CSIRO chief ignores scientific evidence of climate change as biggest threat to reef

Recently the AFR published an interview with CSIRO’s chief, Dr Larry Marshall (“US and Asian growth planned as CSIRO ‘moonshots’ take shape”). In it Marshall’s comments about the Great Barrier Reef are not just extremely misleading; they are simply wrong.

First, Marshall claims that poor water quality was the main reason for the recent devastating and unprecedented bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017. However, authoritative scientific evidence shows that the primary cause was very high surface water temperatures as a result of intensifying climate change. Such temperatures could occur every two years by the mid-2030s if climate change continues unabated.

Marshall’s comments seem to be aligned to a Federal Government plan to focus on water quality measures. Addressing water quality is just a bandaid solution that is only useful if we also tackle climate change, the root cause of coral bleaching. Yet Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution levels continue to rise (by 0.8% the past year) without credible federal climate policy in place.

Marshall claims that reefs will recover in two years. This is simply wrong. After a bleaching event, the fastest growing corals can take a decade to regrow. The world’s best coral reef scientists are telling us that climate change is the biggest threat to the reef. It is disturbing that the CEO of CSIRO has apparently not relied on the scientists within his own organisation, who understand the science behind coral bleaching.