[Coral-List] GBR and fake news

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Tue Nov 21 22:03:38 EST 2017

Interesting.  This person's recounting of seeing nice coral is certainly
not inconsistent with the reports of widespread mortality on the GBR, I
have no doubt pockets of good live coral remain even in the most damaged
areas (but also small patches of damage in areas that are the least
affected).  But it certainly does not demonstrate that the reports of
widespread bleaching on the GBR are fake news.  That was done with surveys
over much wider areas than that diver could have seen, they used things
like airplanes (you can see the white corals through the water easily) to
cover vast areas.  The scientists who did that don't report fake data, and
they wished to high heavens that they weren't seeing vast areas of bleached
coral.  But they call it as they record it.  I'm sure there is video from
the planes that makes it painfully, painfully clear that there are miles
and miles and miles of corals that were badly bleached.  Go there after the
bleaching is over, and if the area you are in had high recovery, and it
will all look normal and healthy.  Go to a place where they died, and dead
corals will be all over and unavoidable.  Of course science uses random
sampling and large data sets to avoid assuming that an anecdotal account is
typical.  With just an anecdote, you don't know what is actually typical.
An anecdote can be dramatic, but is just one data point, and often very
atypical.  Unfortunately, the human tendency is to be far more interested
in anecdotal reports (almost all news is anecdotal) in preference for
scientific studies that represent the whole situation (typical, modal,
range, the good, the bad and the ugly).  But the science better represents
the whole situation instead of one tiny sample, that is a large part of
what science is about and why it is so powerful compared to anecdotes.
Tour operators can take the tourists to good spots, most likely.  The
southern end of the GBR has undergone a big recovery, based on the hard
data online from AIMS monitoring that was pointed to by Hugh Sweatman
earlier (recovered only to the level it was at about 5 yrs ago, not the
level when recording first began).  It is not all death and destruction.
We all hope intensely that the GBR and Chagos and the many other reefs will
recover (only time will tell).  But damage is NOT fake news.
     Mind you, that is one person in one dive magazine.  There have been
many news stories written around the world about the GBR bleaching, which
surely reached more people than this one person in a dive magazine.  But I
remember from long ago realizing that Skin Diver magazine would only say
good things about dive destinations, never anything bad.  How many
advertisers say bad things about their products?  (Drug ads in the U.S.
have to by law, but they show pictures of smiling faces which is what
people pay attention to, not the voice saying that this drug might cause
terrible side effects.)  One of our tasks as scientists (and how we try to
keep our reputation for honesty and knowledge of reality) is to only say it
how it is, like the facts are, reality, the way the world really is, based
on our data, replicable.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.  Lots of people
and governments depend on us for just that reason.
     Cheers,  Doug

On Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 5:26 AM, Steve Mussman <sealab at earthlink.net> wrote:

> I recently had an online exchange with the publisher of a popular scuba
> diving magazine. He had posted a few pictures (on social media) which he
> had taken while on a diving expedition along a “far north” area of the
> GBR.   His caption read in part “Some fake news is, well, fake.  Like all
> the stories you might have read bemoaning the death of the Great Barrier
> Reef in Australia.  That's not what we saw.  Not what we enjoyed this
> week.  Loving the pristine staghorns from the Far North! . . “    Now I get
> it that the GBR is not completely dead (I think we have already discussed
> the fallout related to the satirical Outside Magazine obituary),  but what
> obligation does the scuba diving industry have to frame the issue more
> accurately?    Dive tourism is their bread and butter so one can understand
> why they would want to promote positive images of healthy reefs, but what
> does the average scuba diver take away from this “fake news” depiction?
>  Interestingly enough, the scuba diving industry knows full well how to
> take on issues which pose a threat to marine ecosystems. There are already
> aggressive campaigns underway designed to combat plastic debris, invasive
> lionfish and shark finning,  but what about land-based pollutants,
> over-fishing and climate change? Apparently labeling them as fake news
> remains the preferred approach. By the way, there are reasons for optimism
> in the Florida Keys as well I’m told. Funny how some of you listers have
> suggested that the reefs in the far south of Florida hardly qualify as
> coral reefs anymore!  As for me, I probably just need to lighten up and
> recharge by getting back out diving on some of my favorite reefs once
> again. From what I read in my diving magazines it looks like there will
> always be lots of healthy, vibrant, even pristine coral reefs around the
> world to choose from.
> Regards,
> Steve Mussman
> Sent from my iPad
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> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
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Douglas Fenner
Contractor for NOAA NMFS Protected Species, and consultant
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

New online open-access field guide to 300 coral species in Chagos, Indian

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