Why The Parrotfish Should Be The National Bird

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Ecological alarmist scares have a lot in common with zombies. They seem to eat up people’s brains, they are mindless themselves, and most important, they are really, really hard to kill. Take for example the long-discredited idea, first overthrown by Charles Darwin, that coral atolls are under threat from sea level rise. Darwin showed that to the contrary, coral atoll were created by rising sea levels.

Despite being totally untrue, this nursery tale of rising sea levels threatening coral atolls was resurrected by the Sierra Club regarding the supposed fate of the South Pacific island state of Tuvalu, and used by the Sierra Club and other environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as a cautionary tale to promote expensive energy.

Since then, a number of folks including myself have pointed out how ludicrous the claim is. And a study of historical aerial photos of the Pacific atolls by Webb and Kench showed that despite the rising sea levels, a majority of the atolls had either stayed the same or, in many cases, increased in size. To quote from the paper, “Results show that 86% of islands remained stable (43%) or increased in area (43%) over the timeframe of analysis.” And since the sea level was rising all that time, the claims of the Sierra Club have been shown to be total nonsense. But the bogus claim lives on, I read it again this week, so clearly not everyone has gotten the word.

Since I’m telling the story again, I’ll use a previous illustration, for two reasons. First, because it shows exactly how a coral atoll is built and sustained, and second, I drew it and as a result I am quite unjustifiably proud of it …


Figure 1. Cross section through a typical coral atoll. The living coral is shown in light green, and it is in the ring of shallow water between the dotted green line and the beach. The atoll used for the photo in this example is Tepoto Atoll, French Polynesia.

But undaunted by the untruth of their claims, the PR campaign goes on, with the atoll nation of the Maldives pulling stunts like an underwater cabinet meeting to try to raise money from their imaginary “plight” … in fact, begging for funds because your coral atoll is under threat from rising sea levels seems to be developing into a bit of a cottage industry.

So to provide a counterweight to this recurring myth, to drive yet another stake through the heart of this zombie, let me repeat the story of why the parrotfish should be the national bird of every coral atoll state and nation. I’ll give you the tale in a nutshell.

Coral atolls are not a solid “island” as we understand an island. They are not a solid chunk of land surrounded by water. Instead they are best thought of as a momentary hesitation in a (hopefully) continuous slow-motion river of coral rubble and sand. This slow-motion river is composed of nothing more or less than the bones of the reef itself, the broken off and ground up parts of the reef’s coral skeleton. A healthy reef grows ceaselessly, and its upper limbs are constantly being broken off by the endless waves when they dare grow too near to the life-giving light. This coral rubble is slowly swept by the waves up onto the atoll, and from there it is equally slowly returned by waves and wind back to the ocean.

The sad truth is, coral atolls are not held together by anything except temporal inertia. They are nothing but a loose pile of coral rubble and sand. And as you might imagine, such an unconsolidated pile is eaten away by every stray current and wind and footstep. Every moment of every day, every coral atoll on the planet is losing its precious land, eroded back into the ocean by the ceaseless pull of gravity, wind, and waves.

So how do coral atolls survive? Obviously, for an atoll to survive the ceaseless loss of its land to erosion, it must be continually replenished by an equally ceaseless supply of coral rubble and sand.

And if that supply of rubble and sand slows, the atoll shrinks. If that supply slows, the freshwater lens shrinks.

And if the reef dies, if that endless supply of cast-off coral stops?

The atoll disappears. Might take five years or fifty, but if the reef dies, the atoll disappears.

So the story in a nutshell is this:

Coral atolls grow and shrink, not based sea level rise, but based on the health and vitality and extent of their coral reef—the unseen source of the (hopefully) endless river of coral rubble sand that keeps the atoll from vanishing.

The amazing thing about humans and coral atolls is that we can live there at all. There is a small freshwater lens that provides  a bit of water. This lens is not contained by anything, but actually floats on top of the underground surface of the salt water that interpenetrates the lower part of the atoll. If you pump the lens of fresh water too much, you start pumping seawater. When there’s not enough rain, the well water becomes brackish. There is generally no topsoil worthy of the name, just salty coral sand mixed with a small bit of organic material. There are no sources of energy, no forests for wood, no oil or coal. There are not a lot of plants that can survive at all under such conditions. And the very existence of the atoll itself is at the mercy of the health of the reef, not to mention the occasional hurricane that can overtop the reef and push the pile of rubble and sand right back into the ocean, or wipe away one end, or cut a channel right through the middle. It is a tenuous existence even at the best of times.

