In a satirical article in Outside Magazine entitled, “Obituary: Great Barrier Reef (25 Million BC-2016),” Rowan Jacobsen describes the tragic death of the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral structure. Rich in marine life, and stretching for more than 2,600km along the Eastern Coast of Australia, many were shocked upon reading of the Reef’s alleged death. The article has gone viral, reaching more than 1.42 Million shares since its release on October 11, 2016. For an Obituary, it is quite entertaining, and serves to inform readers about many of the distinct historical and marine qualities of the Reef — but has one main issue: it is scientifically false.
Upon going viral, Jacobson’s article has sparked massive controversy in the scientific community through its claim that “climate change and ocean acidification have killed off one of the most spectacular features on the planet.” According to a multitude of sources the reef is, however, still living—with preliminary findings from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority revealing, “22 percent of coral on the reef has died due to the worst mass bleaching event on record. But […] more than three quarters of the corals are still alive, in various states of health — and in dire need of being protected.” As of yet, no scientist or scientific organization has pronounced the Great Barrier Reef to be dead, and the initial article in Outside Magazine does not offer any supporting scientific evidence to back up its claims.
Despite their outcry, the Great Barrier Reef is, scientists admit, in a state of crisis — with a report from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies revealing that the reef is at great risk of extinction, with 93% of the reef affected by bleaching (which happens when it is submerged in too warm water for too long). This viral article could be the last thing that the reef needs, as it dismisses all of the ways in which human effort can still try to save the reef by painting it as too far-gone. This type of exaggeration of the state of the Reef conveys a situation of less hope, rather than trying to mobilize the public to take actions to try and reverse the damage.
Claims such as those by Outside Magazine have further implications — for the Australian economy: The Great Barrier Reef generated an estimated $5.7 billion for the Australian economy as of 2011-2012, and created 69,000 jobs, all of which could be severely impacted by the viral claims of the Reef’s death.
Aside from the false claims present in the Obituary, Jacobsen does raise an interesting point surrounding the incentive by the Australian Government to paint the Reef as in better condition than reality depicts — detailing the Australian government coercion of the United Nations, wherein they successfully got them “to remove a chapter about the reef from a report on the impact of climate change on World Heritage site,” which was justified by the Department of the Environment of Australia as due to concerns over lost revenue in tourism. By all accounts, it may be in the Australian government’s (and economy’s) best interest to minimize the public’s knowledge of the Reef’s state.
While some see Jacobsen’s viral article as ignorant and discouraging to any efforts to save the reef, some look at this hyperbolic obituary as the very wake-up call that the world has been awaiting. Professor John Pandolfi from the ARC Centre at the University of Queensland states that, “It is critically important now to bolster the resilience of the reef, and to maximize its natural capacity to recover.” The reef is, by all accounts, dying — but it is not dead. So, is it a Reefspiracy? See for yourself: The original article published by Outside Magazine can be found at: https://www.outsideonline.com/2112086/obituary-great-barrier-reef-25-million-bc-2016