Hoegh-Guldberg’s Coral Sophistry Triggers Sagan’s Science Baloney Alert!

Guest essay by Jim Steele

Director emeritus Sierra Nevada Field Campus, San Francisco State University and author of Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism


Recently The Australian published an article by Graham Lloyd, “Great Barrier Battleground Over Coral Bleaching”. Lloyd quotes 2 of Hoegh-Guldberg’s claims that are not quite an honest representation of the state of the coral debates. First Hoegh-Guldberg falsely claims, “Arguments that corals will acclimate to predicted patterns of temperature change are unsubstantiated and evidence suggests that the genetic ability of corals to acclimate is already being exceeded.” But Hoegh-Guldberg’s catastrophic projections are equally unsubstantiated. It will require 35 years to test his unsubstantiated catastrophic predictions that “as much as 95% [of the world’s coral] may be in danger of being lost by mid-century.”

While Hoegh-Guldberg suggests climate change is coral’s greatest threat, the latest research from coral reefs surrounding uninhabited islands (Smith 2016) suggests that that the greatest anthropogenic factors affecting coral are disturbances such as landscape changes that affect sediments and runoff, as well as dynamite and cyanide fishing and overfishing, and other human disturbances. As Dr. Jennifer Smith, lead author of the study and professor at Scripps’ Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation states, “There are still coral reefs on this planet that are incredibly healthy and probably look the way they did 1,000 years ago.” Such a statement suggests undisturbed reefs have been acclimating quite well to rising CO2. Reef destruction is more of a local problem and our conservation efforts are best directed towards those more destructive local activities affecting reefs.

Furthermore his claim that “evidence suggests that the genetic ability of corals to acclimate is already being exceeded” is patently false. As described in detail in the essay The Coral Bleaching Debate: Is Bleaching the Legacy of a Marvelous Adaptation Mechanism or A Prelude to Extirpation?, coral must be seen as “ecospecies” with the ability of coral to shift and shuffle their symbionts. The ability to rapidly acquire stress tolerant symbionts has been increasingly demonstrated. Likewise the peer-reviewed literature has archived many studies revealing species that had undergone a previous bleaching event are now observed to exhibit greater resistance to subsequent bleaching. Hoegh-Guldberg 2014 even admitted there are many published reports of coral adaptation but argues that “Most studies that make this claim have correctly identified components and mechanisms but have otherwise incorrectly extended this evidence which is otherwise necessary but not sufficient to support the conclusion that coral reefs will survive due to their ability to acclimatise, adapt and/or migrate to the current rapid environmental changes.” But Hoegh-Guldberg’s objections are again more aptly applied to his insufficient catastrophic assertions that corals’ ability “to acclimate has been exceeded”. Those “correctly identified components and mechanisms” of adaptation are more pieces of the emerging evidence that coral can acclimate to current and projected climate change. And that emerging evidence undermines Hoegh-Guldberg’s claim of 95% decimation by mid century.

Additionally the fact that coral thrived during the Holocene Optimum when tropical warm pool temperatures were 2.1 C warmer than today, is consistent with the emerging evidence that coral can adapt to warmer temperatures. Altogether the claims of resilience are more scientifically robust than the catastrophic claims constantly fed to media outlets that thrive on a “if it bleeds, it reads” mentality. Again “sufficient proof” for and against any claims will not be supplied until there are a few more decades of observations.

Second, Lloyd quotes Hoegh-Guldberg’s apocryphal claim, “One stark reminder of how things are changing is the fact there is no scientific evidence of mass coral bleaching and mortality prior to 1980.” As discussed in The Coral Bleaching Debate: Is Bleaching the Legacy of a Marvelous Adaptation Mechanism or A Prelude to Extirpation?, the lack of global satellite coverage before the mid 70s, the distractions of 2 world wars and the lack of scuba equipment prevented gathering sufficient evidence of extensive past bleaching events. There has been ample evidence of local bleaching events in the past, but due to the scarcity of observational oppportunuties before the 1970s, no one can reliably claim there was no mass bleaching before the 1980s. However there have been growing research efforts seeking to detect past bleaching events via proxy data. The most promising techniques evaluate changes in boron isotope ratios as a measure of past changes in pH and bleaching events. Although there have been a growing number of observations of widespread bleaching over the past 2 decades, the majority of those bleaching events were short term and mild. And as discussed in Schoepf 2014, similar short-term bleaching events in the past are not reliably detected from boron proxy data.

However Dishon 2015 now reports that their methodologies are likely to detect the more severe bleaching events, concluding, “our findings provide evidence that coral bleaching may not be an exclusively modern phenomenon and we have identified at least two instances since the LGM (~20 kyr BP) prior to the industrial revolution where coral bleaching likely occurred. If short-term bleaching is indeed untraceable with d11B measurements, then the suspected paleo-bleaching events may be a result of longer sustained bleaching events, possibly comparable with contemporary worrisome mass bleaching episodes.” More importantly Dishon’s methodology also detected sustained bleaching events in both the most recent decades as well as during the 1920s to 40s, before rising CO2 was ever considered a significant factor. Severe bleaching in the early 20th century suggests bleaching events were more likely driven by natural changes in ocean circulation rather than radiative forcing from the sun or rising CO2. It is interesting to note those bleaching events also coincided with the early 20th century rapid rise in air temperatures around Greenland and the 1930s Arctic loss of sea ice that rivaled present day reductions.

As illustrated in Figure 3 (from Dishon 2015), the dotted horizontal line represents a change in the boron isotope ratio presumed to be associated with sustained bleaching events. The vertical red bars represent periods during which proxy data suggests periods of sustained bleaching. It is also worth noting that proxy estimates of pH show rapid changes in pH that do not correlate with changes in CO2.


