[Coral-List] Acropora debate

Gene Shinn eshinn at usgs.gov
Thu Dec 2 10:28:18 EST 2004

As the lightening rod for the Acropora listing issue, I suppose that 
I am expected to respond. The key sentence in the letter from Brent 
Plater reads, "The Endangered Species Act allows the interested 
public to submit "petitions" to protect species from extinction, and 
requires the federal government to respond to these
"petitions" with substantive decisions to protect imperiled species within a
mandatory timeframe."  In spite of the legalistic prose, the 
scientific question remains, how will we "protect" a species that is 
dying from unknown diseases? And what does "substantive decisions" 
mean? Protection is easy with birds, fish, and other animals being 
over exploited. We simply regulate the cause. Likewise, if loss of 
habitat by development causes an organism's demise, then that 
activity can be curtailed. But what can we do if the cause of coral 
demise is unknown? Are there other motives for passing a new law? 
Does anyone think this action will prevent the rise of global CO2 or 
the use of SUVs? This can only lead to increased entanglement of laws 
and regulations that will further empower the legal profession. 
Surely it will increase bureaucracy and provide unfulfilling 
employment to develop "substantive decisions" and regulate who knows 
      Are there coral reef scientists who have not waited weeks and 
months to obtain permits to work in large parks and preserves? I know 
of none. When I was preparing the Marine Pollution Bulletin essay, I 
was in the middle of an exasperating 4-month wait for a permit to 
install monitoring wells to test for fecal and nutrient pollution. 
The purpose of the study is to provide information that may help 
determine what is killing Acropora and other genera. The delay forced 
us to labor in the heat of summer and directly in the path of 
Hurricane Charley, which drove us off the site. Fortunately, the 
wells were installed just in time. Suppose what would have happened 
if we had wanted to work on an endangered species? For the record, I 
did not state in the essay that I had waited for permits in "paper 
parks" as stated by Brent. My heartburn and needless waste of time, 
as it has been with many others, have usually been with mainstream 
Federal and State agencies. I appreciate the concerns of these 
agencies. They have to respond to the public and their concerns are 
usually related to how they may be perceived by the public for 
allowing certain research activities.
       The real issue here is whether science or legal/political 
agendas will prevail. In my experience, politics usually wins over 
science. That few reef scientists have voiced an opinion suggests 
that once again special interests will win over science and common 
sense. The precautionary principle will be used to the fullest. Can 
science raise the bar? 
E. A. Shinn


No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
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E. A. Shinn
email  eshinn at usgs.gov
USGS Center for Coastal Geology     |
600 4th St. South                   | voice  (727) 803-8747 x3030
St.Petersburg, FL  33701            | fax    (727) 803-2032
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