[Coral-List] Reef Remnancy not resiliency

Phil Dustan dustanp at cofc.edu
Tue Feb 21 09:32:11 EST 2006

Dear Coral List,
	I’d like to thank everyone for participating in the discussion about 
healthy reefs in teh Florida Keys. I've gotten lots of response but no 
one can point to a healthy reef, because there are none left. And 
probably haven't been for a long time.

	My point is that before we talk about resilience, maybe we can reach a 
true consensus that the reefs are a mere shadow of their past. By my 
calculations nad measurments, the Keys have lost over 90% of their 
living coral since we began to study them in the 1960s and 70s. The 
Tortugas are in better shape, but are also losing vitality pretty fast 
too. This is shameful. All this time we have been talking about studies, 
monitoring, and awareness and the house has been in full flames right in 
front of our faces. Shame on everyone that wants to minimize this or, 
even worse, deny it.  The authorities should be worried about how to 
protect what is left, and should have been fully engaged in this years 
ago, but everyone wants to pretend that it’s patchy, or not here, or 
look over there, there’s a new recruit!  Worse yet, some want us to 
think that we can remake the reef with concrete or boulders- the built 
it and they will come mentality. There really is no point in continuing 
to wear a smiley face.  Looking for patches that are the remnants of a 
far greater luxuriance, without documenting (georeferencing) the losses 
that are far greater, supports this form of denial.

	Well, the water is too polluted and we’ve know this for a very long 
time. We may not know exactly how, but we know it is and perhaps there 
are some creative ways to reduce loading.  And there are too many people 
fishing and gathering, and  Key Largo STILL does not have a sewage 
system because its too expensive?  And watershed effluent is not simply 
sewage……But still we look for bright spots. I think it’s because it’s 
more politically palpable and easier. The really worthwhile road is 
hundreds of years long and involves some really hard reality checks, 
sacrifice, political savy, and serious money. What's the point of having 
a sanctuary if there's nothing left except an economy?

	It’s been said by many that the coral reef science community eats their 
young.  It also seems to be good at reinventing discoveries and denial. 
  The reefs are dying faster that we are progressing however.  Rather 
than resiliency, I’d favor a term like remnancy (to coin a new term) 
that portrays reality a bit more.  Which reefs are hanging on, or slower 
in losing ground. Perhaps we could institute a scale of remnancy (the R 
scale from 0-5). Molasses reef might be rated as R2, Rock Key R3, 
Carysfort R1, etc… Maybe this might help create public awareness and 
political pressure. It would also promote healthy competition between 
dives shops and localities along the Keys. Who wants to dive on an R2 
when we can go to an R3?  In a few hundred years some reefs might even 
be up to R4 if  conservation is successful.
	Otherwise,with business as usual, we just keep shifting the baseline 
downward and keep studying the reef, and gee, it’s a problem that we 
need to keep working on.  But the house is now ashes and the emperor is 
wearing a beautiful set of new clothes.
	 Thanks again and I hope we can keep focusing on the reefs. Just 
imagine the Florida Keys without reefs?

Phillip Dustan  Ph.D.
Department of Biology
College of Charleston
Charleston   SC  29424
(843) 953-8086 voice
(843) 953-5453 (Fax)

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