Despite Lloyd’s rather balanced article, the blogger and skeptic basher Readfearn has accused Lloyd’s article of sophistry. Yet Readfearn provides no substantive scientific rebuttals. Readfearn also quotes Hoegh-Guldberg whose rebuttal to Lloyd’s article likewise offers no scientific substance. Instead Hoegh-Guldberg triggers Sagan’s science baloney alert by “attacking the arguers and not their arguments focusing on 3 individuals: myself, Dr. Judith Curry and Dr. Peter Ridd, who was oddly censured for whistle-blowing exaggerated coral death claims.

Readfearn quotes Hoegh-Guldberg,

“When you look into the background of each individual, you find that Peter Ridd is a sedimentologist, Judith Curry a climatologist, and Jim Steele – a bird enthusiast who works in the Sierra Nevada – which at last count appears to be a long way from a coral reef.

I don’t think there is a single scientist at this meeting who will support the position taken by sedimentologist Peter Ridd or, for that matter, Curry and Steele.  That is pretty telling. Not exactly your most qualified experts. None of them has published in the peer-reviewed literature on coral bleaching – they are simply not experts.”

Although I am honored that my analyses were so compelling that Hoegh-Guldberg felt a need to “look into my background”, that he dismissed a thoroughly referenced essay, The Coral Bleaching Debate: Is Bleaching the Legacy of a Marvelous Adaptation Mechanism or A Prelude to Extirpation?, simply because I am also a” bird enthusiast” doing ecological research in the Sierra Nevada is “pretty telling” of how politics has undermined the scientific process. Such a ridiculous dismissal is analogous to denigrating a historian’s account of the Little Ice Age because the historian did not live during Little Ice Age. Historians need not have lived during the LIA, or any other period in order to analyze the available data and speak insightfully about those times. Likewise educated ecologists, well grounded in fundamental biological and ecological processes are quite capable of analyzing and synthesizing peer reviewed coral literature from the an office in California.

Publishing one’s research never means the researcher’s conclusions are correct. Nor does the lack of a publication mean a scientist’s views are irrelevant or incorrect. Publications are simply a vehicle that allows a researcher to publicly share interpretations and encourage others to examine, critically dissect and discuss the validity of those published conclusions. Self-proclaimed experts have littered the peer-reviewed literature with incorrect interpretations. The foundation of the scientific process requires lively discussions by independent thinkers that eventually promote an improved understanding. In contrast Hoegh-Guldberg’s is trying to stifle that process and limit debate.

Furthermore to suggest “not a single scientist” will support my position ignores the fact that “my position” is based on the research of many coral experts referenced in the essay. Many of those referenced experts have determined symbiont shuffling and shifting endows coral with superior adaptive strategies and resilience. Many of those experts have also challenged Hoegh-Guldberg’s proclamations that corals’ genetic ability “to acclimate is already being exceeded”. But Hoegh-Guldberg’s empty assertions are a common dishonest tactic used to marginalize skeptics who have quite accurately pointed out the shortcomings of his catastrophic interpretations. It is a tactic that Sagan’s baloney alert warns we should avoid or ignore. I wonder how many scientists at the International Coral Reef Symposium agree with Hoegh-Guldberg’s assertion that 95% of the coral will be lost by mid century?

Dr. Peter Ridd has publically pointed out that some of the photographs used to suggest rising CO2 has been killing coral are misleading and prone to exaggeration. For example he has argued that “it’s not possible to say what killed off parts of the reef featured in 1994 photos…In fact, there are literally hundreds of square kilometres of dead reef-flat on the Great Barrier Reef which was killed due to the slow sea-level fall of about a meter that has occurred over the last 5000 years.”

Other “dead reefs” are the result of recent tropical storms or depredation from Crown of Thorns starfish. In the face of natural annual destruction, coral have evolved the capabilities to rapidly recover from most natural devastating disruptions within one or two decades.

Lloyd had reported in an earlier The Australian article that other experts had denounced the exaggerated reef destruction. For example Dr Reichelt, chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, withdrew from a joint ­announcement on coral bleaching with Professor Hughes “because we didn’t think it told the whole story”. Dr Reichelt said, “I don’t know whether it was a deliberate sleight of hand or lack of geographic knowledge but it certainly suits the purpose of the people who sent it out.”

In the comments section Professor Ridd wrote, “I find it interesting that The Head of GBRMPA has said that Prof Terry Hughes organisation was “misleading” the public.

I recently made a similar comment of Prof Hughes organisation (COE Coral Reef Studies at JCU) about a related issue – they stated that there was no coral on a particular reef and I furnished photographic evidence that this was incorrect. I stated that the information from Hughes organisation was “misleading” among other things including that there is clearly a need for some better quality assurance of the science.

For my sins,  I was hit with an academic misconduct charge from JCU, found guilty, and duly threatened with dismissal if I transgressed again.”

So how does Hoegh-Guldberg scientifically refute Ridd’s testimony of coral exaggeration? He doesn’t! Instead Hoegh-Guldberg reverts to attacking the arguer by simplistically stating, “Peter Ridd is a sedimentologist” and intimates the views of a sedimentologist are irrelevant, even though Dr. Ridd has been involved in critical research analyzing the effect of sediments on coral reefs.

In response to Ridd’s odd censure by James Cook University for questioning his colleagues, climate scientist Dr. Judith Curry described it as “the latest perversion in research ethics”. So how did Hoegh-Guldberg refute Curry’s statement. He doesn’t! He simply dismisses her analysis because, “Judith Curry a climatologist” as if a climate scientist is incapable of understanding research ethics.

So what can we conclude about Hoegh-Guldberg’s expertise and integrity? Clearly when Hoegh-Guldberg cannot defend his catastrophic claims, he prefers to play “shoot the messenger”, which triggers Sagan’s baloney alert. My question to Hoegh-Guldberg is ‘how could a mere “bird enthusiast” doing research in the Sierra Nevada also know about Dishon 2015’s research suggesting sustained bleaching during the early 20th century, while a “coral expert” like Hoegh-Guldberg insists it is a “fact there is no scientific evidence of mass coral bleaching and mortality prior to 1980.” Or how does a mere “bird enthusiast” discuss the ample peer-reviewed evidence regards symbiont shifting and shuffling that calls in to question any claims that the “ability of corals to acclimate is already being exceeded”? Why does an expert like Hoegh-Guldberg relentlessly deny the emerging evidence? Clearly more objective analyses require the perspectives from a variety of scientists who are not so invested in his catastrophic point of view.


