Vieques Island Letter: Multiple Comments from REEF RELIEF

Mon Nov 29 12:58:01 EST 1999

My first temptation was not to respond to a series of comments posted by
either Craig Quirilo or Devon Quirilo or both of REEF RELIEF, on the
Coral-list server, with regard to a letter sent by the Center for Marine
Conservation (CMC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on Vieques
Island. However, having now received five versions of rambling, incoherent,
and seemingly irrelevant comments from them that were posted to the
Coral-list server, I think a few clarifying remarks are in order:  

(1)The letter sent by us did not propose a marine sanctuary nor pre-judge
what mechanism might be best to protect the reefs and other resources
surrounding Vieques, but emphasized the need to stop all bombing impacting
Vieques' reefs and provide more comprehensive protection than simply an end
to the bombing, especially if the Navy were to pull out. Based on my
understanding of REEF RELIEF's own mission and policies, they would agree
that the bombing should be stopped and that other protection should also be

(2)We would agree that neither the federal government nor any form of
government can provide the whole answer to coral reef protection on its own
in Vieques or elsewhere, but federal and other forms of government can and
should play a role in and afford protection for coral reefs.  An active
well-informed public is essential for this to happen, which is part of the
reason we exist.  We assume REEF RELIEF would agree with this as well,
presumably its why they exist.

(3)So what was REEF RELIEF really tring to say?  I confess that I don't
know.  Their two recurring themes seem to be that (A) National NGOs don't
have a clue about the problems facing coral reefs, only REEF RELIEF does;
and (B) the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has been responsible for
the death of the Florida Keys Reef Tract, despite being around for only a
few years, and its creation proves that government can't do anything to
prevent reef destruction.  If this was REEF RELIEF's message, we clearly
disagree with them on both themes.

(4)We believe that the threats facing the Florida Reef Tract and many other
Caribbean reefs, potentially including Vieques, are multiple, long-term, and
synergistic, and will require similarly comprehensive solutions.  Although
we have not always been satisfied with the level of protection afforded by
the FKNMS, we believe it is an essential tool for the protection and
recovery of the Florida Reef Tract, that it is already contributing to its
conservation, and that it can and will contribute more in the future,
provided the public keeps demanding it.  The TORTUGAS 2000 initiative, if
and when implemented, will be a major step forward in this regard.

(5)REEF RELIEF's claim that the failure of the FKNMS to put an immediate end
to all threats and degradation of the Florida Reef Tract proves that
government and/or the Federal government can not contribute to coral reef
protection is absurd on its face.  Such a conclusion would be equivalent to
stating that the failure of REEF RELIEF (which has been around much longer)
to halt the degradation of the Florida Reef Tract demonstrates that local
grassroots organizations can't contribute to coral reef protection.  We are
not ready to draw such a conclusion.  Coral reef protection will require the
hard, cooperative work of government, NGOs, and many others, at all spatial
scales to make important contributions. 
Jack Sobel, Director	
Ecosystem Program	
Center for Marine Conservation
1725 DeSales St. NW, Suite #600
Washington, DC  20036
Phone:  (202) 429-5609
Fax:  (202) 872-0619
Email:  jsobel at
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