[Coral-List] Reef Remnancy not resiliency

Michael Risk riskmj at univmail.cis.mcmaster.ca
Tue Feb 21 12:45:43 EST 2006

Hi Phil. 

Thanks you for crystallising the discussion, and articulating some of
my own concerns. One of the many problems is:

"All politics is local." (Tip O'Neil, American politician)

It is always easier to blame the external. One of my students was in
the back of a hall in the Keys 2-3 years ago during one of those public
meetings, and heard a senior Florida reef manager say the decline in
the reefs was caused by "All those Canadians driving down here every
winter in their SUV's, making Carbon Dioxide." (True quote-no one has
to MAKE UP things reef managers say.)

Now, it may well be that no one should drive SUV's, but it cannot be
said enough times: bleaching has had NOTHING TO DO with the decline of
Florida's reefs. Everyone reading this list should repeat after me-and

And now we see that the new kid on the block, FRRP, will focus only on
bleaching. Something is badly wrong. We don't need more science-the
science has spoken eloquently.

In...2000? (help me, Walt, Phil-when was it?) I was a member of a NOAA
panel that evaluated all the reef monitoring programs in the Florida
Keys. (Why was there more than one, you may ask? In fact, there were
about six.)

Our conclusion was that monitoring had done its job. (Monitoring can
NEVER identify causes, although a good monitoring program can allow
selection of hypotheses.) In this case, the monitoring programs,
especially the FMRI program, had successfully documented the regional
mass extinction under way in the Keys. And that was the panel's
carefully-chosen phrase: "regional mass extinction." 

We recommended consolidation of the monitoring programs, and an
immediate increase in funding designed to rank the various land-based
threats, in order that action could be taken. We also recommended an
outreach program. 

That may be the key to the Keys. Every citizen of Florida should be
told that:
1. there is big trouble in the Keys, and that
2. the causes are all local.

The managers will be reluctant to be too assertive-after all, they have
Big Sugar and Big God-knows-what watching them. The impetus has to be
bottom-up. To coin a phrase.

And we reef scientists have to learn that we score our own points at
the expense of the ecosystem.


On Tue, 21 Feb 2006 09:32:11 -0500
 Phil Dustan <dustanp at cofc.edu> wrote:
> 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?
> 				Phil
> -- 
> 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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