Jim Steele is author of Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

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Curious George
June 27, 2016 10:16 am

Einstein was a patent office clerk. He should have undoubtedly stayed with processing patents.

Reply to  Curious George
June 27, 2016 1:04 pm

Thanks for the flattering comparison 😉

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  jim steele
June 27, 2016 9:31 pm

How about John Harrison, carpenter-turned-clockmaker?
determining longitude

Reply to  jim steele
June 28, 2016 3:03 am

Thanks for an excellent post Jim, keep up the good work.

Robert from oz
Reply to  Curious George
June 27, 2016 3:38 pm

You know I almost believed the reef was in peril until I seen “current and projected climate change. And that emerging evidence undermines Hoegh-Guldberg’s claim of 95% decimation by mid century.”
It should have been 97% ?

Mark from the Midwest
June 27, 2016 10:21 am

“So what can we conclude about Hoegh-Guldberg’s expertise and integrity?”
In order to make any conclusion one would need to assume that Hoegh-Guldberg does, in fact, have expertise and integrity.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Mark from the Midwest
June 27, 2016 5:18 pm

Even one of those qualities would improve his product massively.

June 27, 2016 10:24 am

Coral is the new polar bear.
IUCN/SSC Polar bear specialist group
According to IUCN/SSC Polar bear specialist group there are 19 distinct polar bear populations: 3 are in decline due to lousy neighbors, 1 is increasing, 6 are stable, and 9 covering over half the area lack useful data. The 9 unknown populations are mostly in Russia which hasn’t bought into the CAGW/disappearing sea ice clap trap. So the glib observation that when Gore was born there were 7,000 polar bears and only 30,000 are left now might not be exact, but the idea is close enough. I guess “saving” the polar bears beats having real jobs.
The only area polar bears really have problems is when they are too close to people. Sounds like corals have a similar problem.

June 27, 2016 10:27 am

Thanks, Jim. I posted the following over at Readfearns:

Mr. Readfearn, I was quite surprised to find that you think we cannot believe either Jim Steele or Judith Curry simply because their education is not specifically specialized in coral reefs.
But if that is the case, then we should believe you far less, because unless I missed something, your scientific education is far inferior to theirs.
This is the problem with journalists who try the ever-popular “ad hominem” argument—it’s far too easy to get hoist by your own petard …
It does make for a lovely logical conundrum, however—you say we should only believe coral scientists regarding this matter, but you’re not a coral scientist … which means that if your statement is true, you can’t be believed about coral science, so your statement is false.

Gotta love logic …

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
June 27, 2016 11:28 am

Thanks WIllis!

Reply to  Willis Eschenbach
June 27, 2016 3:58 pm

Nicely put, w. The statement “None of them has published in the peer-reviewed literature on coral bleaching – they are simply not experts.” is an interesting one. Obviously no-one can ever be allowed to publish their first paper.

Pop Piasa
June 27, 2016 10:34 am

Doc, my baloney detector gets more exercise than ever as the religion of the human hordal desecration of Gaia grows in the scientific community. The agenda of these folks is to find any way out there to impress guilt on the status quo energy paradigm and push the dream of few humans and a world filled with pinwheels and mirrors (wind and solar devices). The villainization of CO2 is vital to the anti-humanists.

Reply to  Pop Piasa
June 28, 2016 7:28 am

The ancient concept of “sin” was created by religions to make the masses feel guilty so the priesthood can offer absolution on its own terms.
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” – H. L. Mencken
The priesthood of Gaia knows this and uses it extensively.

AGW is not Science
Reply to  tadchem
June 28, 2016 9:58 am

That’s my favorite quote describing the AGW BS story – and penned before the first time the ridiculous notion of AGW was ever preached!

Tom Halla
June 27, 2016 10:38 am

Good report.

ferd berple
June 27, 2016 10:46 am

“evidence suggests that the genetic ability of corals to acclimate is already being exceeded”
then explain why hard corals are only found in the warmest ocean waters on earth. surely if the water was “too warm” corals would migrate towards the poles. corals after all start life as free swimming polyps and travel in untold billions with the ocean currents until they find a hard surface to attach to. many of these ocean currents carry polyps from the tropics to temperate and arctic zones, where they would find many surfaces on which to form reefs if only temperatures were not too cold for them.

Reply to  ferd berple
June 27, 2016 12:26 pm

Now there you go again. You will never get funding if you keep on bringing facts into the discussion.

June 27, 2016 10:57 am

Bleaching recovery does indeed happen on a scale of decades. However, bleaching events that are too frequent or sustained result in dead coral, and dead is dead. It will be interesting to watch what happens in the now-dead regions of the northern Great Barrier Reef, which were killed by temperature stress, not storms or pollution.

Reply to  Slipstick
June 27, 2016 11:01 am

dead is dead
not accurate. coral reefs are almost completely made of dead coral. the live coral is restricted to a thin layer on the outer edge of the reef. if that layer dies it will quickly be resettled by organisms that require a hard surface as part of their life cycle. a great many of these organisms are coral polyps.

Bob Boder
Reply to  Slipstick
June 27, 2016 11:08 am

“It will be interesting to watch what happens in the now-dead regions of the northern Great Barrier Reef, which were killed by temperature stress, not storms or pollution.”
Your proof of this statement please.