So what is the real threat to the coral atolls? What’s the true story regarding the Sierra Club’s description of the washing away of part of an atoll in Tuvalu? Why do the islanders report that they are drawing salty water out of their wells?

The answer is that indeed these problems are the fault of humans … just not by way of CO2.

The big threat to the existence of the atolls comes from the local inhabitants mistreating the reef that keeps their heads above water.

And the big threat to the atolls’ fresh water supply is the combination of reef destruction and overpopulation.

For example, the folks in the Maldives have built a number of lovely tourist hotels. Of course, to build them you need mortar and concrete, and for that you need sand. Coral sand makes terrible concrete, but it’s all they have. There is no quartz beach sand available to build with, just chunks of coral and coral sand. So the Maldivians mined the coral from their reefs to use to build their hotels and houses. Then they brought in scads of tourists every year, to help them drink up the freshwater lens … and now they are saying that the industrialized nations should compensate them because their well water is brackish, and the atolls are washing away.

Now, as you might imagine, the truth in this tale is not popular in the atolls at all. Like everyone else in the world, folks there would much rather believe that their troubles are anyone’s fault but their own. So I understand them desperately trying to prop up the false narrative about CO2 and sea level rise being the culprits. When you live in a place that has nothing, you need to grab for every chance you can.

But I’m a man who grew up in the middle of the forest, and has worked extensively as a commercial fisherman. And like many people with that background, I’ve been a devoted environmentalist for my entire adult life.

Which is why I feel so betrayed by the hijacking of the big environmental NGOs by people obsessed with raising energy prices and restricting fossil fuel use. I can understand the islanders continuing the charade. I can’t understand the environmental NGOs not acknowledging their mistake regarding sea level rise, and moving on.

Because far from admitting that they were wrong, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace and the like are still making these same bogus claims of danger to coral atolls from sea level rise, centuries after Darwin first showed them wrong, and when their claims have been shown untrue by actual measurement of the atolls involved.

This hijacking of the big environmental NGOs by anti-development forces directly harms the environment in a number of ways.

First, every dollar the environmental organizations spend on trying to raise energy prices (by attacking CO2) is a dollar not going to its declared purpose of helping the environment.

Second, the misidentification of the cause of atoll deterioration as being sea level rise has prevented people from noticing, addressing and correcting the actual causes of atoll deterioration, which are reef health and human overpopulation.

Third, blaming the innocent (far-away users of fossil fuels) for the woes that the atoll dwellers have brought on themselves just angers the unjustly accused. It doesn’t lead to solutions.

Fourth, it has led to a cottage industry of demanding reparation for atoll damage. Since the demands for reparation are being made by the very people who are actually causing the damage, this will not end well.

Fifth, and most important, the focus on raising energy prices (to reduce CO2 emissions) keeps the third world poor. The effects are already being felt in such actions as the World Bank denying loans for coal-fired plants in India.

How does that hurt the environment? The sad reality is that only when people have their basic needs covered can they afford to worry about the environment. No country has ever undertaken serious environmental repair and restoration until the people were generally well fed and clothed.

And inexpensive energy is an indispensable part of that equation. When did inexpensive energy turn from being the “savior of the American farmer” to being something that Western rich folks are denying to India?

The push for expensive energy by the “environmental” NGOs is hugely damaging to the economies of the poor countries, and through them, to the environment itself.

Because if the poor folk in Africa cannot get inexpensive energy for cooking and heating, they will eventually cut down every forest and burn up every stick of firewood on the continent. They will hate to do it, they will mourn the destruction … but unless and until they have some other way to cook and heat, the environment will be under huge destructive pressure. It’s a crazy, all-too-human paradox, that the only thing that can possibly save the global environment is the very economic development that many environmentalists oppose. And my concern for the environment is one reason that I’ve spent a good chunk of my life living in poor countries and working on their economic development.

