Great Barrier Reef Obituary Goes Viral, But It's Not Dead Yet

Environmentalists said the article was incorrect and irresponsible.

Last week a writer proclaimed the Great Barrier Reef dead. Rowan Jacobsen’s article entitled Obituary: Great Barrier Reef (25 Million BC-2016) quickly went viral, to the horror of many experts.

Leading environmentalists have since spoken out against the obituary, saying the reef is suffering badly but still alive.

Russell Brainard, chief of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Program at NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, said he expects the article was meant to highlight the urgency of the situation. But those who don’t know better “are going to take it at face value that the Great Barrier Reef is dead,” he said.

Brainard added that the scientific community is increasingly worried that overstatements like Jacobsen’s can cause people to lose hope in conservation efforts. They may think, “If there’s nothing that can be done, let’s not do anything and move onto other issues,” he said.

Coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef is suffering from bleaching.
Coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef is suffering from bleaching.
Ho New / Reuters

Temperature rises caused by the El-Nino effect and climate change have caused widespread damage to the reef. When the sea warms too quickly, coral expels the algae living in its tissue, causing it to turn completely white.

According to a study published earlier this year, severe bleaching has affected more than 93% of the reef. But a new report shows that only 22% of the coral has been killed by the bleaching, meaning three quarters could still be saved.

Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said in an email to HuffPost that he was “not impressed by the [article’s] message that we should give up on the [Great Barrier Reef], or that it is already dead.”

“We can and must save the Great Barrier Reef ― it supports 70,000 jobs in reef tourism,” he said. “Large sections of it (the southern half) escaped from the 2016 bleaching, and are in reasonable shape. The message should be that it isn’t too late for Australia to lift its game and better protect the GBR, not we should all give up because the GBR is supposedly dead.”

But Greta Abey, a coral expert with the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii, was more sympathetic to Jacobsen’s tongue-in-cheek approach.

“As a coral biologist who has been working for a decade and a half to understand the reefs problems, and let reef managers and others know what the problems are so they can be addressed, I can tell you it is a very frustrating and heart-breaking job,” she said in an email to HuffPost US.

“So maybe an article like that is what is needed ... although I doubt if it will really make a difference.”

Outside Magazine did not immediately respond to HuffPost US’s request for comment. And contact information for the author was not listed.