This rather emotive headline is taken straight from the media release that graces our university homepage this week. In it, an ecologist from the Crawford School of Public Policy discusses his views on all things marine: ocean acidification, over fishing and the loss of coral reefs due to climate change and pollution (both of which are human-induced, or are we denying our contribution to pollution as well?). So today I would like to give my opinion, on his opinion, and the use of hyperbole in the media.
To clarify, I am not at any point disagreeing that there is urgent need to direct funding into research and management plans that will help save our most precious resource (I mean the marine environment, not iron ore). I think the work is admirable. But to say,
“The world’s coral reefs have become a zombie ecosystem, neither dead nor truly alive, and are on a trajectory to collapse within a human generation”,
is a little melodramatic isn’t it? Without even finishing her PhD, she becomes a jaded scientist…
Perhaps I am mistaken but I was under the impression that while the evidence is compelling we are still not entirely sure how coral reef ecosystem will respond to ocean acidification. We are only just beginning to understand the physiological mechanisms behind coral calcification, indeed there have been a number of studies in high-profile journals just this year that demonstrate corals can continue to calcify, albeit at great energetic expense. Yes there will be a threshold, but we are not entirely sure where that is yet. So to state,
“The scientific evidence for this is compelling and unequivocal, but there seems to be a collective reluctance to accept the logical conclusion — that there is no hope of saving the global coral reef ecosystem,”
again, I found it a little difficult to read, no hope? But that was before this which I found even more difficult to read,
“By persisting in the false belief that coral reefs have a future, we grossly misallocate the funds needed to cope with the fallout from their collapse. Money isn’t spent to study what to do after the reefs are gone.”
What? Did we just give up on even trying to save the reefs?
One of the problems with educating the general population on the committment we are presently making to altering our climate, is the enormity of the problem itself. If you don’t believe that anything can be done, then why not hide your head in the sand? What would be the point in collective action if there is no hope?
In particular I think my problem with parts of this discussion it that they are just not true. We still have so much to learn about the complexities, interactions and feedback mechanisms that occur in coral reef ecosystems. We are funding large-scale monitoring programs, and with each research project that contributes to our understanding of the physical, chemical and biological processes in coral reefs, our models become more refined. But now is not the time to give up!
In the government report “The Critical Decade“, the sense of urgency behind implementing change to avoid the most serious consequences of climate change is clear. The message is rather bleak but the problem is not insurmountable. We have committed to a certain amount of irreversible climate change, however if we take serious action in this decade we can avoid the most serious consequences. And yes, we do need to fund climate adaptation but I don’t believe we need to start issuing an arsenal of anti-zombie weapons to the hundreds and thousands of tourists visiting the Great Barrier Reef each year…at least not just yet.
Or you can read yesterday’s beautiful piece written by an Inuit girl, on how the earth is telling us that we are in peril. That made we want to take action, not throw in the towel.