So that’s why I feel betrayed. The same environmental organizations whose founding I cheered decades ago because they were protecting the environment, have morphed into monsters which are actively harming the environment in a host of ways, and setting humans at each other’s throats over imagined wrongs. Even worse, they think that inexpensive energy and economic development are the dangers … when the truth is that  when half the planet is living on a couple bucks a day, inexpensive energy and economic development are the only things that will save us from slow-motion ecological catastrophe. I’m deadly serious.

The poor folks in Africa will burn every tree on the continent if the economic conditions demand it, and I would too if my kids were hungry. When your kids are hungry, all the barriers are down, all the boundaries are meaningless. Environmental destruction means nothing to a hungry man, and even less to a woman with hungry kids.  I once asked a firewood seller in Costa Rica where he was cutting his firewood. “En el Parque Nacionál,” he said, “In the National Park”. I asked politely whether that might be, well,  you know … illegal … “Oh, yes,” he said, “I feel bad about that, but when my children are hungry, what can I do?”

I had no answer for him.

And that is how, paradoxically and tragically, the anti-development, pro-expensive energy actions of the big environmental NGO’s are doing huge, present, and continuing damage to the poor and through them to the environment the NGOs are supposed to protect.

Now, does this make me want to stop being an environmentalist? Not at all. I know that the only way that my as-yet-hypothetical grandkids will be able to be commercial fisherfolk is if we take care that we don’t damage the ocean. Protecting the ecosystems and the natural resources are a no-brainer for anyone actively involved with the natural world.

So in response, about all that I can do is to not go gentle into that good night. This is me raging against the passing of the light.

And where do the parrotfish fit into all of this?

Well, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, parrotfish use their hard beaks to bite off chunks of coral. These chunks of coral are ground into sand by hard plates in the parrotfish’s throat. The parrotfish digests what’s digestible, and excretes copious amounts of the finest, loveliest, tropical beach sand. It’s interesting to watch, because they have to grind up a lot of coral to get  a little food. As a result, sometimes when a school of them is surprised by something, and the whole school decides to simultaneously “dump the ballast and run”, the water where they were is instantly filled with a cloud of slowly descending pure white sand, while the parrotfish are now well down the reef.

Yes, it’s true. All of those lovely tropical beaches? They’ve mostly composed of coral that was lovingly hand-ground by parrotfish.

But creating tropical beaches, that’s just the benefit to the humans. The parrotfish are also vital to the health of the reef. This is because a coral reef is always in competition with various kinds of algae and plants. Since the coral reef is the only solid surface available, various green things are always trying to colonize the surface. This is to the detriment of the coral polyps who are building the reef. The grazing of the parrotfish is a major mechanism for keeping the greenery from overtaking the reef … I’ve seen overgrown reefs, and they’re not a pretty picture.

The parrotfish also exposes fresh coral surfaces when it bites out chunks of coral. These are then available for colonization by further coral polyps. As with most natural systems, the presence of grazers greatly increases the health and productivity of the reef ecosystem. And in addition to creating sand, when the fish are grazing they also break loose chunks of coral … coral that will eventually end up added to the atoll itself.

As a result, parrotfish are a “keystone species”, a species of special importance in the life of an ecosystem. The sad news is, the parrotfish sleep at night on reef, wrapped in a shroud of mucus. Strangest thing you every saw, you can go right up to them. As a result, since the onset of waterproof flashlights, locals and tourists have stripped many reefs of their parrotfish. Without the protection of the parrotfish, the reef declines, algae advances, and the sand production stops … and when the reef declines, the atoll shrinks and the lens of freshwater gets smaller …

And that is why the parrotfish should be the national bird of every tropical coral atoll—because without them the atoll is in trouble. It should not be fished for the market, it should not be killed by night divers to be served in restaurants. It should be off-limits, a protected species, both as a practical matter for the continued health of the reef, and as a symbol of the importance of the reef upon which depends the very existence of the atoll itself.

Is making the reef healthy all it will take to save the atolls? Well … no. They also have to stop the population growth. A coral atoll is tiny, only a few square kilometres of land. More importantly, the fresh water lens is correspondingly small. Since it is only replenished by rain, this limited water puts a practical maximum on the island population, a maximum which these days is routinely exceeded … and then they complain that rising sea levels are making their wells brackish. The wells are indeed getting brackish … but not from rising sea levels.

