[Coral-List] Remnancy vs Resiliency: Part 2

Phil Dustan dustanp at cofc.edu
Fri Feb 24 12:23:45 EST 2006

Dear Colleagues,
	Again, thanks to everyone for participating in this most interesting 
thread. It also reminds me of the Reefs at Risk thread we had a few 
years back but there are more people involved now so it’s important to 
continue.  And now that we’ve had the opportunity to contribute our 
thoughts, perhaps we do some good work.
	We all know that reefs are dying all over the world, in remote and less 
remote locations. We know that reefs in different places are stressed by 
different things. For example, Florida Reefs show signs of stress from 
nature, land based sources of pollution as well as bleaching, loss of 
diadema, and anything else you can probably name. Rainbow Gardens in the 
Exumas, Bahamas was once pretty little patch reef, lost 80% of its coral 
cover between 1991 and 2004. But the biomarkers from there do not show 
signs of stress from LBSP and it’s probably that global warming is to 
blame. And everyone can cite an exception as well. Each reef has its own 
history and ecology.

Let’s face it:
	The stress to reefs occurs at nested scales from local to global, 
varies in severity at different scales in different locations, is 
ongoing, and has had cataclysmic results. You can site the geological 
record of past changes and say the ongoing decline is really no big deal 
in light of what happened in the Tertiary, or say that we really don’t 
have enough baseline data to make an informed decision, or pretend it’s 
outside our control. Without human activity, natural change would take 
its course, but the human disruption has spread like a flame across the 
seas.  Mangroves, kelp forests, oyster reefs, salt marshes, etc. are all 
in trouble.  Dust storms resulting from inefficient agriculture spread 
spores, nutrients and pollutants across oceans at global scales. 
Everywhere is connected and the dots lead back all the way to human 
reproductive success.
	Reefs are dying all over the world.  This fact puts reefs on the radar 
screen at conferences, in books, in the media, and drives the formation 
of government task forces and increased agency budgets.  It is my 
opinion, based on what I know, that the demise of coral reef communities 
(along with most other coastal ecosystems) is signaling a decline in the 
health of the oceans.  So can we live without reefs- maybe? Will reefs 
reappear after humans leave the planet-probably? But can we live on this 
earth without a healthy ocean?- probably not.  The canaries are dying 
and we have got to do more.

	As I said in my earlier remarks that started this thread, I think 
resilience is the wrong term because it gives the wrong impression.  We 
scientists and managers work with the terms and understand them, but the 
everyday person, or politician, may have a very different concept of 
resiliency.  Instead of remnancy or resiliency, perhaps an index of 
ecological integrity might be more realistic.  Lots of us have struggled 
with this idea and there are some very good protocols, programs, and 
ideas floating. An index of ecosystem vitality comes to mind.

	As the “body of experts” I think we have to ask ourselves what we are 
going to do about the coral reef crisis now.  Can members of the coral 
list find some common ground upon which to proceed as a group? Or, 
should be go about our individual ways and do what we can at our own 
scales.  I’d like to believe that we have more power in numbers and 
could help to generate more awareness around the planet as a group.  For 
example, perhaps the National Science Foundation and National Institutes 
of Health could establish a joint program in coral reef, or oceanic, 
health and its relationship to human health. Perhaps federal regulations 
concerning sanctuaries could be more concerned with conserving a 
resource than the economic benefit derived from the resources. It is 
simply unconscionable to think that we can harvest virtually all the 
lobster and a significant proportion of the fish from a sanctuary and 
still call it a sanctuary!  No take should be he rule, not the 
exception.  Who in their right mind can argue that trawling is 
sustainable, or thousands of divers on a reef have little effect….. And 
the list goes on.  Science tells us that optimal yield only works if we 
had a valid baseline to begin with and we are way beyond that on almost 
every reef on the planet.
	This coral list – albeit sponsored and censured by a US Federal agency, 
is probably is the closest thing we have to a real time global forum for 
reef advocacy based on science.  Perhaps we can begin to embark on a 
process that might help generate long term solutions that are grounded 
in science. Do people think that it might be possible to reach consensus 
on a set of 8-10 action items, or changes in the practice, that would 
forward the conservation of coral reefs right now, not that more study 
of any factor will not improve our understanding, but what do we think 
can be done right now as well as over the long term?

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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