Great Barrier Reef head says reports of widespread coral bleaching misleading

Russell Reichelt, chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said this week that activist scientists, green lobbyists, and environmental organizations have distorted “surveys, maps, and data” to intentionally mislead the “extent and impact of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.”

A new report on the barrier reef’s health was released last week by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. It showed that only 22 percent of the reef was affected by the now-dissipated 2015-2016 El Ni√±o and that current conservation efforts over the last few years have taken the reef off of the World Heritage sites ‘watch’ list.

Numerous reports from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other activist organizations said that much of the barrier reef was bleached, or killed, by the warm waters triggered by the strong, naturally occurring El Niño and global warming.

Dr. Reichelt said the bulk of the coral bleaching was confined to the far northern section off of Cape York, which had the best prospect of recovery due to the lack of onshore development, pollution run-off, and higher water quality. Reports from media outlets like The Guardian also reported the reef’s so-called mass bleaching, even though it was based on information provided by Big Green, climactivists, and overly zealous scientists.

Scientists like Australia’s former climate change commissioner Tim Flannery, who said that diving near the Great Barrier Reef was “one of the saddest days of my life. This great organism, the size of Germany and arguably the most diverse place on earth, is dying before our eyes,” Flannery wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. He then compared it to watching his father die a slow, inextricable death two years ago. “This is death, which ever-rising temperatures will allow no recovery from. Unless we act now.”

Hardly. Reichelt said Flannery’s comments were “dramatic” and “theatrical” and his prognosis was “speculative.” As noted, the overall mortality rate that was confined mostly to one small area was only 22 percent. And the areas that tourists visit most often only lost 2 percent. Even the U.N. Chief said the management of the reef in recent years has been top-notch.

Like Flannery, the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce headed by Terry Hughes is at loggerheads with the Barrier Reef agency that produced this latest report. Reichelt said the GBRMPA had withdrawn from a joint announcement on coral bleaching with Hughes “because we didn’t think it told the whole story.” The task force said mass bleaching had killed 35 percent of corals on the northern and central Great Barrier Reef. Reichelt said the maps accompanying the research were “misleading and exaggerated 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,” Reichelt 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.”

The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s biggest tourist attractions. Sending out official reports with misleading and exaggerated claims sends out the wrong message: that the reef is somehow in danger and not the incredible wonder people have come to see.

So much so tour operators had to create a campaign to combat the misleading and deceitful information. “It seems some marine scientists have decided to use the bleaching event to highlight their personal political beliefs and lobby for increased funding in an election year,” said Association of Marine Park Tour Operators executive director Col McKenzie.

Reichelt said there has been a lot of widespread misinterpretation of how much reef has died. “We’ve seen headlines stating that 93 percent of the reef is practically dead,” he said. “We’ve also seen reports that 35 percent, or even 50 percent, of the entire reef, is now gone.”

“However,” he said, “based on our combined results so far, the overall mortality rate is 22 percent — and about 85 percent of that die-off has occurred in the far north between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island, 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Cairns. Seventy-five percent of the reef will come out in a few months’ time as recovered.”

They have also set aside $200 million to improve the water quality by preventing pollution run-off by 80 percent by 2025. They have also restricted proposed port development from 11 to four areas and curtailed future coastal development.

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