Like I said, this is not a popular message in the atolls, but unfortunately it’s the truth. I’d like to say that there’s some silver bullet for the atoll problems, but I don’t know of one. So all I can do is keep telling the real story, in the hope of counteracting the destructive propaganda coming from the Sierra Club and other environmental NGOs … I figure I may not slay the Hydra, but at least I might get a-head …


PS—please be clear that I am not speaking against the environmental movement, of which I have long counted myself as an active member. In large part, the movement is made up of local people working on important local issues.

Nor am I speaking against the real environmental gains that we humans have made. The cleaning of the rivers and the air in much of the industrialized world is a story of achievement and hope.

I am talking about the change in many of the big environmental organizations, which for better or for worse are the public face of the movement. The organizations have transmuted from being for responsible development and for the environment, to being against all development and thus actively harming the environment.

The environmental NGOs’ fight against affordable inexpensive energy is a modern tragedy. Inexpensive energy is the only hope for the poor of the planet, and the economic development of the poor is necessary BEFORE a country can start addressing environmental issues. As a result, the NGOs’ war on inexpensive energy is causing huge, long-term environmental damage.


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This should be required reading in schools.


Thank you Willis. I have never had the process of atoll formation explained to me before, and you account is crystal clear, especially as to how the sand produced by the parrot fish is pushed up above sea level by wave and wind action. .


On March 13, WUWT announced that Climategate 3.0 had occurred.
What happened to it?

So there is no proof of rising sea levels?

Ken Hall

Excellent article Willis. Like you, I am incensed by the “environmentalists” who cause more environmental destruction by their ignorance and politcally biased solutions, than good. I do not care if any given solution is right wing or left wing. I just want solutions that work in practice.

Peter Miller

For more on parrotfish than you would ever want to know, there is this from NOAA.
It is a really tough read and I skimmed through it, but from what I could make out if you banned the fishing of parrotfish at night with lights, that would save the parrotfish population and thus the coral atolls. This obviously would not be the conclusion from any greenie establishment organisation as it makes too much common sense.
Climate change/global warming, as we all have come to know, is the cause of everything bad in the environment. In reality, it is nearly always something else. In this instance, the over-fishing of parrotfish, over-pumping of small fragile aquifers, or not shipping in real sand (as opposed to using locally produced coral sand) is all a litany of human greed and/or stupidity. Reality rarely gets the gullible to empty their pockets, but scary over-simplifications of non-problems can. Just something the likes of Greenpeace learned a long time ago.

Great article, thank you.


Doesn’t this show the sea level is rising? (perhaps not as much as was forecast…)

David, UK

[i]I’ll give you the tale in a nutshell.[/i]
You forgot the “sarc,” Willis.


Sorry, I now realise you weren’t implying sea levels were not increasing.


Well now we all see why you haven’t killed the zombie. A stake thru the heart only works on vampires!
You have to shoot zombies in the head. That’s where the brai………..
Never mind.


Superb Willis 🙂

Willis Eschenbach

Steve says:
June 13, 2013 at 12:53 am

So there is no proof of rising sea levels?

thedumbsociety says:
June 13, 2013 at 1:12 am

Doesn’t this show the sea level is rising? (perhaps not as much as was forecast…)

Certainly, the sea levels are rising, as they have been for hundreds of years. But Darwin’s brilliant insight, which came to him before he’d ever seen a coral atoll, was that as sea levels rise, coral atolls rise with them, because the coral is constantly growing upwards.
Darwin also realized that the ring shape of coral atolls comes about because the sea level has risen so much that the volcano, on whose underwater slopes the coral reef began growing, is now underwater … but the ring of coral that once surrounded the volcano has continued to grow upwards as the sea rose over the volcano, and as a result the atoll have not gone underwater, but have risen in step with the ocean.
So provided they have a healthy reef, atolls are under no threat at all from sea level rise. They’ll just rise with the sea level.
And if they don’t have a healthy reef? In that case, they may not survive even if the sea levels don’t rise another millimetre.


Thanks Willis. Why have sea levels been rising for hundreds of years?


SRD~ my guess is, the people who lived in Doggerland, asked the exact same question, 5000 years ago……..

Mike Mangan

I like how I only had to glance at the title to know it was Willis.

Joe Public

Thanks for yet another very informative posting, Willis.

Willis Eschenbach

SRD says:
June 13, 2013 at 1:42 am

Thanks Willis. Why have sea levels been rising for hundreds of years?

