[Coral-List] The last Acropora?

Gregor Hodgson gregorh at reefcheck.org
Fri Dec 3 00:41:47 EST 2004

I would like to ask whether we need to wait until the last Acropora is left
until it is time to declare them endangered? The ESA is an imperfect yet
powerful tool that forces everyone, including scientists, to take special
care in all dealings with listed species. ESA has been used to help prevent
development, pollution and other impacts from affecting listed species.

Yes, politics nearly always trumps science and usually conservation is the
loser. The ESA can be used to bring extra attention to a tragic decline of
an incredibly important reef builder through geologically relevant time. The
listing of Acropora will help to educate the public and government leaders
about the Coral Reef Crisis in general and will highlight the Shifting
Baseline issue. The greatest barrier to reversing the Global Coral Reef
Crisis is ignorance among the general public, and therefore lack of public
support. Not knowing the cause of a species' decline is not a valid reason
for not listing it. Threats due to "disease" are one of many specific
factors used by FWS to determine ESA listing approval.

The FWS is required to develop a "recovery plan" for any species listed.
Perhaps the extra attention will help to free up new resources that will
fund the science needed to answer questions about the cause of this radical
change in Caribbean coral reef ecosystems over the past 25 years. Wouldn't
it be nice if some of the $2.5 billion spent annually implementing the ESA
were spent on protecting Acropora? Filling out a few forms seems a small
price to pay....

For those interested in reading more about the imperfections of the
application of the ESA, I highly recommend the award-winning book by our

The Expendable Future: US Politics and the Protection of Biological
by Richard Tobin # Paperback: 336 pages
# Publisher: Duke University Press (November 1, 1990)
# ISBN: 0822310716

For info on the ESA process see: http://endangered.fws.gov/whatwedo.html

Gregor Hodgson, PhD
Executive Director, Reef Check Foundation
P.O. Box 1057 (mail)
17575 Pacific Coast Highway (Fedex)
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272-1057
Tel: +1-310-230-2371 Fax: +1-310-230-2376
email: gregorh at reefcheck.org

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov]On Behalf Of Gene Shinn
Sent: Thursday, December 02, 2004 7:28 AM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Acropora debate

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)
------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
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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