[Coral-List] Reef Remnancy not resiliency

Martin Moe martin_moe at yahoo.com
Wed Feb 22 23:52:45 EST 2006

Hi all, 

I’m always hesitant to comment in these threads since
I’m not a “real” coral reef scientist, but Steven
Miller’s comment “You can duck and cover or you can do
what you can to try and make things better.”
stimulated me to weigh in on this. There are efforts
now underway to try to make things better on Florida’s
coral reefs, but has been exceedingly difficult to get
support for these efforts. 

As Steven said, the factors negatively affecting the
coral reefs of Florida, Bahamas and the Caribbean are
many and complex, but there are things that can be
done to improve specific reef areas and perhaps even
reef ecosystems. Site restoration of reef areas
impacted by boat groundings and protection of the
reefs through good management (MPA establishment) and
water quality improvement are very important and
essential to the future of the reefs, but even more
important is to achieve ecological restoration. This
may be an impossible task but we won’t know that if we
don’t try. We can’t restore the reefs to the
conditions that were present 100 or even 50 years ago
but I am of the opinion that it is possible to achieve
some level of ecological restoration if we make a
serious effort to do so. I attended a talk that Alina
Szmant gave in 1999 on her coral reef research and she
greatly impressed me with the take home message of her
talk that the decline of the reefs was caused more by
the loss of biodiversity than anthropogenic nutrients.
That made a lot of sense to me, and subsequent
research indicates that she is correct.

The loss of the Diadema sea urchins in 1983-4, the
keystone herbivores of the Western Atlantic coral
reefs, shifted the ecology of the reefs from coral
dominance to macro algae dominance, a well accepted
premise by most coral reef scientists. In addition, on
Florida reefs, the almost total loss of populations of
adult spiny lobster removed an important predator of
coralivorus snails and other small predators that feed
on living coral tissue and create opportunities for
introduction of coral disease. 

If we were really serious about coral reef
restoration, we would eliminate lobster fishing,
recreational and commercial, on all offshore reefs
past a certain distance from shore, perhaps 3 miles,
and most important, really get serious about
researching the possibility of restoration of pre
plague population levels of Diadema on the reefs.
These are not impossible tasks, but they do require
concerted effort and scientific collaboration. And the
lobster issue is also fraught with political mine
fields. But these are real possibilities for
ecological improvement of our coral reefs and to not
explore them fully is grossly irresponsible.

Ken Nedimyer and I did a experimental re establishment
of Diadema on two small patch reefs in the Upper Keys
in 2001 supported by the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary
and this study well illustrated the positive effect a
marginal population of Diadema can have on a Florida
reef in the short space of one year. We are now
working with the Mote Marine Laboratory to expand this
work. There has also been work by The Nature
Conversancy in the Keys on similar projects and there
have been other studies as well. So research on
ecological restoration has begun and hopefully will
produce an effective reef restoration program while
there is still reef left to restore. 

Martin A. Moe, Jr.
Adjunct Scientist, Mote Marine Laboratory> 
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