Otter says:
June 13, 2013 at 1:45 am

SRD~ my guess is, the people who lived in Doggerland, asked the exact same question, 5000 years ago……..

Otter is right, and much is still unknown on this question. The big rise in sea level occurred when we came out of the last ice age. Since then sea levels seem to have advanced and receded. Some of this is from the “thermometric” component of sea level, which is the increase in sea level due to the ocean expanding when it warms.
In addition, some of the rise must still be from the slow post-Ice age melting of the remaining glaciers and ice caps. This is what drowned Doggerland by about 5,000 BC.
And some of the rise must be from ocean warming during the recent emergence from the Little Ice Age.
However, as far as I know the sea level budget is still not completely understood.
All the best,

Steve Schapel

Many thanks, Willis


What? “to drive yet another stake through the heart of this zombie”
You are mixing your myths. Zombies are best dispatched by a blow to the head. Vampires need a stake to the heart – before they suck the lifeblood from world’s economies…

Steve C

Thanks, Willis, for a welcome reminder that environmentalism was originally based on an informed respect for the natural world and its processes, rather than an uninformed hatred of the human world and a commitment to its destruction. Sad that it has de-evolved so badly, but it’s always heartening to read a real environmentalist’s reflections on reality.
And, now I know that every grain of their sand has passed through a parrotfish, I’ll never look at those lovely tropical beaches quite the same …

Mike Bromley the Kurd near the Green Line

Willis, somewhere in there you should right a chapter in the story of carbonate rock formation. For those who might wonder where ‘calcarenite’ comes from….look no further. For those who cling to the meme after reading this, please try to dissolve your calcified thinking about sea level rise.

Mike Bromley the Kurd near the Green Line

…..That should be “write a chapter”…..says one whose brain is calcified due to age.

Willis E –> “Take for example the long-discredited idea, first overthrown by Charles Darwin, that coral atolls are under threat from sea level rise. Darwin showed that to the contrary, coral atoll were created by rising sea levels.”
In a sane world where people believed in evidence, logic, science, and honesty we would never see such hogwash. The fact that we have known since the time of Darwin that the atolls exist due to rising sea levels tells anyone of average intelligence that rising sea levels will not harm the atolls.
But the “greens” are doing propaganda and demagoguery rather than logic and science. I can almost hear them say, “Facts? We don’t need no stinking facts!”

Bloke down the pub

A regular event that the alarmists use to ‘prove’ that the islands are being washed away are the king tides. Every year the environmentalists are there to film the water rising up through the ground to flood fields and homes. They are either unaware, or choose to ignore the fact that this is a direct consequence of the way the islands were created and maintained, as described by Willis above. Conversely, if there was a sudden drop in sea level, much of the coral would be exposed and therefore die back. The replenishment of the sand would be interrupted and the island would be eroded away until such time as equilibrium was re-established at the lower level.
I tried explaining all this to my girlfriend last week drawing on a napkin. It would have been a lot easier if I could have shown her Willis’s post.


I used to watch the parrot fish eating the coral of Gan, an island of Addu Atoll in the southern Maldives, in the 1960’s and they are good sand makers and do not harm the reef in any way. The sand in tirn gets pushed by storm waves into sand berms above high water level thus reducing island flood risk.


Great post. This zombie is just like the Kilimanjaro tale. Just a couple of extra points.
It appears that the Maldives were offered cash (bribed?) by the American government to support their version of a global warming deal?

Guardian – 3 December 2010
WikiLeaks cables reveal how US manipulated climate accord
Embassy dispatches show America used spying, threats and promises of aid to get support for Copenhagen accord…..

“…..Half a world away in the tropical Pacific Ocean a similar saga unfolded. During the Greco-Roman climatic optimum, the Polynesians migrated across the Pacific from island to island, with the last outpost of Easter Island being settled around A.D. 400 (35)……”

The Maldives has been building four new airports over the past few years called Kooddoo, Maamigili, Dharavandhoo and Fuvahmulah. This is odd because you complain about co2 emissions causing your ‘sea level rise danger’ then you encourage more tourists to fly over and extract more of your lens water as well as use up your islands for building materials. Tourists also contribute vastly to the growing Garbage Island problem.
There is also the problem of blasting of boat passage among some island atolls. Hey, never let the facts get in the way of a good sob story. It makes Warmists feel they care and that they are doing the right thing. PS I bet you more Warmists have visited the Maldives than sceptics.


