A Tale of Two Media Perspectives: New Pristine Reef Discovery a Marvel for Most, A Chance to Promote Unwarranted Climate Alarmism for CNN

A Google news search for the term “climate change” today turns of a flood of stories discussing the recent discovery of a previously unknown and evidently pristine coral reef off the coasts of Tahiti. Most news outlets covering the story, like CBC, France 24, and the New York Post, only mentioned climate change in passing, noting this coral reef seems untouched by the myriad factors impacting neighboring coral reefs. CNN, perhaps predictably, tried to turn a story of wonder and hope, into a horror tale, warning the reef had to be protected from climate change.

The CBC story, titled “This huge coral reef has only just been discovered, and it’s undamaged by climate change,” was typical of most of the news coverage of the newly discovered, diverse and healthy reef. CBC writes:

Discovery of reef, deeper than most, suggests there may be more unknown large reefs in oceans.

Scientists have discovered a pristine, three-kilometre-long reef of giant rose-shaped corals off the coast of Tahiti, in waters of the southern Pacific Ocean thought to be deep enough to protect it from the bleaching effects of the warming ocean.

The reef off Tahiti lies in the “twilight zone” 30 to 120 metres below the surface where there is still enough light for coral to grow and reproduce. The discovery off Tahiti’s shores suggests there may be many more unknown large reefs in our oceans, given that only about 20 per cent of the entire seabed is mapped, according to UNESCO scientists.

“It also raises questions about how coral reefs become more resilient to climate change,” UNESCO’s head of marine policy, Julian Barbiere, told Reuters.

CBC and others said very little about climate change related to the reef because there was little to say, other than to imply warming waters affected other reefs nearby. Most of the coverage of the reef were hopeful in tone, uniformly covering the fact that the reef was healthy, diverse, proof reefs are can be resilient to climate change, and indicating, there could be untold numbers of reefs similar to it in the 80 percent of the world’s oceans and seas that have yet to be explored

CNN’s slant on the discovery, by contrast, took a decidedly alarmists tone.

“Deep in the ocean off the coast of Tahiti, scientists made an incredible discovery in November: acres of giant, pristine, rose-shaped corals blossoming from the sea floor in what’s known as the ocean’s ‘twilight zone,’” wrote CNN. A single paragraph later it turned a hopeful tale of discovery into climate change horror story.

“That a coral reef so large and so beautiful had yet to be discovered emphasizes how little we still know about the world’s oceans, scientists say,” said CNN. “And its impeccable condition — with no evidence that the reef has yet been harmed by the climate crisis — suggests the need for urgent action to protect the ocean’s remaining healthy reefs.” (emphasis mine).

Rather than touting the coral reef’s apparent resilience in the face of the myriad threats to coral health, the least of which, evidence suggests, is modestly warming oceans, CNN immediately presents the discovery as a cautionary tale about the dangers of climate change.

“Warming oceans and acidification caused by the climate crisis has led to widespread coral bleaching,” continued CNN. “Last year, scientists found the global extent of living coral has declined by half since 1950 due to climate change, overfishing and pollution.”

Thankfully, almost everything CNN said about the threats to and the abundance of coral reefs is false.

As explored in previous Climate Realism reports, here, here, and here, for example, corals evolved when the oceans were much warmer than at present and require warm waters to thrive. As a result corals have been expanding their range in response to modestly warming ocean waters. Most of the corals that have bleached in recent years, have recovered. Where corals have not recovered, their bleaching and death has been tied to coastal pollution, including from chemicals contained in sun screen, siltation from development, and agricultural run-off.

Indeed, research reported in Phys.org suggests coral reefs are far from threatened.

According to the Phys.org story, titled “Half a trillion corals: World-first coral count prompts rethink of extinction risks,” the number of corals in the Pacific Ocean alone exceed half a trillion. There are likely trillions more globally.

The scientists involved in the research say the sheer number of corals and coral species means the risk of extinction due to climate change is vastly lower than previously claimed.

“In the Pacific, we estimate there are roughly half a trillion corals,’ said the study lead author, Dr. Andy Dietzel from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University,” writes Phys.org.

“This is about the same number of trees in the Amazon, or birds in the world.”

“Dr. Dietzel said the eight most common coral species in the region each have a population size greater than the 7.8 billion people on Earth,” says Phys.org, continuing, “The findings suggest that while a local loss of coral can be devastating to coral reefs, the global extinction risk of most coral species is lower than previously estimated.”

This research exposes the fact that although the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list 80 coral species to have an elevated extinction risk, 12 of those species have estimated population sizes of more than one billion colonies.

When the discovery of this unexpected, pristine, massive coral reef in Tahiti’s waters was announced, corporate media outlets had a choice, the high road of truth, or the low road of false climate alarmism. Most media outlets took the high road, presenting the facts about the reef, its location, extent, and uniqueness, and discussing the marvels that this reef presented and the good news it might be telling about the abundance of corals in as yet uncharted waters. They limited their speculations about climate change.

CNN, as is its usual practice, took the low road, briefly describing the Tahitian reef’s discovery and its wonders, and then making the story about climate change. Along the way CNN presented half-truths, misleading information, and gross speculation about the threat climate change poses to coral reefs worldwide, in an attempt to say this newly discovered pristine coral reef is endangered, even though there is no evidence this is true, from human greenhouse gas emissions. Shame on CNN.

H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is the Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News. In addition to directing The Heartland Institute's Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, Burett puts Environment & Climate News together, is the editor of Heartland's Climate Change Weekly email, and the host of the Environment & Climate News Podcast.

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