One might expect the Annual Summary Report of Coral Reef Condition 2021/2022 to be widely reported in the mainstream media as a good news story, given that its main conclusion is that “Continued coral recovery leads to 36-year highs across two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef”. One might expect that, but one would be wrong.
Both the BBC and the Guardian have reported on this news with what seems to be the inevitable heavy caveat we have come to expect. In the case of the BBC the relevant article is headed “Great Barrier Reef sees record coral cover, but it is highly vulnerable”. Meanwhile the Guardian report is headed “Record coral cover on parts of Great Barrier Reef, but global heating could jeopardise recovery”.
In fairness, although you have to read beyond the report summary and trouble yourself with the detail of the report itself to find any caveats, they are indeed there to be found if you look. That said, the overwhelming message from the annual survey is good news, and it is my belief that the media headlines (just like the headline to the Report itself) really should have reflected that. After all, the bullet points from the survey summary (save the final one) are pretty much relentlessly positive:
Over the past 36 years of monitoring by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), coral reefs in the GBR have shown an ability to begin recovery after disturbances.
In 2022, widespread recovery has led to the highest coral cover recorded by the LTMP in the Northern and Central GBR, largely due to increases in the fast-growing Acroporacorals, which are the dominant group of corals on the GBR and have been largely responsible [for] previous changes in hard coral cover.
Above-average water temperatures led to a mass coral bleaching event over the austral summer of 2021/22, the fourth event since 2016 and the first recorded during a La Niña year. The peak of this bleaching event was in March, and accumulated heat stress measured as Degree Heating Weeks (DHW) for most of the GBR reached levels expected to result in widespread bleaching but not extensive mortality.
Survey reefs experienced low levels of other acute stress over the past 12 months, with no severe cyclones impacting the Marine Park. The number of crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks on survey reefs has generally decreased; however, there remain ongoing outbreaks on some reefs in the Southern GBR.
The combination of few acute stresses and lower accumulated heat stress in 2020 and 2022 compared to 2016 and 2017 has resulted in low coral mortality and has allowed coral cover to continue to increase in the Northern and Central GBR.
Nearly half of the surveyed reefs (39 out of 87) had hard coral cover levels between 10% and 30%, while almost a third of the surveyed reefs (28 out of 87) had hard coral cover levels between 30% and 50%.
On the Central and Northern GBR, region-wide hard coral cover reached 33% and 36%, respectively; the highest level recorded in the past 36 years of monitoring.
Region-wide hard coral cover on reefs in the Southern GBR was 34% and had decreased from 38% in 2021, largely due to ongoing crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks.
In periods free from intense acute disturbances, most GBR coral reefs demonstrate resilience through the ability to begin recovery. However, the reefs of the GBR continue to be exposed to cumulative stressors. The prognosis for the future disturbance regime suggests increasing and longer-lasting marine heatwaves, as well as the ongoing risk of outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish and tropical cyclones. Therefore, while the observed recovery offers good news for the overall state of the GBR, there is increasing concern for its ability to maintain this state.
Meanwhile, the first two paragraphs of the BBC report faithfully record the good news (recovery; highest amount of cover in the 36 years of surveying) before devoting the rest of the article to doom and gloom about the Great Barrier Reef’s prospects, and almost inevitably concluding:
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which manages the reef, says the outlook for the icon is “very poor” due to climate change.
Unesco, the UN’s scientific and cultural body, says not enough is being done to protect the reef.
The Guardian, not to be outdone, managed only one positive half sentence before launching into the doom narrative:
…but warned any recovery could be quickly overturned by global heating.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science’s annual long-term monitoring report says the fast-growing corals that have driven coral cover upwards are also those most at risk from marine heatwaves, storms and the voracious crown-of-thorns (COTS) starfish.
Global heating is accepted by scientists as the reef’s biggest long-term threat.
Earlier this year, unusually hot ocean temperatures caused the first ever mass bleaching during a La Nina year – a natural climate phase that should have given corals a respite.
The first ever mass bleaching on the reef was recorded in 1998, but since then corals were hit in 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020 and again earlier this year.
The prognosis for the reef’s future under climate change, the report said, was one of increasingly frequent and longer-lasting marine heatwaves, with the ongoing risk of COTS outbreaks and tropical cyclones.
