[Coral-List] Reef Remnancy not resiliency

Szmant, Alina szmanta at uncw.edu
Tue Feb 21 17:33:52 EST 2006

Hello Mike, Phil and Curtis:

The problem with attributing all of the loss of coral in the Florida
Keys to local human impacts, as you three have done in your comments, is
that the same pattern of loss of live coral is being observed in remote
places of the Bahamas and other small Caribbean islands with small or no
human populations, no sewage to speak of and no cruise ships.  To ignore
the dramatic effect coral bleaching and subsequent disease outbreaks, on
top of overfishing, have had on Keys and northern Caribbean corals since
the mid-1990s and especially since the severe 1997-1998 back-to-back
bleaching events, is not helpful to conservation or management efforts.
Bleaching has reached reefs that are distant from direct human impact as
well as the Keys, with similar effects on both.  Overfishing is far more
pervasive than water quality degradation because boats go everywhere to
extract the last lobster and grouper. The healthiest Caribbean reefs, if
one judges that based on live coral cover, that I have seen in a long
while are those in the lower Caribbean where they have, for hydrographic
and climatic reasons, not been as impacted by either bleaching or major
storms:  Reefs on the S side of Curacao and Bonaire still have more
coral now than what I remember for places like PR and the USVI back in
the 1960s and 1970s.  And they have high coral cover within 1 km of
where the cruise ships docks and next to the outflow from the
desalination plant.  And they have very high rates of coral recruitment
and no algae even on boulders with no Diadema, and few fishes.  Go

There are many reefs on the GBR with water quality conditions far worse
than in the Florida Keys (in terms of turbidity, nutrient levels and
such variables) with much higher coral cover and diversity. Ken Anthony
is even showing corals on these turbid reefs feed on the detritus and
have higher growth rates than corals on more offshore reefs.  Florida
reefs have a disadvantage of being at the northern limits of the
climatic window for coral well being in the Atlantic province, with way
too many severe winter and summer storms.  These geographic limitations
have existed for thousands of years and have limited coral reef growth
over Holocene time frames.  When I first visited Nassau reefs in 1971
and the Florida reefs during the 1977 symposium, when my frame of
reference was Puerto Rican reefs, my opinion of Florida/Bahamas reefs
was that they were puny and depauperate.  Now they are even more
depauperate.  That is no excuse to abuse them, but to ignore the
climatic factor is not helpful towards restoring or protecting them (if
that is possible).  Multiple factors are at work, and a single quick fix
will not do the trick.  Over-simplification and trying to crucify a
single factor will not help society deal with these complex issues.

Alina Szmant

Dr. Alina M. Szmant
Coral Reef Research Group
UNCW-Center for Marine Science 
5600 Marvin K. Moss Ln
Wilmington NC 28409
Tel: (910)962-2362 & Fax:  (910)962-2410
Cell:  (910)200-3913
email:  szmanta at uncw.edu
Web Page:  http://people.uncw.edu/szmanta

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Curtis
Sent: Tuesday, February 21, 2006 3:27 PM
To: Phil Dustan
Cc: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Reef Remnancy not resiliency

Bravo, bravo to a brave and accurate statement by the experienced Phil
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
> 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
> monitoring, and awareness and the house has been in full flames right
> 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
> to wear a smiley face.  Looking for patches that are the remnants of a

> far greater luxuriance, without documenting (georeferencing) the
> that are far greater, supports this form of denial.
> 	Well, the water is too polluted and we've know this for a very
> 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
> fishing and gathering, and  Key Largo STILL does not have a sewage 
> system because its too expensive?  And watershed effluent is not
> sewage......But still we look for bright spots. I think it's because
> 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
> 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
>   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
> in losing ground. Perhaps we could institute a scale of remnancy (the
> 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
> 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
> 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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