Correction: A previous version of this article claimed the Great Barrier Reef is “growing quickly.” While coral cover has improved, the reef did not grow. The article has been revised. More context has been added about the type of coral, Acropora, and why the improvement is easily reversed. The report also incorrectly claimed that there was a 26% increase in coral cover. According to an Australian Institute of Marine Science report, hard coral cover increased from 14% in recent years to 26%.
Coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef has improved, according to a new report.
The Australian government’s most recent official report on reef recovery indicates that coral cover at the Northern Great Barrier Reef “continued to increase to 27% from the most recent low point in 2017.” The type of coral, according to Climate Feedback, is Acropora, a “particularly fast-growing genus” that “tends to be more susceptible to wave damage, coral bleaching, and predation by the crown-of-thorns starfish.”
Because Acropora is susceptible to stressors, “any increase in Acropora coral cover that was previously documented can quickly be reversed,” Climate Feedback notes. The Australian government’s report says this type of recovery “can be reversed in a short amount of time,” something that has happened previously.
Terry Hughes, professor at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, told Climate Feedback that changes in coral cover do not mean the reef is growing.
“The reefs are not growing or shrinking – that’s a geological process that occurs over centuries or more. Growth rates of individual corals is not a conventional way to assess the condition of reefs,” he explained.
Alex Epstein, the founder and the president of the Center for Industrial Progress, used the report to argue that the growth should have been covered more heavily by the mainstream media.
“The climate media’s evasion of the Great Barrier Reef improvement confirms that they have no interest in the truth about what’s happening with climate and why,” Epstein said on Twitter. “They are interested in attacking fossil fuels, attacking capitalism, and justifying vast expansions of government power.”
“Any science editor that covered the decline of the Great Barrier Reef but not its improvement” — including those at The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, The Guardian, USA Today, and National Geographic — “should commit to correcting their failures or be pressured into resigning.”
But Chris Brown, a research fellow at Griffith University, told Climate Feedback that independent surveys have confirmed the reef is in poor health. “Recent and ongoing heatwaves are a major contributor to that, as are impacts from pollution and crown of thorns starfish predation,” said Brown.
“The corals that grow back rapidly – Acropora ‘branching’ corals, are also very sensitive to human impacts, so this recovery will be temporary if climate change continues,” he added.
Climate Feedback adds: “Research shows that the Great Barrier Reef faces ongoing threats from climate change, including warmer ocean temperatures and more intense tropical cyclones. These threats pose long-term danger to coral reefs and can easily reverse short-term growth in coral cover.”