"Legal" definition of a coral reef?

Nani Kai nanikai at makapuu.com
Mon Jan 8 18:02:53 EST 2001

A simple question;  What IS a coral reef?  Or perhaps more importantly,
what is it Not?  (But first let me say that I did review the discussion on
"what is a reef" in last May's coral-list.)

With the great amount of attention that coral reefs have received in the
past few years, regulators are (at last!) coming to the realization that our
precious marine resources need protection.  My concern is that this pendulum
of regulation may be swinging a bit too far to the left.  I think that
everyone reading this list would agree that coral reefs represent a resource
that merits our protection.  I don't think, however, that everyone would
agree specifically about how to define the "coral reef" that we are trying
to protect.  

A "reef" may be clearly defined in strictly nautical terms as it relates
to ship traffic without any reference to corals or other living marine
resources.  Similarly "coral" (or coral communities) may be appropriately
defined in biological terms leaving little room for academic argument.  
It is only as the terms are combined that an increased level of meaning
emerges in the definition to include an interwoven ecological matrix of
habitat complexity, species diversity, and fragility.  But with the
increasing presence of regulators and lawyers dealing with coral reef
issues we are rapidly approaching a time where a working (read: legal)
definition of a "coral reef" will be necessary.

Please consider the following two situations.

Given a flat basalt substrate in 10 meters (just below keel depth) of water,
at what coral density does a 1 hectare area become a coral reef?  Does
surface rugosity, species composition, or colony age play a role in this

Given a shoreline area, depth from 0 to 2 meters, within 50 feet of shore,
do the same definitions apply?

Please forward any answers or comments directly to the list.

I'll do what I can to follow up with a summary to see if we can develop a
consensus definition.

Thanks for your input.

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