And another point. Warmists like to compare Creationism and Darwinism yet ignore Darwin’s great insight into the floating atolls he observed. Funny that. PS I am a strong adherent to Darwinian Evolution and reject Creationism. Just my personal view.

Chris Wright

Another superb and beautifully argued piece. Keep them coming, Willis!

Mike Haseler

as a high profile sceptic in Scotland, it is time I came out!
I am also a secret campaigner for the environment. Near us is an old peat workings called Lenzie Moss. That is not remarkable in itself as there are lots of peat bogs in Scotland and several others this close to the major city of Glasgow but this one is remarkable because it is so easy to get to and with a well built path around it, it is not only a fantastic local education resource about this kind of environment but also in that peat and surrounding area we have the whole story of human civilisation. In the peat itself we have the of human civilisation from several thousand years BC (when the climate changed) which shows the early cutting down of the forests. Several massive changes in fora which could be due to early climate change, we have evidence to link its use to the Roman invasion of Scotland, to the agricultural revolution (we have possibly one of the great wonders of the 18th century world … a 900m tunnel which is probably the longest drainage tunnel since the Romans in Europe no one knows about and has no legal protection). We have the beginnings of the industrial revolution with one of the first railways and early canals close by and possible early coal mining in the reserve. Then we have the WWII peat workings and finally we have the post-industrial environment of the nature reserve with extremely easy access for local kids to come and learn about the quintessential Scottish landscape of bog.
And what do the council want to do? Build housing right next to the bog. Turn the railways into roads and basically turn the whole area into one big housing estate. And who is the daft idiot who cannot help being interested in the ditches and drains and practical things like the geology who understands that building these houses will require draining the surrounding area which will lower the water table and cause the surface layer of peat to start oxidising and releasing CO2 and it is more than likely that this dry out the nature reserve leading to the invasion of willow which will then further dry out the area and fairly soon there will not be much worth saving?
Just like the corral atolls, most environmentalists do not really understand science or engineering. So they haven’t a clue these environments like the Corral atolls or these peat bogs function. You need to understand the chemistry of organic decomposition, the physics/engineering of drainage, be able to interpret geological cores and observe the way the peat is already deteriorating beside the railway to understand exactly how mankind affects these environments.
And likewise both are only really sensitive to what local politicians do rather than to the grandiose myopic environmental mus-conception of global warming.
Yes, there has to be a balance. We need development, but we also need to understand how local actions affect things we want to save and it is only those who really understand how these systems work that should be listened to. But no! We have people like the Green party in Scotland who bang on about global warming but show not the slightest interest in saving our local nature reserve?
And they have the gall to suggest we don’t care about the environment!


The environmental NGOs’ fight against affordable inexpensive energy is a modern tragedy. Inexpensive energy is the only hope for the poor of the planet, and the economic development of the poor is necessary BEFORE a country can start addressing environmental issues. As a result, the NGOs’ war on inexpensive energy is causing huge, long-term environmental damage.

What a lot of these ‘well intended’ folks don’t realise is that when a poor man with a family can’t get cheap plentiful energy he heads off into the nearest forest with axe in hand. Heck, if the relatively wealthy Germans could do it in their forests then why shouldn’t someone near the Amazon forest or the Congo Basin. How many people here have tried eating raw chicken, goat or lamb? Raw potatoes? Dry beans? Deforestation, massive release of CO2 and loss of animal habitat is the end result. As for heating poor people will burn wood, dung, kerosene and candles for light. Inefficient Co2 galore!! And please don’t tell them to purchase the latest solar panels and hight tech wind turbines when he can’t afford the main meal of the day.

De Spiegel – 17 January 2013
Woodland Heists: Rising Energy Costs Drive Up Forest Thievery
With energy costs escalating, more Germans are turning to wood burning stoves for heat. That, though, has also led to a rise in tree theft in the country’s forests. Woodsmen have become more watchful.


As for the Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy they are just a bunch of fossil fuel shills.

