Acropora spp., endangered

EricHugo at EricHugo at
Tue Mar 2 13:02:32 EST 1999

Hi Charles.

<<I too am somewhat confused as to what additional protection placing
Acroporids on the ESA will accimplish that is not already being covered.
Could someone who is supporting this idea please outline the additional
protection thus afforded and how this is of benefit compared to
legislation already in place?>>

I think Jamie outlined some good points in his previous post on this.  While
there may be geological evidence pointing to boom/bust cycles in various coral
populations (and there is), the points brought out earlier I think are
important: that is, that irrespective of natural catastrophe and influence,
the anthropogenic influence of many factors seems unrelenting. There have been
many papers which have investigated long and short term damage resulting from
various natural factors, and, while occasionally catastrophic and reefs are
largely lost, the majority seem to show slow or even surprisingly quick
recovery given proper conditions.  However, recovery in stressed or injured
animals is remarkably less as energy is allocated to repair.  I cannot really
see what harm placing A. palmata and A. cervicornis under ESA guidelines would
do, as these stressed communities could potentially benefit from any and all
action on their behalf.  What concerns me (besides the fact I miss seeing vast
thickets of Acropora in the Caribbean) is the reef accretion rate without
these reef builders.  Unlike Pacific reefs, there are fewer species which can
grow at the rate or in the conditions tolerated by these two species than in
the Pacific.  With bioerosion, continued anthropogenic stress, and natural
disasters (which, arguably, may worsen in the future), will the next in line
reef-builders like Montastrea and Porites be able to keep up?  Looking at the
listing of some of the others (Dendrogyra cylindrus, etc.), can Caribbean
reefs keep up?  Only coralline algae ridges to come?  ESA won't do a thing to
prevent Gaia's wrath, but there is quite a difference between the natural
cycles of disturbance and the continuing long term stress on the these reefs. 

One thing I have noticed when such debates occur is that there is much "voire-
diring" about whether proposed solutions are ideal or optimal...they rarely
are.  However, in the meantime, the habitat continues to suffer while the
debate continues.  Perhaps actions which protect the habitat should be
implemented, even if not panacaeic, while better solutions are being worked

Nor am I particularly convinced that a spawn releasing (hypothetically) one
billion gametes is enough.  Consider an equally hypothetical 1% successful
fertilization, 1% settlement success, and a 1% chance of living past the
juvenile stage.  Then consider that 95% of these corals are lost (being lost)
due to disease/stress/injury/predation, bioerosion, competition, etc.  As was
mentioned, recruitment is not keeping up, so I think its more than a case of
the "warm and fuzzies". Ordinarily, one could expect for fragmentation to make
up some ground, but there aren't enough colonies around to make this of
significant value...hence the reason why these species are now considered for
ESA protection.  The potential for these animals to recover and survive mass
mortality is certainly there if conditions are ideal....but they aren't.  Not
that I am bringing up any particularly earth shattering points here, but it
would seem that the loss of these key species is of particular importance to
reefs, and I cannot see why all efforts to protect them shouldn't be
supported. There is not really any economic value placed on them due to
rigorous anti-collection protocol (as you brought up), and hence no real force
towards *not* implementing protective legislation. Thus, arguably, their most
important economic value is in their continued presence for
recreational/tourism reasons and supporting the lower end of sport/food fish
webs (and, of course, their intrinsic value to the reef itself and to the
continued grants for studying the reasons for their mortality <g>)

I do, however, totally agree that efforts on the part of the public and
private aquaria arena could (perhaps surprisingly) support some captive grow-
out for replenishment.  I have long thought that Caribbean species should be
available for such efforts with careful and moderated collection. 

Eric Borneman

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