Reply to  Bob Boder
June 27, 2016 1:14 pm

I actually agree with slipstick in this statement.
It WILL be interesting to watch what happens in the now-dead regions of the northern Great Barrier Reef.
It will also be interesting to watch what happens with the Alarmists when it becomes obvious their coral predictions won’t be coming true. Probably the same thing that happens with ALL failed alarmist predictions. They’ll act like they were never wrong or that the disaster is still lurking in the future (Population Bomb, Ozone Hole, Peak Oil, ect.) while making all new predictions about some other disaster that the MSM will lap up like it came from a burning bush.

Reply to  Slipstick
June 27, 2016 11:36 am

The recovery will probably look like the recovered coral from the 1998 warm El Nino event pictured at the beginning of this post

Reply to  jim steele
June 27, 2016 12:21 pm

Jim, looks like everybody’s ganging up on my boy slipstick here (who happens to be of a rare high degree of integrity from the alarmist camp). To your knowledge, is there any precedent for reefs in which “dead is dead”. Do they all come back or no?
Slip, as always, nice to see you… ☺

Reply to  jim steele
June 27, 2016 1:00 pm

afonzarelli asks “is there any precedent for reefs in which “dead is dead”
Depends. Often researchers have been surprised by how quickly decimated dead reefs have recovered. This is often due to the presence of “cryptic polyps” that survived undetected and quickly re-sheet the exposed skeleton. I would not be surprised however if some small reefs located in ground zero of warm intruding waters or a high-pressure system heat wave that some species may be locally extirpated. In those cases recovery would take longer and depend on re-colonization by distant larvae. In the Caribbean many of the staghorn coral were extirpated the white band disease, and dead was dead. However their are now observations that that species is making a slow recovery.
Slipstick suggests a legitmate and possible hypothesis that “bleaching events that are too frequent or sustained result in dead coral, and dead is dead”
However their are increasing observations that coral that had experienced an earlier bleaching were more resilient to subsequent bleachings due to the acquisition of new symbionts. It is also important to distinguish between a colony death and a reef’s death and to determine at what depth bleaching had been fatal. Various micro-climates within a reef can sustain individuals and colonies of the same coral species that had undergone several bleachings at more shallow depths. Coral can also maintain sustained bleaching via heterotrophic feeding while symbiont shifting takes place. If a warm water intrusion causes bleaching but those intruding waters also transport plankton for coral to feed on, the associated bleaching event can have little effect on coral mortality

Reply to  jim steele
June 27, 2016 1:28 pm

Out of curiosity, is there any reason these ‘dead’ reefs couldn’t be ‘reseeded’ by humans with live polyps? Either harvested from a healthy reef or breed in a lab for this purpose?
I know it might not be a viable option for the whole ocean but for area’s like the GBR it would allow for a faster recovery. Possibly important to Australia’s tourist industry.

Reply to  jim steele
June 27, 2016 2:30 pm

Schizhiztree, Assisted colonization to recolonize a decimated reef or to anticipate changes wrought by climate change has been advocated and tried. In some circumstances such efforts are productive. I witnessed similar efforts by the US Forest Service to speed up succession from chaparral to forest. However there is some human bias where we prefer trees to shrubs, or coral to seaweeds and try to speed up natural succession. The natural progression of coral reefs after a devastating tropical storm often begins with a domination by seaweed cover, followed by an increase in algae eating fish, etc, followed by a return to coral dominance due to coral’s ability to thrive in nutrient limited waters.

Reply to  jim steele
June 27, 2016 8:29 pm

Seems like a good place to reference the Bikini atolls. I imagine the reefs were quite dead after the series of nuclear tests done there, but from what I have read, it is very healthy now.

Reply to  jim steele
June 28, 2016 12:39 am

… or the recovered coral from the nuclear test atols.

tony mcleod
Reply to  jim steele
June 28, 2016 3:40 am

The northern section of the GBR has suffered pretty badly in this latest bleaching. The concern many have is that the background rise in water temperature lifts the El Nino events higher and more frequently over the threshold that causes long term damage.
Silt from poor farming practices, starfish blooms and other problems are not helping. There are large areas of the reef I dived on not so many years ago that were pristine then but are now buggered and covered in slime.

Reply to  Slipstick
June 27, 2016 1:08 pm

I live a few hundred meters from the largest coral reef system in the continental US. Dive it frequently. Why there are so many dive shops in Fort Lauderdale. Just looked off the balcony at it. Doing just fine. I have also swum and photographed the only ‘underwater hiking trail’ in the US National Park system, a coral reef off St. Croix, USVI. That reef was devastated both by wave action and runoff pollution (decomposition produces deadly H2S) after a hurricane the year before I swam it. Broken, dead, fatally bleached. It took less than 10 years to fully re-establish according to the park service. The only loss that remains is sizable elkhorn corals (tall, branching); those simply take several decades to regrow to size. Google Buck Island Reef National Monument for details, and underwater images of what it looks like now after ~20 years of regeneration. Elkhorns are back and plentiful, just not as large yet as the ‘dead bodies’ I saw.

Reply to  ristvan
June 28, 2016 12:43 am

Ristvan … those staghorns grow back quickly. I have various species of acropora sp. in my 500g coral display … the sps coral grow out of the 3′ water depth in about 2 years and form a flat top at the surface. I have to keep hacking it down so that light can reach other smaller species of coral.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Slipstick
June 27, 2016 5:47 pm

Here’s something to try to remember. Coral polyps and their symbiotic algaes are fairly tough but not that bright. They will continually colonize areas and depths that are not survivable 100% of the time. They float along wherever tide and current take them, latching onto whatever hard surface they come upon. This is how every creature on earth found a place to speciate and call home.
For coral and other species this means that a fair number of individuals inhabit, at any given time, a place where they are near the limit of sustainability or, over a long enough time frame, just beyond it. Go North to the tree line and you see straggly, struggling and dead trees. Every species spreads beyond its comfortable limits. Some individuals may evolve tools to become permanent, but most die when local conditions get more difficult.
4 billion year old story. This idiot either wants to repeal evolution or else he’s a liar. Either way he does harm by diverting attention from pollution and other real human caused harm that is relevant and more controllable.