“Mitigation of these climatic threats requires immediate global action on climate change,” the report said.
The irony of the fact that the part of the Reef that has recovered most slowly is in the colder southern waters seems to have been completely overlooked.
I shall leave the last words to Peter Ridd, who has rapidly produced for the GWPF a rebuttal (headed “The Good News on Coral Reefs”). As his Report reminds us:
Peter Ridd is a physicist. He has researched the Great Barrier Reef since 1984, and has published over 100 scientific publications. A former head of the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University, Townsville, Australia, he was fired in 2018 for pointing out quality assurance deficiencies in reef-science institutions.
His Report is relatively short, readily accessible and well worth a read. I will simply end with his upbeat conclusion, expressed in his own Final Comment:
The latest data on the GBR indicates it is in good shape. It happens to have a great deal of coral in 2022 because there have been few major mortality events over the last five to ten years. The three or four bleaching events since 2016, which have been widely reported in the media, could not have killed much coral, otherwise the 2022 statistics would not be so good. The data since 1986 shows that every region, every sector and most reefs have had occasionally had [sic] periods of very low coral cover for one reason or another. This is entirely natural. The media makes much of occasional setbacks to coral cover, but a measure of the health of an ecosystem is the ability to recover from a major stress. Frail systems will not recover, robust systems recover well, just as healthy people recover quickly from disease. The GBR has proven to be a vibrant and healthy ecosystem. This should not be a surprise; there are few human pressures on the reef, and it is well protected. It is also unreasonable to expect that the small temperature rise over the last century (1°C) will have caused much impact, especially as it is well known that most corals grow faster in warmer water. The data collected by AIMS shows that the GBR is a robust system with rapidly fluctuating coral cover. We must expect that, sometime in the future, a sequence of events will cause the coral cover to fall sharply, as it did in 2011. We must then remember that this is almost certainly natural, and not allow the merchants of doom to depress the children.
Not allowing the merchants of doom to depress the children is good advice indeed.
The Daily Sceptic feels the same way as me:
“Massive Coral Growth at the Great Barrier Reef Continues to Defy all the Fashionable Doomsday Climate Predictions”
Like you I was not very impressed by the BBC headline. I might write something about this if I have a mo.
The idea that coral, a species that only exists in warm waters, would be extremely threatened by a slight warming was always a stupid idea to push. You do wonder at the wisdom of some of the global warming alarmists. Did they not notice coral living in areas far warmer than Australia?
Polar bears makes sense. Corals do not.
LikeLiked by 1 person
A small observation on the negative BBC article. For some reason the BBC often leads with one heading on the main or science & environment page of its website, and the heading then changes to something else if you click on it to read the article. At the moment, the clickbait headline is “Warning follows Great Barrier Reef record coral cover”. CLick on it, and the heading becomes “Great Barrier Reef sees record coral cover, but it is highly vulnerable”.
LikeLiked by 1 person
saw this on BBC news, it was just a quick sound bit.
quick BBC search – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-57938858
“Why is the Great Barrier Reef in trouble? A simple guide Published 23 July 2021”
“Climate change also causes ocean acidification and reef erosion.
If cooler waters return, it is possible for reefs to make a comeback. Recovery takes at least 10-15 years.
But scientists warn the Great Barrier Reef is on the brink of breaking down.
A study found that following bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, there weren’t enough adult corals left to regenerate the worst-hit areas properly.
In 2019, Australia downgraded the reef’s long-term outlook to “very poor”.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has said climate change remains the greatest threat.”
when the story suits the agenda they push hard, when the data/facts change,a quick sound bit.
LikeLiked by 1 person
The Daily Sceptic is on this too:
“Coral Cannot be at Record Levels – That is Not What Sir David Attenborough Told Me”
The Spectator (Ross Clark) is on it too now:
“How did climate doomsters get the Great Barrier Reef so wrong?
A few decades of data can only tell us so much”
“…The speed of the recovery of the coral is remarkable; in 2016 the entire reef was declared dead in an obituary published in the environmental magazine Outside. But, like the stories of people saved from cremation by a slight twitch at the eleventh hour, its death seems to have been exaggerated.
