Reefs At Risk

Alina Szmant aszmant at
Wed Jun 24 21:52:40 EDT 1998

Dear Phil:

I'm too busy to discourse at length about the Florida situation but what to
add my support to Steven's excellent reply to your diatribe.   In my opinion
and having spent a lot of time in the Keys these last 10 years, most of the
coral death I have been able to attribute to a specific cause, has been from
severe bleaching [regional or global cause, certainly not local], feasting
by Corallophila (especially  the Acropora's) [possibly a consequence of
overfishing or trophic disfunction fo some sort], damselfishes [again
possibly a result of overfishing], and overgrowth by Halimeda [more on the
deeper offshore reefs than in the inshore ones, thus not easily attributable
to local sewage nutrients but more likely to loss of Diadema].  Overfishing
is slowing being addressed in the Keys and I dare say that one can see more
large groupers and snappers in Fla than almost anywhere else in the
Caribbean.  The other causes of coral loss appear to be more regional in
cause [especially since same symptoms are being seen in remote Bahamas and
Dry Tortugas], and thus not likely resolved by any specific "action" by
locals in the Keys.  Meanwhile, locally high stressors such as sedimentation
& abrasion stress caused by the high frequency of severe storms, are likely
slowing coral recruitment success.

Alina Szmant

At 02:07 PM 6/24/98 -0400, you wrote:
>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.
>> >**************************************************************************
>> >******************************************
>> >
>> >
Dr. Alina M. Szmant
Coral Reef Research Group
University of Miami
4600 Rickenbacker Cswy.
Miami FL 33149

TEL: (305)361-4609
FAX: (305)361-4600 or 361-4005

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