Reefs At Risk

Steven Miller smiller at
Wed Jun 24 14:07:55 EDT 1998

Dear Phil,

I have a problem with the "chicken little" approach that is often used in
public forums to generate support, controversy, or conflict.    And even if
"the sky is falling" I think that it's important not to oversimplify by
suggesting simple solutions (or even any solution) to problems as complex as
coral reef condition - especially in Florida.  I don't think that anyone
disagrees about the decline of reefs in Florida (and throughout the Caribbean),
but since you imply that there are more actions to take - what exactly do you
think anyone can do to make a difference?

Don't you agree that the two biggest factors related to decreased coral cover
and increased algae on reefs in Florida and throughout the Caribbean are white
band disease and the Diadema dieoff, respectively?   If water quality is a
problem isn't it more likely related to factors that affect the entire
Caribbean basin and Gulf of Mexico (due to river runoff from the Great Rivers
of South America and the Mississippi), and not local sewage disposal practices
(at least there is no evidence that sewage is causing problems on the reefs in
Florida - in canals and enclosed nearshore waters yes, but not offshore)?
Further, in Florida we are at the northern geographic limit for active reef
growth and the system sees significant natural system variation related to
temperature (it can get quite cold in the winter), and perhaps other factors
related to the Gulf Stream and upwelling.   And there is a lot more to say
about complexity; I know that you understand all of this.

One solution, already implemented, is to provide no-take protection to reef
areas, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has a world-class
management program in place (and monitoring program) with many no-take areas.
So, again, what exactly do we need to mobilize?  And why?

I've posted this to the list-server in reply to your first note because I
consider this a public forum and not one that is scientific.   And everyone is
free to rant without review, but you do leave yourself open for rebuttal.
Please don't get the wrong idea, I would like to hear the positive steps you
think are needed to turn things around - in our lifetime or the next several,
since that probably matches up better with processes related to how reefs
grow.  I ask this for a practical reason too, since I have program management
responsibilities for a fairly large and competitively driven coral research
program in Florida.  I look forward to talking with you, perhaps by phone or
directly by email is best.

Steven Miller, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Florida Program
National Undersea Research Center
University of North Carolina at Wilmington


Phillip Dustan wrote:

> Don't worry Jack- the reefs of the Florida Keys as we once knew them will
> be gone soon so no one will have to worry about the problem unless we get
> mobilized ASAP and really do something beside monitor and "keep a smiley
> face on it" for the sake of the economy.
>                                         Phil.
> At 07:50 PM 6/23/98 -0400, sobelj%dccmc at wrote:
> >A report entitled "Reefs at Risk" was released at a National Press Club
> >press conference today by the World Resources Institute, ICLARM, WCMC,
> >and UNEP.  In addition to this impressive group of producers, the
> >National Press Club event was introduced by NOAA's Terry Garcia, Asst
> >Sec. for Oceans and Atmosphere, Sylvia Earle wrote the opening section,
> >and the contributing authors and reviewers include a virtual who's who of
> >coral reef researchers and personalities.  The attractive report does a
> >good job of identifying the major threats to coral reefs:
> >overexploitation (fishing, etc.), pollution (especially land-based), and
> >coastal development (which contributes to the others).
> >
> >Nonetheless, I can't help but question some of the report's conclusions,
> >findings, and assumptions.  These include:
> >
> >(1) The reefs of the Florida Keys face only moderate threat overall?
> >(2) The reefs of the Windward and Leeward islands face greater threat
> >than those of the Florida Keys?
> >(3) The reefs of Southern Belize face greater threat than those of the
> >Florida Keys?
> >(4) Overexploitation is only a threat to those reefs in countries whose
> >per capita GNP is < $10,000/year or whose per capita fish consumption is
> >> 50 Kilograms/person/year?
> >
> >#4 seems particularly disturbing to me as it seems to be an unjustified
> >assumption that while noted, is not explained, and may be responsible in
> >part for the erroneous conclusions reached in #1,#2, and #3, and perhaps
> >others.  This unjustified assumption lead to overexploitation being
> >ignored as a contributing factor to reef degradation in the United
> >States, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Israel, and the
> >Bahamas.  Since I participated in the initial methodology workshop for
> >this report back in August of 1997, I know that the contribution of
> >overexploitation/fishing to reef degradation was flagged and highlighted
> >at that workshop by numerous reviewers.
> >
> >Since no explanation is given in the report for exempting these countries
> >from consideration of fishing impacts, one might speculate that political
> >considerations were involved.  Am I missing something?   What do others
> >think?
> >**************************************************************************
> >*******************************************
> >Jack Sobel, Director
> >Ecosystem Protection
> >Center for Marine Conservation
> >Washington, DC  20036
> >(202)429-5609 or (202)857-5552
> >Fax: (202)872-0619
> >Email:  jsobel
> >
> >"The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant:
> >'What good is it?'.  If the land mechanismas a whol is good, then every
> >part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the
> >course of eons, has built something we like, but do not understand, then
> >who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog
> >and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering."
> >Aldo Leopold, Round River, 1953.
> >**************************************************************************
> >******************************************
> >
> >

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