Sierra Club
“TIME has learned that between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 million in donations from the gas industry, mostly from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy—one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the U.S. and a firm heavily involved in fracking…”
Source: Time – 2 February 2012
Nature Conservancy
“…The Conservancy also has given BP a seat on its International Leadership Council and has accepted nearly $10 million in cash and land contributions from BP and affiliated corporations over the years. “Oh, wow,” De Leon said when told of the depth of the relationship between the nonprofit group she loves and the company she hates. “That’s kind of disturbing.”……Conservation International has accepted $2 million in donations from BP over the years…”
Source: Washington Post – 25 May 2010

Oil and gas money for me but not for thee. Do as I say, not as I do. Don’t you love these guys. 🙂


Willis, what would be the effect of falling sea levels on a healthy coral atoll?

Brian S

Many thanks Willis. As usual, an informative read.
For a while now I have thought there there should be better ‘colour coding’ of Environmentalists. Using the blanket term ‘greenies’ does a disservice to the true environmentalists.
‘The Greenies’ should only be used for those true environmentalists, like the girl who featured in an Aljazeera film whose job means that she daily takes her life in her own hands when opposing illegal logging in South America.
‘The Reds’ are the ideological/political bunch who took over the ‘green’ movement when their communist gravy train derailed.
And in between are ‘The Brownies’, who would prefer that the whole Earth surface looked like the Sahara. I suspect that these ranks are mainly filled by people who consider themselves to be greenies – treehugger types – but who haven’t bothered to check up on the propaganda dished out by their Red leaders – members of 350.org for example.
And it’s not only the NGOs who are wasting funds that could be better spent on true environmentalism – World Bank and others are as much to blame. In my line (roads) I am frequently obliged to read the twaddle dished out by so-called environmental professionals who make their living from writing reports that accord with the WB meme – dust is dusty, blasting is noisy, quarries are unsightly, etc – as if engineers didn’t know that (and include mitigation of the problems in construction specifications) long before the environmental ‘profession’ was invented.

Don K

Essentially, you look to be 99.98% correct.
The one small exception. The Maldives (and probably a few other places) do have a genuine problem and they may need some help solving it. Take a look at this image. comment image
They have, over several centuries, constructed a real city (current population around 100,000 on the island of Male. Yes, that probably wasn’t a good idea. But they presumably had no way of knowing that. It would appear that they now have four choices:
a) Build a berm around the whole island and hope that a tropical cyclone doesn’t someday breach it and flood the city.
b) Somehow elevate the base each and every road, open area and structure on that sandpile at a rate at least equivalent to sea level rise.
c) Walk away and build a more cleverly designed capital elsewhere.
d) Blame their problems on someone else.
They appear to be opting for plan d. I doubt it will work out well for them.


Thanks, Willis. There is always more to learn. I didn’t know that Darwin figured out the coral atoll story long ago, and am absolutely gobsmacked that he did it without even the benefit of ever seeing one. He was very much smarter than the average bear.
And yes, when we consider that even people in relatively wealthy countries are chopping down trees for fuel because of deliberate, pointless political actions to make energy more expensive, it gives pause for thought. It is absolutely criminal that do-gooders are inhibiting the availability of cheap, reliable energy in poor countries, while simultaneously weeping crocodile tears about “the environment”.
I am glad, too, that you made the point about genuine environmentalists, most of whose work is unglamorous, unpaid and unsung. I make my modest contribution by turning my suburban property into a bird sanctuary and doing a bit of volunteer work on removing weeds from the local bushland. The bushland weeding group is just a bunch of ordinary people who donate a bit of their time and labour, with no fanfare or funding. There are hundreds of thousands of such groups all over the world, with nary a first class ticket to a climate conference between them.

George Warburton

Thanks to AW and to you


Great article Willis. I particularly like your quote about being an environmentalist because you have lived closer to nature. I think the world would be a better place if those who work in air conditioned offices took more notice of the views of those who don’t.
You pipped me to explain coral grows quickly which I suspected some folks may not already know. I was lucky enough to visit the Cocos (Keeling) Islands recently and the passage Keeling used to enter the Cocos lagoon is now apparently impassible due to rising sand levels.
Anyway, I was wondering how much CO2 equivalent is sequestered as coral, dead and alive? Presumably warmer oceans mean more coral extent and more carbonate sequestration. Presumably that’s catered for in the carbon cycle?
For the benefit of the conspiracy theorists here, it does occur to me that the greenies may be trying to raise the price of fossil fuels precisely to make the lifestyle of the poor untenable and so wipe them out – after all, population reduction always seems to be their ultimate solution.

