"Legal" definition of a coral reef?

Jamie D. Bechtel warrior at bu.edu
Mon Jan 15 11:15:29 EST 2001

john, doug:

i am just curious as to what is meant by "legal" definition. if the definition is likely to be applied in either a domestic or international legal arena, there are portions of the definitions that may be worded so as to better withstand the batterings of a courtroom. i am happy to sit down with my colleagues and make suggestions if you think it may be helpful/useful.

best regards,



Jamie D. Bechtel, J.D.
Boston University
Department of Biology
5 Cummington Street
Boston, MA 02215
(617) 353-6969
warrior at bu.edu

----- Original Message ----- 
From: John McManus <jmcmanus at rsmas.miami.edu>
To: Nani Kai <nanikai at makapuu.com>; <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Sent: Saturday, January 13, 2001 10:25 PM
Subject: RE: "Legal" definition of a coral reef?

> Here is my draft definition for an article in an encyclopedia that will come
> out next year.
> 'The term "coral reef" commonly refers to a marine ecosystem in which a
> prominent ecological functional role is played by scleractinian corals. A
> "structural coral reef" differs from a "non-structural coral community" in
> being associated with a geomorphologically significant calcium carbonate
> (limestone) structure of meters to hundreds of meters height above
> surrounding substrate, deposited by components of a coral reef ecosystem.
> The term "coral reef" is often applied to both types of ecosystem or their
> fossil remains, although many scientists, especially geomorphologists,
> reserve the term for structural coral reefs and their underlying limestone.'
> The limits on what is and is not a part of a given coral community can be
> more difficult to define than most people realize. In the worst case, one
> has scattered clumps of coral that gradually become increasingly dense
> toward a central area. Some worn footpaths through grass have the same
> character. Defining the width of the path can be challenging. The situation
> is similar to that of defining the length of a coastline. In a general
> sense, there is no right answer. One can only define the length of the
> coastline in terms of a particular choice of measuring stick. Alternatively,
> one can describe the coastline in terms of fractals, although this is useful
> only for certain purposes. Similarly, one could choose a density for
> delineating the coral patch, but one would have to couple it with a
> particular way (especially scale) of measuring the density (or set of scales
> or fractal index).
> Given the above definition, the depth would not matter. Some people like
> terms such as bioherm, but but most people would tend to think of a bioherm
> as a form of the popular concept of a coral reef. I don't mind the use of
> the term, as long as it is clearly defined when used. I think the
> 'wave-breaking" concept should be dropped entirely from coral reef
> definitions, and we should accept that the term "coral reef" should imply
> little or no relationship to the unqualified nautical term "reef". That gets
> us around having to define two nearly identical ecological -
> geomorphological constructions as different just because one has sunk a few
> meters lower than the other (e.g. the Palawan subsurface "barrier coral reef
> system", which looks much like the GBR but rarely comes to within 10 m of
> the surface).
> John
> _________________________________________________________
> John W. McManus, PhD
> Director, National Center for Caribbean Coral Reef Research (NCORE)
> Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS)
> University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway
> Miami, Florida 33149.
> jmcmanus at rsmas.miami.edu
> Tel. (305) 361-4609
> Fax (305) 361-4600
>  -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> [mailto:owner-coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov]  On Behalf Of Nani Kai
> Sent: Monday, January 08, 2001 6:03 PM
> To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> Subject: "Legal" definition of a coral reef?
> 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
> designation?
> 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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