June 27, 2016 11:02 am

Jim, I already mentioned Dishon 2015 findings a week ago here at WUWT:
I didn’t get any feedback on that though. I am glad that you brought the issue to a more prominent standing. The level of the comments in WUWT is sometimes not very high.
It seems very clear that coral reef medium and long-term survival is not compromised by bleaching, and that the anthropogenic damage that corals are undergoing is not due to climate change but to our awful stewardship of nature.

Reply to  Javier
June 27, 2016 11:23 am

Javier sorry I missed your comment I have been working in the Sierra Nevada with limited internet access.

Ron Clutz
June 27, 2016 11:04 am

Would anyone be surprised that the same Hoegh-Guldberg is a leading “expert” (right behind James Hansen) for Our Children’s Trust, who promote climate lawsuits by children plaintiffs.

Reply to  Ron Clutz
June 27, 2016 1:10 pm

A bad actor among bad actors.

Eugene WR Gallun
June 27, 2016 11:05 am

I deeply enjoy facts and logic on display. Thankyou. — Eugene WR Gallun

Gentle Tramp
June 27, 2016 11:19 am

This is an intresting article in which two coral scientists admit – between the lines and after doing enough lip service to satisfy the ruling CAGW cultists – that the real danger for corals comes not from CO2 but from over-fishing and bad water quality:
This quote from the article sums up their key message very well:
“Even during the most warmest periods of the year, when temperatures were most stressful, we saw little coral mortality in places where there were abundant fishes and low levels of nutrients. Possibly, protecting fishes and minimizing pollution will help protect corals from pathogenic bacteria that kill corals during stressful thermal events. This is especially important in an era of global climate change where ocean temperatures are gradually rising. Our work suggests there is hope for the future of coral reefs.”

Reply to  Gentle Tramp
June 27, 2016 11:42 am

The fish are necessary to consume plant growth that would otherwise smother the living coral polyps. The clean water is essential two ways. First, minimizes fertilizer for smothering plants. Second, minimizes runoff sediment loaded with organics. Decomposition of the ‘organics pollution’ produces trace hydrogen sulfide. H2S is a deadly toxin to marine life. Crab, shrimp, coral LD50 is about 30ppb! H2S is the academic misconduct at the heart of Fabricius’ deceitful coral papers concerning ocean acidification. Essay Shell Games documents the whole story.

June 27, 2016 11:21 am

Coral reefs are among the most resilient ecosystems on the planet. They have thrived for millions of years, through climate changes far beyond anything contemplated by the IPCC. Even the Bikini Atoll reef blown up by 23 nuclear tests, including the largest US H-bomb test, the 15Mt Castle Bravo device, has recovered. https://www.bikiniatoll.com/BIKINICORALS.pdf

June 27, 2016 11:22 am

Jim Steele ==> thanks for higlighting some of the more recent salvos in the Great Barrier Reef Wars — one could go on forever with the back and forth of it.
Hoegh-Guldberg and Hughes, as are many at the International Coral Reef Symposium, are apex predators in the Reef Wars — and do great damage to public understanding of reef science through their constant drumbeat of catastrophe.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Kip Hansen
June 27, 2016 5:31 pm

Thanks for the link to the Great Barrier Reef Wars sorry I missed your first posting. Excellent information

Reply to  Kip Hansen
June 27, 2016 10:00 pm

Mr. Steel,
I agree with others who implied the; “If you’re getting flak you must be near a high value target” (at least in Australia), logic, and add, you must be seen as a serious threat in the PR battle. Therefore I think you do well to focus on just how weak this attack (really defense I believe) is, in a way that speaks to the awakening layperson (I doubt many actual scientists need to have it explained).
And, it is your talent for making scientific matters understandable/clear to the layperson, which is what makes you a serious threat, I therefore conclude. (You too Hansen, so buckle up ; ) That and your unique history in the environmental realms, which I feel you do well to keep emphasizing.
The whole “argument from authority” strategy of the CAGW clan is floundering badly it seems to me, as it is across the control freak board . . Talley Ho, I say.

June 27, 2016 11:33 am

I’m told Sagan was a CAGW believer/advocate. Is that true?

Reply to  Nicholas Schroeder
June 27, 2016 12:11 pm

Actually Sagan was playing both ends against the middle, warning that us evil human beings might destroy the earth by global warming or cooling (the following was published in 1980 toward the end of the “new ice age scare”): “Is there any danger of driving the environment of the Earth toward the planetary Hell of Venus or the global ice age of Mars? The simple answer is that nobody knows.” http://io9.gizmodo.com/heres-carl-sagans-original-essay-on-the-dangers-of-cl-1481304135

Reply to  Ralph Dave Westfall
June 27, 2016 1:48 pm

Carl Sagan was, first and foremost, a great showman. Many times he pointed out that all of human knowledge paled before the wonder of the Universe, and that not only does no one know, but we may NEVER know.

June 27, 2016 11:35 am

Devastatingly good essay. Surgical dissection of Hoegh-Guldberg. And his spinmeisters. And the usual appeals to authority that fail on the facts. Facts are inconvenient things for warmunists. Thats why they want to but cannot shut skeptics up.
GBR is like polar bears. As the biology ‘truth’ becomes more generally known (thanks to Jim Steele and Susan Crockford, respectively) the warmunists are cast in ever worse, more scientifically disingenuous light.

June 27, 2016 11:37 am

“Such a statement suggests undisturbed reefs have been acclimating quite well to rising CO2. ”
Indeed – recall this?

Dr Shallin Busch, who works for NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program discussed the draft of the article with fellow scientist Ms Applebaum. She warns that they can’t say that OA (Ocean Acidification) was definitely a problem anywhere at the moment:
Unfortunately, I can’t provide this information to you because it doesn’t exist. As I said in my last email, currently there are NO areas of the world that are severely degraded because of OA or even areas that we know are definitely affected by OA right now. If you want to use this type of language, you could write about the CO2 vent sites in Italy or Polynesia as examples of things to come. Sorry that I can’t be more helpful on this!