Not, of course, that the environmental movement can quite bring itself to celebrate the result of the latest survey. The Guardian’s coverage of the report is an object lesson in how environmental news is driven only by misery. ‘The world heritage site still has some capacity for recovery,’ it reports, ‘but the window is closing fast as the climate continues to warm’. A more appropriate sub-headline, surely, would have been: ‘Great Barrier Reef defies reports of its death as scientists under-estimate its capacity to recover from bleaching events.’ It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the response of the reef to warmer seas is not fully understood. When you have comprehensive data going back only 36 years it is pretty difficult to understand long-term trends….”.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Mark – Ross starts his piece with
“we are, of course, in the midst of a ‘climate emergency’ and the ‘sixth mass extinction’ of life on Earth. It is just that one of the iconic victims doesn’t seem to be playing ball just at the moment.”
so he can cover his ass (maybe)
dfhunter. Ross Clark does put the words “climate emergency” inside inverted commas, so I live in hope that he was being facetious. If not, it seems to me to be a shame that someone who so often sees things very clearly appears to be going along with the alarmist mantra, despite his criticism of an aspect of it in his article.
Brendan O’Neill ‘s take at Spiked:
I’m guessing the author of the following article remains unimpressed by such ‘cherry-picking’:
LikeLiked by 1 person
I see that article in the Nonversation was written in 2011. I wonder if a correction will now follow?
I honestly don’t think that the Conversation will see the need for a correction. The scientist concerned was trying to say that recoveries are to be expected but this doesn’t alter the long-term prognosis because that is determined by cumulative heat stresses, i.e. there will come a time when the frequency and severity of bleaching events will become overwhelming. He may be right but, in the meantime, it is an argument that I would say has yet to find support in the data, so he shouldn’t be so righteously indignant in the face of scepticism.
As is usual for this type of discussion where global heating is deemed the culprit for unpleasant happenings, there is no measurement given of the heating involved. Not uncommonly a global average is used (obtained from some variety of mathematical shenanigans) but it’s relevance to the area in question goes unmentioned. There are large areas of the Earth where the average temperature has not changed one jot and possibly some where it may have got colder.
When discussing a feature as lengthy as the Great Barrier Reef, there is considerable variation in temperatures such that warm episodes in the south possibly match average temperatures further north. Again Ove Hoegh-Guldberg ignores this in his diatribe against critical journalists.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Good news must be minimised and never allowed to last:
“Record heat over Great Barrier Reef raises fears of second summer of coral bleaching
‘This does not bode well,’ reef scientist says, as highest November temperatures reached since 1985”
Mostly devoted to alarm, though tucked away, if you persist, you will read the occasional thing like this:
“Great Barrier Reef should be placed on world heritage ‘in danger’ list, UN-backed report says
Experts from Unesco and IUCN find climate change threatens reef’s values and work to improve water quality is too slow”
There seems to be a big push to use climate change as the angle here, but in reality it seems to be about water quality:
The Guardian doesn’t provide a link to the report, nor do any of the other media websites I’ve looked at that have the story. I can’t even find it on the UNESCO website!
Mark – weird that we can’t find a link to “10-day mission to the reef last March by officials from UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.”
good old WWF give a link/post on the problem from 26 Oct 2018
partial quote –
“These are the dramatic before and after pictures that drive home the sediment and farm chemical problem plaguing the Great Barrier Reef.
Following the widespread destruction of trees for intensive agriculture, streams that once remained clear following rain now carry sediment and fertiliser pollution out to Reef waters.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
“Coral in a Warming World – Causes for Optimism”, by Peter Ridd:
Click to access Ridd-State-of-Coral-Reefs.pdf
Mark – thanks for Ridd link – not read it in total yet,
but liked this bit in Conclusion –
“It is easy to find reports in the media, based on peer reviewed articles produced by science institutions, of a reducution in GBR coral cover of 50% between 1995 and 2020.51 The data shows that coral reefs are very dynamic systems, often losing vast amounts of coral due to natural events, but recovering over a decade or so. It is apparent that science institutions are very vocal when there is a coral loss, but much quieter as recovery takes place. This inconsistent behaviour fuels a suspicion that they have a major integrity problem”
LikeLiked by 1 person
There’s more on thriving coral reefs here:
“Sunshine Coast coral reefs thriving as COVID dive project uncovers ‘enormous amount of coral'”
“Just 3% of Australians Are Aware That the Great Barrier Reef is at a Record High, Survey Finds”
LikeLiked by 1 person