NEWS YORK TIMES: Mysterious New Diseases Devastate Coral

prtaylor at prtaylor at
Fri Aug 22 10:39:34 EDT 1997

22 August 1997


Thanks go to Roger Griffis over at NOAA for distributing the NY Times 
piece (by Carol Yoon) on coral disease in the western tropical 
Atlantic Ocean.  This important article has been, no doubt, widely 
read.  It will hopefully bring further attention to ecological 
problems in the world's coral reefs, as well as the difficulty of 
studying the etiology of diseases in natural marine ecosystems.

One piece of untruth in the article is particularly troublesome.  It 
is found in the following quote:
     "We've tried getting money from the National Science
 Foundation," said Dr. Goreau. "You send a proposal and
 wait a year or two for the review. You can't deal with
 this kind of emergency science that way."

I won't debate why any of Dr. Goreau's attempts to secure funding for 
basic research related to the biology/ecology of coral diseases were 
not successful.  I will simply point out that the U.S. National 
Science Foundation is indeed fully capable of making very rapid awards 
to respond to time-dependent opportunities for scientific discovery.  
Commitments are sometimes made on time-scales of less than a week 
after complete internal review of the proposal science.  

As a very appropriate example, Dr. Drew Harvell (Cornell University) 
received last year a rapid-response award from the Division of Ocean 
Sciences, NSF for studying disease in tropical Atlantic gorgonians and 
has just received supplemental, rapid-response support for additional 
studies.  At the same time, Dr. Harvell is attempting to secure 
longer-term funding via peer-reviewed science proposals to the NSF and 
perhaps other funding agencies.   Dr. Harvell was one of the 
scientists interviewed for Ms. Yoon's article.

Another example relevant to the ecology of reefs and their responses 
to perturbations comes with agreement earlier this year to support Dr. 
Gerard Wellington's (University of Houston) request for rapid-response 
funding.  Dr. Wellington, who is supported by the NSF for other 
studies on reef ecology, will use the rapid-response funding to look 
at the impact of the coming ENSO (El Nino-Southern Oscillation) on the 
population ecology of reef fishes in the Galapagos and to compare the 
impact of this ENSO to the intense one experienced in the 1982-83 time 
frame.  Some current predictions suggest that the coming ENSO will be 
even more intense than that of 1982-83.

And again, last year Dr. Deborah Brosnan (Sustainable Ecosystems 
Institute) received a rapid-response award from the NSF for studying 
the response of coral reef ecosystems to the volcanic eruptions on 

By three examples of very many, this should show that the U.S. 
National Science Foundation is very capable of responding to 
time-dependent scientific research opportunities.  And it welcomes and 
supports such requests routinely.  Brief proposals showing high 
scientific merit -- an important problem, an appropriate scientific 
approach that will likely yield rigorous results, investigators with 
evidence of strong scientific credentials and experience - do yield 
success.  And these successful exploratory efforts are often followed 
with additional support of proposals that have entered the usual, 
4-to-6-month, full peer-review process.


Phil Taylor


Phillip Taylor, Director
Biological Oceanography Program
Division of Ocean Sciences
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Blvd.  Suite 725
Arlington,  VA  22230
prtaylor at
phone 703-306-1587   fax 306-0390

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