Here: http://junkscience.com/2015/12/exclusive-ocean-acidification-not-a-current-problem-top-noaa-scientist-insists-in-foia-ed-e-mails/

John Harmsworth
Reply to  garyh845
June 27, 2016 6:04 pm

For a cheap laugh, go to the NOAA website and check out their deep and fulsome dissertation on OA. About a hundred words written for middle school level. What can they say! It’s a devastating problem except it doesn’t exist. Anywhere! Whatsoever!

June 27, 2016 12:06 pm

It will require 35 years to test his unsubstantiated catastrophic predictions that “as much as 95% [of the world’s coral] may be in danger of being lost by mid-century.”

It appears that Hoegh-Guldberg will be 91 in 35 years, so he will be long retired or dead by the time his prediction has been falsified. However, even he doesn’t believe that all that coral will suddenly drop dead all at once in the 35th year. So we should know in the next decade or two if coral deaths are trending his way.

June 27, 2016 12:35 pm

It amazes me how little credit some scientists give to species adaptation and to survival strategies species already possess.
For a decade I raised Ceanothus Silk Moths, a species that was declared univoltine (one generation per year) in every book. I had moths hatch in the same year and moths that waited 2 years to hatch. The books were simply wrong.
It’s extremely arrogant for anyone to think they know how any species or bio-system will react to environmental conditions they encounter.

Reply to  Chuck
June 27, 2016 1:26 pm

Ceanothus Silk Moths are my favorite. Extraordinarily beautiful and I look forward to finding them every spring in the Sierra as they often come to night lights. Do you raise them for research? or just pleasure? Are you located in the Sierra Nevada?

June 27, 2016 1:15 pm

“Hoegh-Guldberg” sounds like “Rube Goldberg”.
Coincidence? I think not. 😉

Christopher Hanley
June 27, 2016 2:28 pm

“One stark reminder of how things are changing is the fact there is no scientific evidence of mass coral bleaching and mortality prior to 1980 …” (Hoegh-Guldberg’s apocryphal claim).
That is shocking, I don’t believe that a rational person, let alone a qualified scientist, could come to such a fatuously illogical conclusion.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Christopher Hanley
June 27, 2016 6:14 pm

“Scientific evidence”. We are moving to a new ” quantum ” reality. Written observations, temp readings or personal experiences of persons not credentialed by AGW or evaluations of data and methodologies by similar non- priests of the one true path are deemed to be unworthy of proven existence. It doesn’t become truth until it is seen or created by one of the functionaries.

Paul Goard
Reply to  Christopher Hanley
June 30, 2016 5:30 am

“… prior to 1980” ! There was plenty of concern about coral bleaching at least due to the crown of thorns starfish back in the 1960s. Considerable work was done by Dr R Endean (and others) [UQ] at that time and into the 1970s there was much concern by many federal politicians. Reports and references may be found on the NLA Trove site [http://trove.nla.gov.au] — That these references should be found is simply that I do remember the fuss about it at the time, and went looking.

Steve McIntyre
June 27, 2016 3:18 pm

Jim says: “the[re] are increasing observations that coral that had experienced an earlier bleaching were more resilient to subsequent bleachings due to the acquisition of new symbionts.”
The main areas of 1998-2002 bleaching, central and southerly, do not appear to have been severely impacted in 2016 bleaching which has impacted mainly northern reefs. This is disguised in those damage maps which omit relatively unimpacted areas.

June 27, 2016 4:09 pm

Hoegh-Guldberg used to appear regularly as a GBR doomsayer. He has been discredited so many times that the only ones that believe him are the greens. However, the greens have the ear of government and so this huckster survives.
He has made nearly as many false declarations about global warming as Tim Flannery. So you can see his true level.
The late great Professor Bob Carter in his very polite way, did not have much time for either.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Jack
June 27, 2016 6:16 pm

Why are we so polite? The man’s a liar!

Reply to  Jack
June 28, 2016 12:52 am

I wonder what Huckster-Goldberg’s qualifications are for his pronouncements on Climate … none?
Privately, a few years ago, a colleague of his described him to me a “totally political, focussed on UQ funding”.

Clyde Spencer
June 27, 2016 8:02 pm

“…Hoegh-Guldberg insists it is a ‘fact there is no scientific evidence of mass coral bleaching and mortality prior to 1980.’”
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

June 27, 2016 11:05 pm

“95% decimation” = 9.5% reduction

Reply to  Slywolfe
June 28, 2016 8:28 am

Slywolfe ==> Not many people know that…..

Reply to  Kip Hansen
June 28, 2016 8:32 am

Does the author?

Reply to  Kip Hansen
June 28, 2016 8:38 am

Slywolfe ==> The author’s use of decimation is in common usage and generally accepted.
“dec′i·ma′tion n.
Usage Note: Decimate originally referred to the killing of every tenth person, a punishment used in the Roman army for mutinous legions. Today this meaning is commonly extended to include the killing of any large proportion of a population. In our 2005 survey, 81 percent of the Usage Panel accepts this extension in the sentence The Jewish population of Germany was decimated by the war, even though it is common knowledge that the number of Jews killed was much greater than a tenth of the original population. ”
decimation. (n.d.) American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). Retrieved June 28 2016 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/decimation
Personally, I would not use decimate to imply a greater than 10% destruction — I’m a stickler.

Bob in Castlemaine
June 27, 2016 11:18 pm

"Why does an expert like Hoegh-Guldberg relentlessly deny the emerging evidence? Clearly more objective analyses require the perspectives from a variety of scientists who are not so invested in his catastrophic point of view."

