The bad news: 22 percent of Australia's Great Barrier Reef has died.
The good news is, relatively speaking, that the rest of the 1,400-mile-long coral reef is alive — severely threatened, yes, but not yet dead.
A widely shared "obituary" in Outside magazine last week inaccurately claimed that all of the Great Barrier Reef "passed away in 2016" after a brief battle with global warming and ocean acidification.
The article stoked sadness and finger-pointing across social media as people mourned the loss of the 25-million-year-old natural wonder.
Then, as with any proper viral post, backlash ensued.
Huffington Post and other outlets soon set the record straight, clarifying that while most of the Australian reef is in serious trouble, we still have a fighting chance to rescue it from its deathbed.
Twitter and Facebook promptly filled with messages of relief, disbelief, I-told-you-so's, blame-flinging, anger with the media, and even support for the alarmist approach.
‼️THE GREAT BARRIER REEF IS NOT DEAD‼️ sorry for spreading misinformation. it is dying but it's not too late. https://t.co/n4NI72G4Cu
— halloweenie (@Savannah_Hegyi) October 14, 2016
So...the reef ain't dead 🤔 The internet be lying too much for me https://t.co/Klme1zzTYg
— Bee. (@thefiestyfeline) October 14, 2016
i agree the other article was irresponsible! But also i think it spurred more """awareness""" idk if this good/bad!! https://t.co/peA7HeAViZ
— half golden mongoose (@slugcharmer) October 14, 2016
Coral scientists shared their frustration with the "obituary" and said the over-the-top approach was counterproductive to conservation efforts.
The article "makes the situation much worse by conveying loss of hope, rather than a need for global society to take actions to reverse these discouraging downward trends," Rusty Brainard, a leading coral scientist in NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, wrote on Outside's Facebook post promoting the story.
So here's the reality.
About 22 percent of coral on the Great Barrier Reef died due to the worst mass coral bleaching event on record, according to an Oct. 13 update by the Australian government's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
Image: Great barrier reef marine park authority
The authority's preliminary findings are based on a survey of the extent and severity of coral bleaching between March and June 2016.
Coral bleaching happens when coral expel the symbiotic algae that live in their tissue and give them color and nutrients.
Warmer water temperatures, acidifying oceans, pollution and other stressors can cause bleaching events, which turn coral white or pale and make them vulnerable to disease or death. However, coral can recover from a bleaching event, even if in a weakened state.
In April, Australian scientists found that bleaching hit 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef, the result of record-warm water driven by El Niño and climate change.
— Terry Hughes (@ProfTerryHughes) April 19, 2016
Terry Hughes, who runs the Australian Research Council's Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said on Twitter that the center's findings brought him and his students to tears.
He later told HuffPost that he was "not impressed" by Outside magazine's premature declaration of death. He noted that large swaths of the Great Barrier Reef's southern half escaped the March-June bleaching event and are in reasonable shape.
"The message should be that it isn't too late for Australia to lift its game and better protect the GBR, not we should all give up because the GBR is supposedly dead," he told HuffPost.