According to accounts, the sailors were attracted to the "idyllic" life and sexual opportunities afforded on the Pacific island of Tahiti.
It has also been argued that they were motivated by Bligh's allegedly harsh treatment of them.
Eighteen mutineers set Bligh afloat in a small boat with eighteen of the twenty-two crew loyal to him.
To avoid detection and prevent desertion, the mutineers then variously settled on Pitcairn Island or on Tahiti and burned Bounty off Pitcairn.
In an extraordinary feat of seamanship, Bligh navigated the 23-foot (7 m) open launch on a 47-day voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies, equipped with a quadrant and pocket watch and without charts or compass.
He recorded the distance as 3,618 nautical miles (6,701 km; 4,164 mi).
He then returned to Britain and reported the mutiny to the Admiralty on 15 March 1790, 2 years and 11 weeks after his original departure.

So Bligh was set adrift and made it home.
However, the major difference here was that Bligh was an expert navigator, and was accompanied by experienced seamen.
What we are doing on the high seas is setting people adrift on the ocean who have no ability to navigate themselves home.
I don't want to get into the whys-and-wherefores of the motives of the asylum seekers, but they aren't all terrorists as our government would have the voting populace believe.
So I'll close this strand by pointing this out to our minister for stopping anyone immigrating, Scott Morrison.
Once Bligh reported back to the admiralty in London, a naval ship was dispatched to the south seas to find the mutineers.
The surviving ten prisoners were eventually repatriated to England and tried in a naval court.
Three were pardoned, four acquitted, and, minister Morrison please note, three were hanged.


Latest on the Reef.

Also this week Four Corners did a brilliant show on the Great Barrier Reef.
Those of you who have been following my writings to any extent recently will no I have done some articles on this topic for my web magazine, independentaustralia.net
The focus has been on the desire by some dead-set arseholes to redevelop the coal loader port at Abbot Point, near Townsville.
To do this, the eco-bastards involved, North Queensland Bulk Ports, Adani, GVK-Hancock and others wish to dig up three million cubic metres of dredge spoil and dump it in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
It's environmental bastardry of the highest order, it's insane beyond belief, its'...., well frankly I'm still at a loss for words.
Anyway, overseeing this destruction of the Reef is the federal environment minister, Greg Hunt.
He featured prominently on the Four Corners show, and every second he was on the screen, the desire of the viewer to punch the mealy-mouthed bastard in the face was overpowering.
It wasn't just his manner, but the way he continues to try to get this dumping on the reef through despite everyone else in the world saying it's a bad thing to do.
Opponents of the dumping stretch from local environmental groups like the Mackay Conservation Group, through international groups like Greenpeace, via tourism operators on the Reef, all the way up to Unesco.
Federal environment minister
Greg Hunt, don't
you just want to
punch him in
the damn head?
It highlights the increasing isolation of the federal government, particularly in the area of environment.
So without letting myself get too overblown with rage at Greg Hunt, I'll stick to the most relevant thing that the Four Corners episode threw up: Water quality.
Greg Hunt's line is that all we are going to do is dig up some clean sand and mud from near the coal terminal at Abbot Point, and put it back down again in a different location, causing no damage to the Reef.
Well as Rimmer said on Red Dwarf, "Wrong, wrong, wrong, you couldn't go further into the field of wrongettyness."
First part of the wrongness of this was that there is still no certainty that the sand and mud that they want to dig up is clean.
I outlined that is my article: Government conceals toxic dredge spoil danger.
I contend the shit is, literally, swimming with toxics.
However, even if it is clean, and is just sand and mud, the Four Corners episode showed that this is as dangerous to the Reef as an inbound strike by helicopter gunships loaded with napalm.
The dredge spoil comes in gradations of fineness, the heaviest particles quickly fall back to the sea bed and merge again with the rocky substrate.
However the fine particles don't.
Soil from dredging lies thickly at the centre of this coral
These microscopic bits of sand and mud float for extended periods of time, months it seems, and thus are spread many hundreds of kilometres up and down the Reef.
So why is that a problem? Plants, like sea grass, depend on soil do they not? I hear you ask.
Well a marine biologist on the show Joe Pollock highlighted the issue.
Coral is part plant and part animal.
The plant part needs access to sunlight to photosynthesize.
Without the plant part photosynthesizing, the animal part starves, and can't build the exoskeleton that makes up the bulk of the coral that we know so well.
These fine particles of sediment spread up and down the reef by currents and wind, block the sunlight, so the plant part of the coral can't photosynthesize, then the whole organism itself, dies.
The most graphic indicator of this death is called "White Syndrome".
Explained here by Joe Pollock:
"White Syndrome is basically like: you can think of it as if the skin started falling away from your hand, moving down, just leaving behind your bone.
That lesion continues to move down your arm until basically all that's left of you is dead white skeleton."

