A Reef in Time

cover of the book A Reef in Time is a book I have known about since it was published in 2008 but I only got around to reading it a few months ago. It is such a great book (great in the sense of masterful, imposing or significant, not fun) that I wanted to tell others about it via some sort of review, but I was daunted by the fact that Charlie Veron’s work is far beyond my capacity to critique in any meaningful way. He is, after all, a legend of reef science (see wikipedia or climateshifts or even his facebook page), while I barely dip my toes into the subject.

This page is my compromise: a collection of comments which agree with my own perception of the book but carry the weight of opinion of people far more expert than myself. I will start with the author:

When I started writing ‘A Reef in Time’, I knew that climate change was likely to have serious consequences for coral reefs, but even I was shocked to the core by what all the best science that existed was saying. In a long phase of personal anguish I turned to specialists in many different fields of science to find anything that might suggest a fault in my own conclusions. No luck. The bottom line remains: the GBR can indeed be utterly trashed in the lifetime of today’s children. That certainty is what motivates me to broadcast this message as clearly, as accurately and, yes, as loudly, as I can.

That quote appeared on a blog post by Caspar Henderson, who has this (and more) to say about the book:

… this book does more than simply convey the central message that climate change – and in particular ocean acidification – threaten to destroy the GBR, and that action to avert this should be a top priority. It also does at least two other useful things. One, it provides a brilliantly clear and authoritative introduction to much of the history of life on earth via a focus on some of the most productive ecosystems in the seven tenths that is ocean. Two, it conveys the stupendous enormity of a mass extinction event which – unless somehow averted – is likely to be the biggest in sixty five million years …

The book is also fascinating in its detailed account of the GBR itself, including a plausible account of a ‘stone age Utopia’ in which aboriginal peoples may have lived in caves under what, today (following a rapid rise in sea level at the end of the last glaciation about 11,500 years ago), are coral reefs.

Another opinion comes (via the publisher’s site) from Louise Goggin, writing in Australian Marine Science Association Bulletin: 

This is not a book for the fainthearted… Indeed, Veron believes we are on the brink of the sixth mass extinction of the planet. He makes his case in this book and paints a vivid picture of what we will be losing if we do not stop spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere… The book is easy to read with well-placed illustrations to explain complex concepts. It presents its argument in a logical and increasingly disturbing sequence that reaches a bleak end. It is a plea for urgent action written by a man who is passionate about the Great Barrier Reef. It should be read widely by anyone who cares about our planet.

Climate science is advancing so rapidly that 2008 is a long time ago. Sadly, none of the recent news makes Veron’s predictions seem any less likely. See, for instance, “New Maps Depict Potential Worldwide Coral Bleaching by 2056” on Science Daily in February this year.

3 thoughts on “A Reef in Time”

  1. A new worldwide study has concluded that “Climate Change could wipe out coral reefs by 2100,” as Veron predicted a dozen years ago:

    Climate change could destroy nearly all remaining coral reefs by the end of the century, according to research released Monday at the annual Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego.
    Increased ocean temperatures are a particular risk to corals, as warmer temperatures prompt them to release symbiotic algae that bleaches them, putting them at higher risk of death.
    Researchers led by Renee Setter, a biogeographer at the University of Hawaii Manoa, found most parts of the ocean where reefs currently exist will not be suitable habitats by 2045, based on a model that simulated increased surface temperature, acidity, pollution and overfishing.
    “Trying to clean up the beaches is great and trying to combat pollution is fantastic. We need to continue those efforts,” Setter said. “But at the end of the day, fighting climate change is really what we need to be advocating for in order to protect corals and avoid compounded stressors.”
    When the simulation was extended to 2100, “Honestly, most sites are out,” Setter said, with only a few small areas of Baja California and the Red Sea among the areas projected to remain viable.


    1. And here is Veron in person, speaking at the National Climate Emergency Summit in Melbourne.

      In a race against time, warming waters and the prospect of ecological collapse, the “godfather of coral”, veteran Australian marine scientist Dr Charlie Veron, is championing a Queensland-based initiative to collect and safeguard species in a world-first “coral ark”.
      “If you want to see the Great Barrier Reef forget about going to the Northern Great Barrier Reef because it’s gone,” Veron told the National Climate Emergency Summit in Melbourne yesterday.
      “All of this is Russian roulette. The whole reef could be wiped out in one year. That is why we are starting the coral bank.”


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