What's a reef??

Phillip Dustan dustanp at cofc.edu
Thu Jan 17 08:03:16 EST 2002

Hey Guys,
Sorry to intrude but I agree .
We may not be able to say exactly what a reef is supposed to be in all
but we sure know one when we see it. And we can sure tell it's ecology is

At 08:08 PM 1/16/02 -0600, Bob Buddemeier wrote:
>Thanks very much, Mike -- that clears up quite a few things for me. I have
>always been curious about where various governments got the advice upon
>they base their reef-related policies
>Mike Risk wrote:
>> I was only prompted to respond in the first place because (as I told a
>> senior colleague who responded to me privately) I grow frustrated by
>> who would re-invent the wheels on the handbasket in which reefs are so
>> quickly going to hell. My submission was somewhat tongue-in-cheek: I knew

>> perfectly well that there was no chance of that definition, or any other,

>> being widely accepted. All such proposals will be talked to death.
>> The fractious and divisive nature of the coral reef biological community
>> by now the stuff of legends. Just one example, of many: equally as
>> (more so) as the definition is the ability to describe what we see. I
>> the governments of several nations (including the USA) on coral reef
>> monitoring programs. I can guarantee you that, 30 years after the basic
>> technique was described, there is still no general agreement on survey
>> methods. This is clearly absurd. As all survey methods, properly applied,

>> give the same answer, it would not be a problem if the various groups met

>> regularly to compare notes-but even that doesn't happen.
>> So I knew that adoption of the Wells 1957 definition (which was a
>> of opinions at the time) was impossible, because:
>> 1. there are those out there who would not agree to ANY definition that
>> they had not made up themselves;
>> 2. those hearing it for the first time would have to admit they were
>> unfamiliar with the classic reef literature, and
>> 3. it was proposed by (shudder!) geologists. (Do I need to point out
>> here the host of illustrious ecologists with geology degrees-starting
>> Darwin-without whom our knowldege of reefs would be woeful indeed?)
>> There is nothing wrong with that definition-only the fact that it will
>> be adopted.
>> John Ware's posting splits more hairs than it ties together. There is
>> nothing wrong with "wave-resistant" as an essential descriptor. Talking
>> about wave heights, wave strength (Reynold's Numbers??) etc. is just
>> silly. Every structure we would accept as a reef is wave-resistant. Do
>> resist all waves? Of course not. (I resist temptation, but on rare
>> have been known to...that's for a later discussion). Will there be a
>> spectrum of resistances? Of course. Is this a problem? Not to a group
>> can deal with the CCA "boilers" as well as the branched, fragile patches.

>> This is an essential part of the definition, as it separates "reefs"
>> say, piles of oyster shells. It is worth noting that the original word
>> "reif" was High German/Old Norse, and meant a boat-holer.
>> Equally, there is nothing wrong with "framework." The building analogy
>> actually proves the point, instead of being fatal, as John would have it.

>> The building falls down without the framework, ergo the structure needs
>> It is silly to claim that massive structures, underlain by frameworks, do

>> not qualify.
>> When we look at reefs in the record, it is often hard to accept the
>> existence of frameworks-most of them are jumbled piles of rubble. Again I

>> don't think those observations are fatal-instead, they document the
>> catastrophic force of rare storms. Wave-resistance is one thing, but
>> a hurricane, well, "resistance is futile", and the framework is
>> The definition I quoted is from a GSA Volume titled "Ecology"-I recommend

>> it, even though it was published prior to 1995. (I think it's Memoir
>> In that same volume is a paper by Teichert, describing the cold and
>> deep-water coral banks off Europe, and pointing out that these should not
>> called "reefs". See above. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure
>> that an uncemented pile of corals is no more wave-resistant than a pile
>> oyster shells. So this wheel was invented a long time ago.
>> If we are looking for a legal/policy-oriented reef definition, here is
>> does NOT go in:
>> 1. there should be no mention of corals. All sorts of critters make
>> even now. It is not even proper to say that corals dominate modern
>> terms of carbonate budgets, algae and bioeroders are more important by
>> than corals. (I can just hear the screams if I proposed that reefs were
>> "algal-cemented frameworks supporting large numbers of bioeroders.")
>> 2. there should be no mention of zooxanthellae/algal symbiosis. That is a

>> factor that almost always accompanies reef formation (and has in the
>> but any legal challenge would, for example, quickly expose our degree of
>> ignorance of terrestrial OM sources in the diets of corals. This could
>> to a lack of legal protection for parts of inshore reefs.
>> 3. there should be no time implications. Tom's 6-year-old reef is as
>> of protection as are those 3,000-year-old reef fronts on the GBR.
>> In short: the only change I can see making to the original definition
>> be to exclude humans! So, "Biologically-constructed (not by us!)
>> wave-resistant frameworks."
>> I now leave this debate, in the sure and certain knowldege that, should I

>> come back in 5 years, no progress will have been made.
>> ~~~~~~~
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>Dr. Robert W. Buddemeier
>Kansas Geological Survey
>University of Kansas
>1930 Constant Avenue
>Lawrence, KS 66047 USA
>e-mail: buddrw at ku.edu
>ph (1) (785) 864-2112
>fax (1) (785) 864-5317
>Attachment Converted: "c:\eudora_ashley\attach\buddrw1.vcf"
Phillip Dustan
Department of Biology
College of Charleston
Charleston SC 29424
dustanp at cofc.edu
(843) 953-8086
(843)953-5453 Fax ~~~~~~~ For directions on subscribing and unsubscribing to
coral-list or the digests, please visit www.coral.noaa.gov, click on Popular
on the menu bar, then click on Coral-List Listserver.

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