For decades, scientists and their trusted media messengers have hyped up the temporary loss of coral to promote climate Armageddon and the need for a Net Zero political solution. Last year the story suddenly disappeared from the headlines as coral on the Australian Great Barrier Reef (GBR) showed its highest level since records began in 1985. Professor Peter Ridd, who has studied coral on the GBR for 40 years, has published a damning report charging that “serious questions” are raised “about integrity in science institutions and in the media”. The GBR – the reef for which we have the most consistent and longest record – “has never been in better shape”.
Professor Ridd notes that coral usually takes at least five to 10 years to regrow from a major event, so the record high coral levels in 2022 suggest reports of massive mortality events were erroneous. “An uncharitable observer might conclude that periodic mass coral mortality events, which are largely completely natural, are exploited by some organisations with an ideological agenda and a financial interest,” he observed, adding: “this includes many scientific organisations”. He said that the periodic mass loss of coral is visually spectacular, emotionally upsetting and makes gripping media stories. The slow but full recovery is rarely reported, he added.
It is often claimed that coral reef systems are particularly sensitive to human-caused climate change. As the ‘canary in the coalmine’, they have become a major poster scare story in the fight to introduce a command-and-control Net Zero agenda. Ridd recalls that in 2018, the IPCC wrote “with high confidence” that coral would decline worldwide by 70-90% with a 0.4°C increase in temperature, and another 0.5°C would wipe out 99%. These figures have been repeated everywhere, from media reports to school teaching material. But, states Ridd, research has shown that coral bleaching “is part of a remarkable adaptive mechanism that makes coral potentially one of the organisms that is least susceptible to rising temperatures”.
In June 1999, George Monbiot told his Guardian readers that marine biologists had reported 70-90% of the coral reefs they had surveyed in the Indian Ocean had just died. Within a year, much of the remainder was likely to follow. From this, Monbiot concluded that “at least one of the world great ecosystems is now on the point of total collapse”. Monbiot is an acknowledged leader in catastrophic climate prose, but his doom-laden diatribes are repeated endlessly across both science and mainstream media publications.
However, Ridd has much good news to impart. Data are less reliable outside the GBR, but it seems that across the globe there has not been a major drop in coral cover. Data for the East Asia Seas coral bioregion, with 30% of the world’s coral reefs and containing the particularly diverse ‘coral triangle’, shows no statistically significant net coral loss since records began.
The above graph from the Ridd report shows coral on the GBR at its highest level since local records began, despite four much publicised bleaching events. The author notes that of the 3,000 individual reefs, none have been lost. All have excellent coral, although there are large fluctuations in cover from year to year, mostly as a result of cyclones and starfish predation. Bleaching is noted to occur when corals expel symbiotic algae that live inside them, often subsequently replacing them with a different species when they recover. The process is said to make them “highly adaptable” to changing temperatures, and most corals do not die. This latter point is “rarely made by science institutions or the media”.
The coral story is a classic of its kind showing how a laudable environmental concern is hysterically hyped to promote an elite collectivist vision of economic and societal change. Reefs are under threat in parts of the world, but the damage is largely caused by planned human activities Ridd identifies the physical destruction of reefs for the development of ports and airports and quarrying for cement. It might be noted that such reef destruction has been carried out by Pacific islanders, claiming, often erroneously, that their homes are disappearing beneath the waves due to climate change and demanding ‘reparations’ from wealthier nations. The author also notes the recent destruction by China of entire reef tops for military bases in the South China Sea.
On a wider front, Ridd says we cannot expect the coral reef science community to admit that it has exaggerated threats of bleaching or has been wilfully negligent in reporting recent research that show corals’ remarkable adaptability and toughness. There is little possibility that eminent scientists who have built their reputations on ‘crying wolf’ will suddenly admit they have got it wrong.
“Tens of thousands of jobs depend on the proposition that the reefs of the world will be gone sometime in the future – but not too distant future,” he adds. There are many scientific issues, such as the broader climate debate, “where one can suspect that the scientific advice is not as reliable as it could be, and that the scientists are now mostly motivated by ideology”.
The report, Coral in a Warming World: Causes for Optimism, is published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Professor Ridd is a physicist and has researched the GBR since 1984. He has published over 100 scientific papers. He was fired in 2018 by James Cook University in Queensland for pointing out quality assurance deficiencies in reef-science institutions.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor.
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