Screenshot of a story in 'The Australian' newspaper, titled 'Not all scientists agree on cause of Great Barrier Reef damage'. Scientists at Climate Feedback review the overall scientific credibility of the story to be 'low', with a majority of reviewers tagging the article as 'Biased' and 'Misleading'. Graphic: Climate Feedback

19 April 2018 (Climate Feedback) – This article in The Australian covers a new study published in Nature that concludes global warming played a key role in the recent large-scale bleaching and mortality of corals in the Great Barrier Reef. Based on the comments of a single oceanographer (Prof. Kaempf), the article was headlined “Not all scientists agree on cause of Great Barrier Reef damage”.

The scientists who reviewed this article found that this source’s comments in the story are unsupported by evidence and prior research, and therefore The Australian article misleads readers by emphasizing a “debate” that does not actually exist among researchers studying the Great Barrier Reef. […]

These comments are the overall opinion of scientists on the article, they are substantiated by their knowledge in the field and by the content of the analysis in the annotations on the article.

  • Andrew King, Research fellow, University of Melbourne: The Australian chooses to present a mixed message on this story when the science is extremely clear. The title and quote from Prof. Kaempf do not represent the views of the broader scientific community.
  • John Bruno, Professor, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: An otherwise fair and accurate article, except for the misleading headline and nonsense opinion from Dr. Kaempf. Dr. Kaempf is obviously not familiar with the relevant science. While the bleaching did occur during the peak of an El Niño event (the high point of a natural cycle), the anomalously high temperatures were (with high certainty) caused by ocean warming. Natural El Niño events affect the GBR once or twice a decade and have for thousands of years. Yet until recently they had only minor, if any impacts. It is the background warming of the seas, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, that is increasing the peaks of the ENSO cycle, making “heat waves” more severe. This natural cycle is essentially riding on the back of gradual increases in temperature over the last century. The scientific basis for this is widely understood and accepted by the scientific community, including the vast majority of physical oceanographers. While it is evidently true (if surprising) that not every single scientist agrees with this explanation, a vast majority do.
  • Terry Hughes, Professor, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University: The article quotes a scientist who has no expertise in climate change, ecology, or coral reefs, who claims that the global record-breaking temperatures in 2016 were not due to climate change. Fifty percent of corals on the Great Barrier Reef died on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016-2017, and the article seeks to downplay this unprecedented loss. [Prof. Hughes was lead author of the Nature study.] […]
  • Andrew King, Research fellow, University of Melbourne: Unfortunately, even under the Paris Agreement, 2016-like heat will be more common. See King, et al. (2017), Australian climate extremes at 1.5 °C and 2 °C of global warming, Nature Climate Change. [more]

Annual chance of Coral Sea heat events like the one in early 2016, under global warming. Graphic: Andrew King / David Karoly / Ben Henley

The Australian’s coverage of Great Barrier Reef study creates perception that scientists are divided


  1. Dennis Mitchell said...

    So many journalist have gotten stupid and irresponsible. The blame falls first on the editors. Then the owners. We have always had yellow journalism, but....we are so screwed!  


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