Maybe the rewards of "climate change" witchdoctory may have something to do with it.  As an example, Roger Franklin explains why some of the sage comments linking recent damaging storms on the NSW coast to "climate change" aren't all that surprising when you get some inkling of what it means to ride the gravy train first class:

1.    Sharma, Pitman (UNSW), Tuteja (BoM); Integrated assessment of climate change, climate input errors and land-use change on soil-moisture and carbon-balance in a catchment simulation framework; ARC Linkage with NSW DECC Industry Partner support, $352,000, 2008-2011.
2.    Sharma, Nott (NUS), Marshall (Montana), An Ensemble Modelling Framework for Prediction in Ungauged Catchments, ARC Discovery Grant, $355,000, 2008-2011.
3.    Kingford (UNSW), Keith (DECCW), Sharma, An innovative approach to maximising catchment water yield in a changing climate, ARC Linkage with NSW DECC Industry Partner support,$440,000, 2009-2012.
4.    Sharma, Representing low-frequency variability in hydro-climatic simulations for water resources planning and management in a changing climate, ARC Future Fellowship, $788632, 2011-2014.
5.   Sharma, Mehrotra (UNSW), Westra (Adelaide); A new strategy for design flood estimation in a nonstationary climate; ARC Discovery Grant, $320,000, 2012-2014.
6.    Sharma, D Nagesh Kumar (IISC), R Mehrotra (UNSW), VV Srinivas (IISC) and R Maity (IITKgp), Managing change in soil moisture and agricultural productivity under a global warming scenario using a catchment scale climate change assessment framework, DEST Australia-India Strategic Research Fund, $200,000, 2009-2012.

June 28, 2016 12:02 am

Interview with Valerie Taylor………….diver, shark expert, conservationist
Published in The Australian, May14, 2016
You’ve always looked great. You and your late husband Ron understood the marketability of that, right?
Oh, absolutely; when I was young I suppose I was a bit of a honey, with long blonde hair, and in the early days there were no wetsuits — I just wore bathers. No one else was filming with sharks. We discovered Movietone News would take our film and show it in cinemas around the world. All they wanted was sharks and if I was in the picture, even better.
But it was a sideline, wasn’t it?
Yes, I worked as an artist, drawing comics like Bugsey Bear and Foxy Fagan. My wage was nine pounds a week, but Movietone would pay us 24 pounds an item — so every weekend we’d dive with sharks.
Your most exciting moment?
Filming for Blue Water, White Death [1971] we got in the water with hundreds of oceanic whitetips — which account for more human deaths than any other shark — feeding on a sperm whale carcass. We made ourselves a place in the pack and they accepted us as some other creature that had come to feed. To get a close-up of teeth tearing into the whale we had to swim through blood, then a big shark came up and bumped me out of the way and started biting, shaking, on the whale. That gave me a real feeling of horror. But we got the shot.
Tell us about going the biff with sharks.
Fear isn’t part of my nature; I just get angry. If I have trouble with a shark I go berserk, swearing and cursing, and punch it in the gills. No predator expects prey to attack it. The biggest one I ever punched? An oceanic whitetip of about 3.5m.
What have you learnt from your years of marine conservation work?
Get a good story, film it, and go to television — if you have good images and a good story, they’ll take it. The opposition will attack, and they’ll always lie. Once they lie you’ve got them.
Should we lock away marine parks in perpetuity?
If we are to maintain the integrity of our marine environment into the future, it has to be locked away. There is no other way. I find it appalling that governments always try to take back so-called “protected” marine parks. Would we let them take a land national park away?
What’s your take on the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef?
In 1965 we went from one end of the reef to the other, over six months, and we found bleaching then. In the ’70s we went back and you’d never know it had happened. The coral had recovered; nature had taken care of it. I’ve seen reefs in PNG that were as white as snow and I’ve just come back from there and they’re terrific.
So the Great Barrier Reef isn’t in crisis?
Look, I’m not a scientist — I say everything from observation and experience. I don’t think the bleaching is a crisis. But there is no doubt the reef is in serious trouble from overuse, overfishing — it’s just being stripped.
Ron died of leukaemia in 2012.
How are you coping? The hurt never goes away. Sometimes it beats me right down. I never thought he’d die before me; he was a health fanatic and I’m not. I love butter and I drink like a fish. I’m angry with him for dying, because he left me alone and basically helpless — I didn’t know how to operate his cameras or the editing machine.
What’s next?
I’m going on a 16-day dive trip to Indonesia with Chris Atkins, who starred in The Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields when they were teenagers. I taught them to dive for the movie and we’ve been friends ever since. Hayley Baillie [Dick Smith’s daughter], who I’ve dived with for years, has chartered a beautiful old boat with an ironwood hull and red sails. We’re going to some remote areas. It’s going to be amazing.

John in Oz
June 28, 2016 12:23 am

Would this flavour your work if you were a reef specialist?
Election 2016:

The Turnbull government will establish a special $1 billion fund to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the ravages of climate change and declining water quality.

Reply to  John in Oz
June 28, 2016 12:56 am

Best way to protect the Reef is to remove the E10 fuel mandate so the sugar cane farmers stop growing cane at the coast.

Mark - Helsinki
Reply to  Streetcred
June 28, 2016 2:41 am

While nitrogen causes a nutrient imbalance that Corals bleach to deal with, only heat blobs and El Nino cause mass bleaching, or very large volcanic eruptions.
Changes in light too, all those “contrails” and SRM would essentially reduce direct sunlight.
This will cause Corals to bleach if over the GBR, SPS corals do not suffer light changes well, and losing 10 15 or 20% of direct light will bleach corals

Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
June 29, 2016 1:35 am

Hi Mark, my hobby is propagating sps corals … for nearly 20 years.
(1) The Nitrogen entering the system together with the excessive siltation is the #1 cause of coral destruction on the GBR.
(2) You serious, a “contrail” conspiracy? Tell me what would happen as a consequence of say 3 weeks of cyclonic conditions, significantly reduced light through cloud cover. ENSO exposes the reef to more light, not less. Summer on the GBR is very cloudy.
I can grow sps in a range of PAR of 160 – 360 umol m-2 s-1, sunlight is +2000 umol m-2 s-1 … so “10% 15% or 20% will bleach corals” I don’t think so.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Streetcred
June 28, 2016 4:14 am


