[Coral-List] Reef Remnancy not resiliency

Curtis Kruer kruer at 3rivers.net
Tue Feb 21 15:27:21 EST 2006

Bravo, bravo to a brave and accurate statement by the experienced Phil Dustan.
But little mention of the road to follow that could be considered a true change in direction.

There is no mention of the ultimate value of large, true MPAs in the amazingly productive Keys (and 
no definitely not is the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary a MPA, and no it should never be 
held up as a shining example of what a protected area should be).

And the focus has to become a coral reef ecosystem based focus - with problems much broader than 
simply water quality.  Recently a FWCC official was quoted as saying that the problem with 
seagrasses in Florida is water quality.  And with that this important figure easily dispenses with 
all the seagrass impacts from a growing population - dredging and filling, thousands upon thousands 
of docks and piers, widespread boat impacts, vessel wave energy, etc etc.,  See how easy it is.  And 
it's been going on in the Keys for years.  I made an ass out of myself during some of the countless 
consensus hearing held in the Keys by EPA and NOAA during the 1990s as I refused to play along with 
the silly notion that if wastewater problems could be solved in the Keys all would be OK.  What a 
joke.  And believing that putting a sewer treatment plant on Key Largo is going to change much is 
wishful thinking. Is there any evidence that spending tens of millions to upgrade the Key West plant 
to AWT and deep well injection years ago has accomplished anything measurable?  And we were promised 
that stormwater could be addressed and great plans were laid - sounds good but can't happen on a 
scale that matters. I lost many arguments and eventually moved out of the Keys as I began to see 
myself as a part of the problem.

The best we can do is actively and aggressively protect and restore the Keys ecosystem and manage 
human activity - and that is not being done partly because way way too much attention is focused on 
a single part of the system - reefs. Proudly promoted years ago was that most else would be 
protected by education - I wonder if spending several million of NOAA's limited funds on a new 
facility in Key West is going to change much?

Reef scientists and managers still attempt to deal with coral reefs as stand alone systems and the 
problems with this are now apparent.  Seagrasses and shoreline wetlands continue to be lost and 
degraded in the Keys by man's activities and a few persistent groups are trying legally to protect 
the remaining fragments of Keys upland habitats.  Boating and diving activity (and associated 
impacts) has been out of control for years and the feds point to the state and the state points 
to.........(Jeb Bush). Tremendous and sincere volunteer efforts have taken place but it's not 
working. Strides have been made in establishing small protected areas - but it's obviously not 
enough.  Forty pound lobster traps are still routinely dropped on live bottom and predictably now 
hundreds of thousands of lobster and stone crabs traps and hundreds of miles of slow-degrading poly 
line are lost in Keys waters each year (and fishermen get your money to replace them every year just 
to put them out in hurricane season again), novice divers flail away by the tens of thousands daily, 
fishermen do their thing, anchors away, and all that.  Thousand foot long cruise ships plow up the 
bottom of Key West channel and harbor many times a day now and everyone effectively turns a blind 
eye - even though there are various types of reef habitats nearby. Shallow water marine habitats 
throughout the Keys - and fish and wildlife dependent on them - are subjected to the disturbing and 
destructive impacts of ever more numerous and ever larger and faster boats of all types.

People are trying hard to "save the Keys" but the current approach is failing. The rate of loss and 
anthropogenic change may be less now but the trends are all bad and that is what matters.  Large 
vessel groundings on the reef have been dramatically reduced and that's great. But new leadership is 
needed.  Who was it that said consensus is the absence of leadership? Catering to virtually every 
user group in the Keys all these years has predictably not resulted in ecosystem protection or even 
maintenance.  And managers traveling around the world touting reef management in the Keys as a 
success story have probably raised more than a few eyebrows. New leadership is needed and that 
leadership needs to pull local, state, and federal agencies together and address all issues 
throughout the ecosystem - not just one aspect in one habitat type.  And they need to be loudly 
supported by the coral reef scientific community - the group that has the most knowledge about what 
has been lost and is being lost.

Perhaps Dr. Dustan's comments and the comments of others to this and other lists will lead to 
something new and novel in reef management - admitting failures and misdirected effort.


Curtis Kruer

Phil Dustan 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

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