reef bombing

Doug Fenner d.fenner at
Mon Nov 22 14:11:19 EST 1999

   I would like to thank those who have given us more of the facts about
the situation on the reefs of Vieques & Cuelebra off Puerto Rico.  The
future of the Navy and land use there will not only impact reefs, but many
people as well.  And people have a right to control their own destiny and
live free of bombs that miss their targets, and militaries that avoid
   It seemed to me that we were being asked to support the removal of the
Navy, without knowing what was going to replace them, and without factual
basis to support what appeared to be an obvious fact, that bombing damages
reefs.  I was saying, 'wait a minute, could it be a bit more complicated?'.
   I wouldn't for a minute advocate bombing reefs to conserve them.  I
would fully support a cessation of bombing, strafing, polluting lands and
waters (Activities which the military of the US and many other nations have
carried on in a variety of other locations, and which will cost billions to
clean up- to some extent legacies of the cold war and a lack of concern for
the environment.).  Also those who made the pollution cleaning it up.
   I suggested leaving the live ordinance around, not continued bombing.
My concern is that dense human populations, whether for tourism
development, rural agriculture, or the building of towns and cities, tends
to have very detrimental effects on coral reefs.  Effects that may even be
worse than the military.  No one doubts that corals are damaged in bomb
craters, or in the tracks of landing vehicles.  But in between the bombs
and tracks, the corals may be in very good shape (and the craters and
tracks may cover only part of the reef).  As has been pointed out, we will
not know until the military allows independent investigators in, or the
military leaves.  (and it would be good to remove live ordinance if the
normal destructive effects of dense human populations are avoided)
    Someone has suggested that Bikini and Enewetok atolls may have some of
the most pristine reefs in the world at this point.  Simply because they
have been uninhabited since the 50's when the US tested atomic bombs there.
 It does not follow that we should encourage the military to bomb other
coral reefs.  But it does call into question whether bombing is more
damaging to coral reefs over the long term, or large human populations and
their activities.  And a military reservation without any activities may
preserve reefs very well indeed.
    I suggest that the planning for uses after the military leaves is
crucial.  The number of people allowed into the area, how much construction
will be allowed, whether sediment runoff from construction will be trapped
on land, whether sewage will be treated and piped far out beyond the reefs,
whether fishing will be allowed uncontrolled, whether nutrients will be
running off of the land, whether people will be upstream or downstream of
the reefs- these matters (and others) may be critical.  I'd guess that the
reefs of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii before the sewage outfalls were diverted, or
Jamaican north shore reefs since 1980 with massive over fishing and
nutrient runoff are in worse shape than the Vieques reef between the bomb
craters.  (I may be wrong)  Of course, with massive bleaching due to El
Nino/Global warming, it may all be a moot question in a couple decades
anyhow.  Where did I park my gas-guzzeler?
   Just a note- my views have nothing to do with AIMS, I'm a US Citizen,
and there is indeed a bombing range in the ocean not far off of Townsville,
Australia, where the Royal Australian Air Force practices, I am told.  -Doug
Douglas Fenner, Ph.D.
Coral Biodiversity/Taxonomist
Australian Institute of Marine Science
PMB No 3
Townsville MC
Queensland 4810
phone 07 4753 4334
e-mail: d.fenner at

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