James Delingpole says the Great Barrier Reef isn’t dying, but it really is, it really is...

James Delingpole is a prolific writer, particularly on the subject of climate change. It would be great if his climate denialism was correct. We could all stop worrying about the subject then. However, unfortunately, it isn’t. Indeed, Delingpole’s climate propaganda, for that is what it is, basically amounts to one untruth after another. He was wrong about Climategate (the scientists involved were all cleared of any wrongdoing), he was wrong about the pause (new research found that much of the heat was going into the deep ocean, thus showing that there hadn’t been any letup in the rate of warming), and now he is also wrong about the Great Barrier Reef not dying (I am afraid it very much is).

The culprit is warming waters caused by climate change, which has an adverse effect on the coral (bleaching) and eventually kills it, thus causing a coral reef to die.

In his latest piece on the notorious right-wing site Breitbart, Delingpole says the GBR is “recovering ‘surprisingly’ fast, according to Australia’s state propagandist ABC”. He further says that optimism among scientists that parts of the reef that were severely bleached are now making a recovery, is rising. The scientists he cites are from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, who have surveyed 14 reefs between Cairns and Townsville. Apparently, AIMS scientist Neil Cantin said the coral has started to reproduce.

Delingpole claims that the discussion about the reef “was never about the facts” but always about the narrative. He says that because the reef is a world heritage site which has lots of pretty fish swimming around it and looks great on Discovery Channel, it is the perfect advert for the claim (which, as a climate change denier, Delingpole believes to be false) that the world is warming.

Next, cue the inevitable attack on climate scientists along the lines of them supposedly “ramping up” the argument in order to attract funding, and on “green propagandists” who are apparently donation hungry.

Let’s start with this AIMS survey that Delingpole is discussing. First, it is true that the scientists were pleasantly surprised to see some of the coral that had suffered severe bleaching beginning to recover. That indeed sounds hopeful, but it certainly isn’t the case that the whole reef is recovering, because, as IFL Science has pointed out, the overall trend – which Delingpole blatantly ignored because it doesn’t fit his denialist propaganda – is of decline, not recovery. Indeed, if you look at the AIMS Summary, this is what the Institute is saying, generally. The real facts of the matter, according to the Summary, are as follows:

Over the past 12 months, hard coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef declined by about a quarter, bringing average reef-wide coral cover down to 18 percent.

These findings are based on broadscale (manta tow) surveys of 68 mainly mid- and outer-shelf reefs to March 2017, and do not yet include the impact of Tropical Cyclone Debbie or the further intense coral bleaching in 2017.

In general, the impacts of coral bleaching, cyclones and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks differ along the length of the Reef.

In a longer-term context, the scale of the coral cover decline in the Northern GBR since 2013 is unprecedented, first due to 2 severe cyclones and then the severe coral bleaching event which began 2016.

Reef rally in Melbourne, Australia. (Flick / Takver)

In contrast, due to the proliferation of fast-growing coral species and the absence of major disturbances, reefs in the Southern GBR continued to recover during the reporting period.

Click here!!

There you have it. At present, the trend is decline, not recovery.

The IFL Science article describes Delingpole’s situation brilliantly, exposing him as “a wannabe polemicist who’s rabidly vexed by nothing less than factual information”. The truth of the matter is that in 2016, the GBR suffered the death of 67 percent of the corals in the northern part of the reef, although portions in the south managed to survive. Other reports state that 93 percent of the reef was bleached. As the IFL Science report explains:

“When corals are stressed by disease, pollution or overheating, they expel their symbiotic microalgae. Microalgae give corals their beautiful colours. Without them, they become bright white in a process known as bleaching. Bleached corals are in danger, but not yet dead.”


“If the bleaching event lasts too long, the corals become overgrown by opportunistic species that form the basis of far less productive ecosystems, which can be hard to displace once established.”

Picking up signs of actual coral death is harder, but according to Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland: “Dive teams have been looking at sample locations and are seeing well over 50 percent coral deaths.”

Scientists believe it will take anywhere from 10 to 15 years for those parts of the reef that are bleached to recover, but the problem is that the bleaching is caused by warming water, which means that as the world warms further, the reef is in continued, if not increasing, danger. That being so, is the reef dying? Yes, it is. Although it isn’t completely dead yet.

Delingpole claims that he has been out to inspect the reef himself, but he hasn’t provided any details of where or when, apart from one article he wrote for The Telegraph – in 2012. It’s likely that on his trip he only visited one small part of the reef (it’s over 1,600 miles long). But there is also the fact that Delingpole is not a scientist – he’s an English Literature graduate, although he seems to believe that because his degree was won at Oxford, that somehow gives him authority to state firmly that scientists with PhDs in climate science are wrong.

The facts are not on the side of those who claim the world is warming, says Delingpole. But the truth is actually that the facts are indeed on the side of the “warmists”. In essence, Delingpole’s statements can be said, at best, to be a misrepresentation, even more seriously, a lie. Unless, as Graham Redfearn in The Guardian surmises:

“We are now at a stage where absolutely nothing is real unless you have seen it for yourself, so you can dismiss all of the photographs and video footage of bleached and dead coral, the testimony of countless marine biologists (who, we apparently also have to point out, have been to the reef) and the observations made by the government agency that manages the reef”.

IFL Science puts it more succinctly:

*“He’s peddling bullshit, and he knows it.”*🔷

Midnight Oil band protest: “Coral Not Coal” (Flick / Justin J Heitman)

(Cover: Flickr / Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble - Great Barrier Reef, Australia.)



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Freelance journalist with special interests in renewable energy, climate change, environmental issues and social justice, with a variety of other interests besides (e.g. transport).

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