In a welcome change, the Guardian takes a non-alarmist stance on a climate change topic. It was persuaded by marine scientists to disagree with an obituary for the Great Barrier Reef published earlier this month. I’ve never before known the Guardian to spare our feelings or understate the growing perils of climate change.
Reports of the death of the Great Barrier Reef have been greatly exaggerated, scientists have said, after the publication of an “obituary” for the vast coral ecosystem.
The famed 1,400-mile network of reefs “passed away in 2016 after a long illness”, wrote food and travel writer Rowan Jacobsen in an article for Outside magazine. According to Jacobsen, the reef’s demise followed the “most catastrophic bleaching event in its history, from which it would never recover”…
But scientists have stressed that while the Great Barrier Reef, like most coral structures around the world, is under severe stress, it hasn’t quite snuffed it yet.
“This is a fatalistic, doomsday approach to climate change that isn’t going to engage anyone and misinforms the public,” said Kim Cobb, a coral reef expert at Georgia Tech. “There will be reefs in 2050, including portions of the Great Barrier Reef, I’m pretty confident of that. I’m put off by pieces that say we are doomed.”
Coral reefs have for thousands of years been regularly damaged or destroyed by natural events including high water temperatures, predators and storms, but they are strong, resilient organisms which will be around for a long time yet. Indeed, there is strong evidence that the current increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is providing considerable stimulation to crustaceans, which raises the distinct possibility that it also stimulates coral and other invertebrates.
A tenfold increase in the North Atlantic population of coccolithophores, single-celled algae among the most productive of marine calcifying species, was caused by the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a Johns Hopkins University study published a year ago.
Carbon dioxide: invisible, silent, odourless, tasteless—turns out it feeds marine plants, and fast. Surprising, but that’s the natural world for you. Full of surprise, endlessly burnished with glory.