[Coral-List] Reef Remnancy not resiliency

Curtis Kruer kruer at 3rivers.net
Wed Feb 22 12:27:54 EST 2006

Dr. Szmant,

Thanks for the note.  You are a reef researcher and you love to research and explore reefs around 
the world and you agree that Florida's reefs are under multiple stresses, including due to their 
geographic location. I too began exploring Keys reefs in the 1970s and have witnessed the dramatic 
changes there. My approach is simply that management should start by dealing with the stresses that 
can realistically be managed (routine, easily identified, cumulative, physical impacts in particular 
and habitat degradation in general) and quit using issues like climate change as an excuse to do 
virtually nothing on a local level.  It's getting old.  To me that would be like us agreeing that 
due to its importance we should all start working towards stopping the melting of the Greenland ice 
sheets, and ignore local problems that unequivocally are trashing coastal resources on a daily 
basis. And don't forget that in the 1980s and 1990s the mantra from many outspoken reef types was 
that wastewater and other nutrients were killing Keys reefs.

I participated in a couple of recent exchanges wherein a federal manager suggested that researchers 
were not provididng needed information for reef management (and more research was needed), while at 
the same time a researcher was stating that managers were not using data made available by 
researchers - and that direction needed to be given for what information was needed.  Both argued 
that more research and information is needed for proper reef management and this is what I reject - 
the excuses for not curtailing destructive human practices that are obviously and directly degrading 
reef ecosystem resources.

And I believe that the notion that we can completely decipher to the nth degree (or ever really 
know) what is going on with reefs (and many other natural systems) is a loser from the get-go, and 
very self-serving.

I don't ignore climate change as you suggest (and I doubt that others do) but recognize and embrace 
the notion that it's here to stay and nothing that you or I can do individually will change that - 
but you and others prominent in the scientific and management community can individually make 
changes and help force changes that will help protect and conserve reef resources.  If you truly 
want to help coral reef ecosystems argue for improved funding for broader and more effective 
management based on what we do know and less funding for research to try to learn (forever) what we 
don't know.


Curtis Kruer

Szmant, Alina wrote:
> 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
> figure!
> 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
> Kruer
> 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
> 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.
> Thanks.
> 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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