The BBC & The Great Barrier Reef Scare
By Paul Homewood
Yet more inaccurate, overhyped and one-sided propaganda from the BBC.
The BBC story is based on a study by the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, run by a guy called Terry Hughes. But as Jo Nova points out:
The chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Russell Reichelt says that activist groups are distorting surveys, maps and data to exaggerate the coral bleaching on the reef. The bleaching affects 22% of the reef and is mostly localized to the far northern section, which has good prospects of recovery.
Two reef groups are in conflict. One is Reichelt’s GBR Authority, and the other is a special “National Coral Bleaching Taskforce” run by a guy called Terry Hughes. The Australian media was overrun with stories last week about how a report was censored to hide the damage. What was under-reported was the conflict and the propaganda.
The real problem appears to be that yet another agency was set up to find a crisis, and their existence depends on finding one. The Taskforce was set up in October last year.
ABC repeats all the Taskforce’s claims without question: “Great Barrier Reef: Only 7 per cent not bleached, survey finds”.
The Taskforce’s report was so bad the GBR authority had to withdraw from it:
Dr Reichelt said the authority had withdrawn from a joint announcement on coral bleaching with Professor Hughes this week “because we didn’t think it told the whole story”. The taskforce said mass bleaching had killed 35 per cent of corals on the northern and central Great Barrier Reef.
Dr Reichelt said maps accompanying the research had been misleading, exaggerating the impact. “I don’t know whether it was a deliberate sleight of hand or lack of geographic knowledge but it certainly suits the purpose of the people who sent it out,” he said.
“This is a frightening enough story with the facts, you don’t need to dress them up. We don’t want to be seen as saying there is no problem out there but we do want people to understand there is a lot of the reef that is unscathed.”
Dr Reichelt said there had been widespread misinterpretation of how much of the reef had died.
“We’ve seen headlines stating that 93 per cent of the reef is practically dead,” he said.
“We’ve also seen reports that 35 per cent, or even 50 per cent, of the entire reef is now gone.
–Graham Lloyd, The Australian
The censored report apparently also said good things about Turnbull’s reef plan. Hard to believe the government would be in a rush to censor that.
How bad is the propaganda? So bad the ABC and Greenpeace use photos of coral in Samoa
We have the largest coral reef structure in the world, but sometimes the ABC can’t find a picture of bleaching from it, instead using an image from Samoa (top right). Greenpeace used the same trick. The Courier Mail reported that the ABC and Greenpeace were caught, the ABC apologized, and replaced the photo on one of their many pages, but 7 months later, the unlabelled Samoan image still appears on stories about Barrier Reef bleaching and on stories of mass coral bleaching. Looks like a billion dollars isn’t enough to pay for someone to do a 2 minute search at the ABC. Fact checking? Who cares?
Reefs do recover
The world was hotter during the Holocene optimum, yet somehow the Great Barrier Reef survived.
Veteran reef divers have seen corals recover from bleaching before:
Bob Halstead, a veteran Coral Sea diver and member of the international scuba hall of fame alongside Jacques Cousteau and Sylvia Earle, says up to 90 per cent of corals on the iconic Ribbon Reefs show signs of stress.
But he is still confident of a quick recovery. “This may be the worst bleaching in Great Barrier Reef history, but I have seen far worse in PNG, and recovery in a few years,” he says. “So this is rather like the fires that ‘devastate’ and ‘destroy’ forests which then happily regenerate and no more is heard about it,” Halstead says.
“If someone has not seen these effects before, the ‘bleaching’ is very dramatic, however I have seen this before, and I am not nearly as alarmed as I used to be.
“The problem with all the ‘disaster’ hyperbole is that yet again the Great Barrier Reef will get world publicity reinforcing the idea that it is dead and not worth visiting.
“I have asked many potential diving visitor friends of mine why they do not dive the Great Barrier Reef and they tell me it is because they have heard it is ‘dead’. — Graham Lloyd, The Australian
Prof Peter Ridd reports that there is a heavy price to speaking out about reef politics
I find it interesting that The Head of GBRMPA has said that Prof Terry Hughes organisation was “misleading” the public.
I recently made a similar comment of Prof Hughes organisation (COE Coral Reef Studies at JCU) about a related issue – they stated that there was no coral on a particular reef and I furnished photographic evidence that this was incorrect. I stated that the information from Hughes organisation was “misleading” among other things including that there is clearly a need for some better quality assurance of the science.
For my sins, I was hit with an academic misconduct charge from JCU, found guilty, and duly threatened with dismissal if I transgressed again. I am still bewildered by what happened.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as exaggeration of threats to the GBR is concerned.
Prof Peter Ridd
Marine Geophysics Laboratory
James Cook University
We also had this report from Cairns News last month:
The healthy Great Barrier Reef deniers have been caught out lying about coral bleaching and the near-pristine condition of the world’s best coral icon.
Dive boat operators who visit the reef almost on a daily basis taking thousands of tourists on diving expeditions have been telling authorities for several years there is nothing wrong with the reef.
They have warned lying so-called conservation bodies such as the WWF, Wilderness Society, CAFNEC, the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce and the Australian Conservation Foundation their misleading campaigns would harm the Far North tourism trade.
Tourist operators have advised the State Government that coral bleaching is a natural and annual event that can affect small sections of the reef.
Spirit of Freedom dive boat owner Chris Eade told the Cairns Post that reports of coral bleaching along 93 per cent of the 2300 klm reef had damaged the reputation of the $5 billion tourism industry.
“Scientists had written off the entire northern section as a complete white-out,” Mr Eade said.
“We expected the worst, but it is in tremendous condition, most of it pristine, the rest in full recovery.”
“It shows the resilience of the reef.”
Mike Ball Dive Expeditions operations manager Craig Stephen, who conducted a similar survey on the remote reefs 20 years ago, said there had been almost no change in two decades despite the latest coral bleaching event.
“The discrepancy is phenomenal. It is so wrong. Everywhere we have been we have found healthy reefs,” Mr Ball said.
“There has been a great disservice to the Great Barrier Reef and tourism and it has not been good for our industry.”
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority estimated a mass coral white-out of between 50 to 60 per cent, on average, for reefs off Cape York.
Scientists with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies reported about 35 per cent mortality but warned “the final death toll” on some reefs may exceed 90 per cent.
This year the worst bleaching was found at Lizard Island, 180 klms north of Cooktown, where several reefs have shown distress due to fluctuating water temperatures.
The Reef is millions of years old, and has gone through much hotter times, even as recently as the early Holocene, and happily survived. Although the BBC quote other bleachings in the early 20thC, there is no evidence that similar events have not happened at regular intervals in earlier centuries, as nobody was around to check.
As Jo comments, Terry Hughes runs an agency that was set up to find a crisis, and its existence depends on finding one. That does not necessarily mean its findings are wrong, but there is another side to the story that the BBC, not for the first time, is failing to present.