Mark - Helsinki
June 28, 2016 2:37 am

Didn’t Obama’s Pentagon want to practice bomb Pagan Island and obviously it’s associated coral reefs recently?
Also even small amounts of volcanic ash changes water chemistry enough to harm corals, when you live at the high end of alkalinity you tolerate far less change.
Volcanically active islands abound in the tropical Pacific and harbor complex coral communities. Whereas lava streams and deep ash deposits are well-known to devastate coral communities through burial and smothering, little is known about the effect of moderate amounts of small particulate ash deposits on reef communities. Volcanic ash contains a diversity of chemical compounds that can induce nutrient enrichments triggering changes in benthic composition. Two independently collected data sets on the marine benthos of the pristine and remote reefs around Pagan Island, Northern Mariana Islands, reveal a sudden critical transition to cyanobacteria-dominated communities in 2009–2010, which coincides with a period of continuous volcanic ash eruptions. Concurrently, localized outbreaks of the coral-killing cyanobacteriosponge Terpios hoshinota displayed a remarkable symbiosis with filamentous cyanobacteria, which supported the rapid overgrowth of massive coral colonies and allowed the sponge to colonize substrate types from which it has not been documented before. The chemical composition of tephra from Pagan indicates that the outbreak of nuisance species on its reefs might represent an early succession stage of iron enrichment (a.k.a. “black reefs”) similar to that caused by anthropogenic debris like ship wrecks or natural events like particulate deposition from wildfire smoke plumes or desert dust storms. Once Pagan’s volcanic activity ceased in 2011, the cyanobacterial bloom disappeared. Another group of well-known nuisance algae in the tropical Pacific, the pelagophytes, did not reach bloom densities during this period of ash eruptions but new species records for the Northern Mariana Islands were documented. These field observations indicate that the study of population dynamics of pristine coral communities can advance our understanding of the resilience of tropical reef systems to natural and anthropogenic disturbances.

Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
June 29, 2016 1:42 am

Tell me about the splendid coral reefs around the gas seeps of PNG … ? PS, alkalinity varies from hour to hour, day to day, and season to season. Just like salinity. Do some research on the influence of the Redfield Ratio on algae. Have you ever witnessed corals high and dry on the low tide on the Reef ? Then you’ll know how resilient coral is.

June 28, 2016 3:55 am

The decline of the western Atlantic coral reefs can be traced to the 1983 (pre-warming) die off of 98% of diadema antillarum from Bermuda to Brazil.

June 28, 2016 7:25 am

RE: ‘Acidification’ due to CO2 –
Carbon dioxide dissolves in water to make carbonic acid – a weak acid. In the pH range of the world’s oceans (7.0 to 8.5) it becomes bicarbonate (HCO3-) ions, which are widely used by marine life forms from plankton to mulloscs for building skeletons, including coral reefs. All the limestone in the world was originally the carbonate skeletons of marine life. The CO2 content of sea water is essential as not only a fertilizer for phytoplankton, but also for the growth of zooplankton, corals, and mulloscs.
The oxides of nitrogen and sulfur dissolve in water to produce strong acids (nitric, sulfuric) that can dissolve the carbonate minerals in reefs.
NOAA provides evidence for upwelling of “acidified” water onto the Continental Shelf, meaning that the oceans are acidifying from the bottom up (!). The most likely source of this more acidic water is sulfur oxides (i.e. sulfuric acid) emitted by submarine vulcanism at sea floor spreading centers, black smokers, etc.

June 28, 2016 11:32 am

..I don’t get it …Why aren’t the liberal “Greenies” screaming at their full decibels about China simply burying Coral Reefs to create their new, unlawful islands ?.. It seems liberal logic is beyond my comprehension…

June 29, 2016 2:35 am

I’m a little late, but I appreciate your work, Jim. This part:-
“While Hoegh-Guldberg suggests climate change is coral’s greatest threat, the latest research from coral reefs surrounding uninhabited islands (Smith 2016) suggests that that the greatest anthropogenic factors affecting coral are disturbances such as landscape changes that affect sediments and runoff, as well as dynamite and cyanide fishing and overfishing, and other human disturbances”
rang a bell in my brain about Greenpeace and pristine coral reefs. The Australian newspaper reported, Nov 2nd 2005, that “Greenpeace ship carves up coral reef”.
“TUBBATAHA REEFS, The Philippines: Greenpeace is to be fined after its flagship Rainbow Warrior II damaged a coral reef in the central Philippines during a climate change awareness campaign,
…….the 55m .. schooner ran aground at the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park … The ship’s bow sliced through a reef formation measuring 160sqm…
….. the crew made dive sorties to inspect the effect of global warming on the coral formation.
…….. Greenpeace divers …found healthy coral and no evidence of bleaching…..”
The reference I have is http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/printpage/0,5942,17109412,00.html

Reply to  yippiy
June 29, 2016 2:39 am

Sorry, the link doesn’t work, but I do have a pdf copy available.

Steve Lohr
June 29, 2016 10:26 am

Thank you again Dr. Steele for another very well written and informative article. The search for the true state of nature is difficult enough even without the impediments created by the likes of Hoegh-Guldberg. A stark line exists between quiet but passionate scientific inquiry and vulgar self serving sensationalism. It is our misfortune that the latter passes for “science” in our age of electronic throw-away media. I just can’t thank you enough for your offerings on WUWT. While reading your information about corals I was reminded of thoughts that I have every spring as I am trying to eradicate dandelions from my lawn. I often ask myself why are they so resistant. Well, I guess they just are. I know I would be. Perhaps corals are too, we just don’t know, but I would be inclined to believe they will be around long after evidence of our presence on earth is merely a thin oily layer.

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