Update: Andrew Bolt is at it again. Either he doesn’t understand the science or he is wilfully distorting the information surrounding the impact of climate change on coral reefs.
Update: this piece was first published back on Feb 10th, 2009 – I thought it would be worth bringing up to the top to highlight Bolt’s ongoing war against science.
After last nights airing of the Australian Story (click here if you missed the epsiode), the columnist Andrew Bolt has decided to play the wounded soldier, accusing ABC Australian Story of bias. Like me, you might find this a little amusing coming from someone who spends most of his time spinning the truth on all number of issues at the expense of his unable-to-respond victims. Apart from failing to tell you that the ABC went to great lengths to put up the full video of our exchange (which is up on their website here, and the fact that he got the last word), he continues to accuse the ABC of bias and scientists like me of being eco-alarmists. In a very tiresome way he has trotted out the same old accusations despite the fact that he has been corrected endlessly. So much for his adherence to the truth!
Anyway, here we go again:
Accusation 1. “In 1999, Ove warned that the Great Barrier Reef was under pressure from global warming, and much of it had turned white. In fact, he later admitted the reef had made a “surprising” recovery.”
Firstly, Andrew has the year wrong – I think he meant 1998. In 1998, 60% of the Great Barrier Reef bleached, and about 5-10% of the reef died. These are not my figures, but figures from the surveys done by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. All published in peer review journals rather than newspapers. Secondly, it is true we as a scientific community were very concerned – rightfully so given similar events happened in the Western Indian Ocean in 1998, which resulted in 46% of coral reefs being destroyed. One third of those coral reefs destroyed remain missing in action, and have failed to recover 10 years after the event. Third, in all of Andrew’s comments so far, it is apparent that he fails to realise that we were talking about the risk of particular events happening. As waters heat and corals bleached, there is the increased risk of reefs like the Great Barrier Reef being severely damaged. I believe that it would be remiss of scientists not to communicate the concern about this increased risk – I challenge anyone who thinks that this is an alarmist strategy.
As for my comment about a “surprising recovery” – like many reef scientists, I was overjoyed to see that the Great Barrier Reef had fared better than the Western Indian Ocean. The fact that the risk had increased sharply but we got away with only 5-10% of the reefs being damaged was good to see. Despite the small percentage though, 5-10% of reefs represents about 4,000 square kilometres of coral reef being destroyed. That is, even though it wasn’t as bad as the catastrophe in the Western Indian Ocean, it was still a highly significant event.
Accusation 2. “In 2006, he warned high temperatures meant “between 30 and 40 per cent of coral on Queensland’s great Barrier Reef could die within a month”. In fact, he later admitted this bleaching had “a minimal impact”.
I stand by the statement that coral bleaching is a serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef – to date we have gotten off lightly compared to other areas around the world. Let’s examine what actually happened in 2006. Early in that year, we saw an unusual and rapid warming of the waters of the Great Barrier Reef and the risk of a major bleaching event escalated as temperatures climbed. Leading scientists from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority were saying exactly what I was saying. Both US experts at NOAA and NASA came out with similar statements. While the northern Great Barrier Reef looked like it might be damaged, the risk dissipated as summer progressed. As it turned out, however, the hot water remained in the southern Great Barrier Reef and killed 30-40% of corals in that region. Again, the outcome was not trivial but it wasn’t as bad as the sorts of catastrophes we had seen in other reef regions around the world, such as the Caribbean and Indian Ocean regions.
Accusation 3. “In 2007, he warned that temperature changes of the kind caused by global warming were again bleaching the reef. In fact, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network in December said there had been no big damage to the reef caused by climate change in the four years since its last report, and veteran diver Ben Cropp said that in 50 years he’d seen none at all.”
Putting Andrew unsubstantiated quotes aside, there are some huge inaccuracies and problems in this missive. Firstly, Andrew’s claim that the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network held this position has been disputed by one of the key scientists from the network. Secondly, referring to the opinion of a veteran spearfisherman is fine, but runs counter to the objective analysis of the evidence on this issue. I have asked Andrew to read the paper by John Bruno and Liz Selig (both leading international coral reef scientists) who have examined 6000 separate studies done over the last 40 years, and have found evidence that coral reefs both on the Great Barrier Reef and in the Western Pacific deteriorating at the rate of 1-2% per year. The challenge to Andrew is to show why this analysis of 6000 separate studies is wrong and why he and a few unpublished ‘experts’ are right – the paper is free online for anyone to read.
Afterall, in his own words Andrew admits:
“I am not a scientist, and cannot have an informed opinion on your research.”
Then, what are you really saying?