“Coral atolls are not a solid “island” as we understand an island.”
Don’t tell our congressmen that. Some of them will start to worry that they might tip over and sink if too many people stand on one side.
(for non-US readers, Oh Yes. That Happened.)


The tropical paciic is full of drowned fringing reefs. It is odd that someone could write such a long piece and still fail to mention that rising seas have wiped out thousands of atoll islands in the past. Does human development threaten them as well? Yes.
Are most atolls all going to be fine when oceans rise a meter or more? No.

Stephen Skinner

Jimbo says:
June 13, 2013 at 3:37 am
“Willis, what would be the effect of falling sea levels on a healthy coral atoll?”
I came across this article covering your question. It doesn’t change the general pattern that all volcanic islands sink over time, but this looks at the affect of rising and falling oceans due to the coming and going of ice ages.

michael hart

We have even attacked some of the coral reefs with nuclear bombs. Last time I checked, Bikini Atoll was still there and growing.

Owen in GA

Ryan – could any of those drowned atolls have been over fished by humans, or been in areas where insufficient upwelling nutrients exist to make a thriving coral community? There are many things which can affect coral growth cycles. The real wonder is that there are any at all!
Jimbo – From what I can tell you from my experiences diving these reef walls is that the coral will migrate to their sweet spot in the ecological web. The coral that becomes exposed will die and be broken up by the action of wind and waves, while new corals of the same species will populate the new niche created by the receding water level. When you dive these things, you will note that the species varies with depth within a fairly narrow range down to my max allowed certificate of 65 ft anyway, what happens below that I haven’t investigated up close.

Don Easterbrook

The truth about sea level in the Maldives is that the islands are emerging, not submerging–the 1979 shoreline is well above the present shoreline! See the evidence for the emerging Maldives in Morner (2011), The Maldives: A Measure of Sea Level Changes and Sea Level Ethics: Evidence-based Climate, Elsevier, Chapter 7. Morner has also written about Tuvalu, which is also not submerging.

Owen in GA

Ryan – Also how many of those atolls were submerged more by the subduction of pacific plate zone than by sea level rise. Most of the islands in the Hawaiian island chain are submerged, but it has nothing to do with sea level rise.

Don K

Don Easterbrook says:
The truth about sea level in the Maldives is that the islands are emerging, not submerging–the 1979 shoreline is well above the present shoreline!
That could be caused by variations in wind or currents. I know that Morner is pretty certain that the sea level at Male has not changed much in the 20th century, and he’s probably right. But it’s very difficult to measure sea level change over short time periods like a few decades. On top of which, I’m pretty sure that there is no tide gauge at Male. What is really needed is a few years of high resolution elevation measuremen using satellites. I believe that is, possible, but far from easy using the best modern technology. If it’s actually possible to determine tectonic rise/fall using satellites, that’d be a good use of research money. And not just in the Maldives. As far as I can tell, most “data” on the rise/fall of seacoast locations is probably largely guesswork.


You might be able to dismiss a lot of the panic about coral reefs….
….if you realize reefs are not build by corals
but by crustose coralline red algae

Willis’ Eagle soars again. I want to go on a rant against the enviowackos, but I will refrain in Willis’ honor.

Mark Bofill

I can’t understand the environmental NGOs not acknowledging their mistake regarding sea level rise, and moving on.
Because far from admitting that they were wrong, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace and the like are still making these same bogus claims of danger to coral atolls from sea level rise, centuries after Darwin first showed them wrong, and when their claims have been shown untrue by actual measurement of the atolls involved.

What is it the SkS guys like to say about ‘manufacturing doubt’? It appears to me Sierra and Greenpeace use this exact tactic in reverse.

Jeff Alberts

” to drive yet another stake through the heart of this zombie”
Perhaps a more appropriate metaphor would be “to apply yet another shotgun blast to the head of this zombie” 😉


Ryan says:
June 13, 2013 at 5:14 am
Are most atolls all going to be fine when oceans rise a meter or more? No.
You mean when sea levels return to where they used to be?
Ryan, stop being a moron…
…this is the highest point of our island…..it’s 19 ft above mean high tide