So even the digging up of 'clean' sand and mud, and dumping thereof, is destructive to the Reef.
The death of coral on its own is of course enough of a reason to stop the dumping at Abbot Point going ahead, however it seems that the economic affects may be the most powerful way to get the government to listen.
This is best exemplified by the fortunes of those who operate tourist businesses on the Reef.
All of these businesses rely on coral in one way or another.
White syndrome advancing across this Ctenactis coral.
Whether it is tourist boats to take tourists snorkelling, or professional fishing charters, or even hotels in the Reef resort towns of the Queensland coast, they all rely on healthy coral to make a living.
So it was that Four Corners interviewed a boat operator from the Whitsunday Islands.
These island form a chain on the Reef and are the iconic representation of the South Sea idyllic paradise.
However, dredging up and down the coast has lowered the water quality to the point where snorkelling boat operators fear going out of business, simply because it is becoming increasingly difficult to see any damn thing under the water.
This photo shows the soil plume coming out of the Fitzroy river near Rockhampton.
The Whitsundays are located just to the north of this plume, and so the effects of soil spread are easy to see.
Loss of visibility under water is measured by turbidity.
Low turbidity means clean water, with vibrant colour being visible, high turbidity means you're swimming in a soup, and even colourful objects like reef fish appear grainy gray and washed out.
The tourist operator interviewed on the Four Corners program said that water quality had gone from 1% turbidity up to 23% in a year, following 2011.
What happened in 2011? Dredging in Gladstone Harbour.
This dredging was another eco-nightmare, badly done, hopelessly underregulated, and resulted in thousands of tonnes of soil escaping Gladstone Harbour and spreading up and down the Reef.
So by now I'm sure you've got the point, even 'clean' dredge spoil is killing the Reef.
I ask, nay implore, you to do whatever you can to stop Greg Hunt and his eco-vandals from doing anymore dredging and dumping anywhere on the Queensland coast.
Could you imagine trying to snorkel in this?
Let us not have to say "yes, we were the Australians that let our own government kill the Reef".
Gladstone Harbour.
If you wish to do something, however small, a good contact is Greens Senator Larissa Waters: https://www.facebook.com/larissawaters
Even if you just send her a message of support saying "thank you" for her fight to save the Reef, I know she will appreciate it, and so will the animals and plants, and the tour operators now that I think about it, of the Reef.
GetUp! are also strong in the fight, and have many good petitions you can sign.




Closer to Home

And just to finish on a couple of local curiosities, also marine science related.
What if anything they portend I do not know, but if they're signs of sea level rise that wouldn't surprise me.
It started when I went for my bike ride.
I set out on the southern route, and this takes me through the lamentably titled Sewage Ponds.
Sounds awful, but it is in fact one of the most peacefully beautiful parts of Byron Bay.
However, when I came riding down to the bridge over the ponds I came up sort, startled, to find water over the bike path.
I've ridden that path hundreds of times, but have never seen that before.
I was just standing there wondering what to do, when a young boy rode through it from the other direction.
From his passage I could see that it wasn't all that deep, up to the rubber on his wheels, maybe ten centimetres at worst.
So it was rideable.
However, just as I was trying to make up my mind whether to turn around and go the other way, a small group of girls jogging came along and also halted next to the flooded roadway, obviously contemplating like me, whether to jog through.
I told the girls that the young lad has just ridden through, and so it wasn't overly deep, and they could proceed without worry.
However the girls had a little discussion and then decided that they didn't want to get their shoes wet, and so turned around and jogged off in the return direction.
After they left I decided I was too much of a he-man to be put off by a little water, and so got on my bike and rode through.
The water splashed up as I rode, and soaked my shoes socks and bike pants up to the knee.
I pulled up at the bridge, as there were some people on it, and waited for them to pass.
As they did, I passed the time of day with them, telling them that the water over the road wasn't that deep, and wasn't it ironic that one of the most peaceful parts of Byron to walk and cycle was to be found in the sewage ponds.
To which they agreed, and then pointed out something that the girls had obviously realized and then behaved more sensibly because of, to wit: the water that I had just ridden through and got soaked by was sewage water.
UUGHHHH!!!!!, I said inside my head.
I then got on my bike and rode home as fast as I could to a) dry the fluid of my hindquarters, and b) to get those clothes in the washing machine as fast as possible.
A lesson learned by me: never be a he-man, think things bloody well through Lachlan.
Then once back in town and clothes in the wash, I went off to do my evening's shopping and return a dvd.
On the way I met a friend from Soccer and we chatted for a while.
He said, "Have you been to the beach today?"
I replied: "I checked the surf earlier at the Pass. Why do you ask?"
He said: 'cos I just went and there's seaweed all over Belongil beach."
This was another oddity, so I went down and checked.
And sure enough from the carpark down the Belongil spit was a half metre high trail of seaweed up to the high tide mark.
I've never seen this before (and neither had my friend).
What if anything it portends, again I don't know.
I checked and it was high tide when I rode through the ponds, which may have accounted in part for the water over the bike path, and we have had a lot of rain, which may have had something to do with the weed on the beach.
I might add that this weed smelt abominably, and made anyone contemplating a beach activity decide not to do it.
These two events were probably just in the end local oddities, interesting, but not definitively anything.
But I can say in closing that dumping dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park will lead to the beaches in the area, and the coral reefs, being covered as well.
And that really is something: something that we need to stop.

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