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Media Exaggerated Vanishing Island Climate Role

Reporting Climate Science

Media exaggerated the role of climate change in the disappearance of five reef islands detailed in a scientific paper published last week, according to the study’s author.

The paper, published on Friday (6 May 2016), reports on the loss of five vegetated reef islands and changes to other reef island shorelines in the Solomon Islands. News stories subsequently appeared in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Washington Post and other media outlets implying that the study linked the disappearance of the islands to climate change.

But lead author Simon Albert, from the University of Queensland, has complained that the media headlines have misinterpreted the science by confusing sea level rise with climate change and implying the islands were lost due to climate change. The Guardian has run a second story reporting on Albert’s concerns: ““All these headlines are certainly pushing things a bit towards the ‘climate change has made islands vanish’ angle. I would prefer slightly more moderate titles that focus on sea-level rise being the driver rather than simply ‘climate change’,” Albert told The Guardian.

The paper, published in Environmental Research Letters, concludes: “This study represents the first assessment of shoreline change from the Solomon Islands, a global sea-level rise hotspot. We have documented five vegetated reef islands (1–5 ha in size) that have recently vanished and a further six islands experiencing severe shoreline recession. Shoreline recession at two sites has destroyed villages that have existed since at least 1935, leading to community relocations. The large range of erosion severity on the islands in this study highlights the critical need to understand the complex interplay between the projected accelerating sea-level rise, other changes in global climate such as winds and waves, and local tectonics, to guide future adaptation planning and minimise social impacts.”

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