[Coral-List] The long view is for the Undead: reefs ARE in trouble today

lesk at bu.edu lesk at bu.edu
Sat Feb 25 11:03:06 EST 2006

Dear Colleagues,

It is extremely important that we converge on a common and consistant 
view on coral reef health that we can convey to the lay public.  We 
must also speak precisely when referring to any particular symptom of 
coral reef health on a global scale.

I challenge anybody to produce data demonstrating that the tropical 
west Atlantic coral reefs have improved in condition or remained at 
level condition, by any measure you wish, over the past 25 years. That 
does not mean that the changes are irreversible or unprecedented in 
deep time, Gene.  It only means that it is a sad thing for us and for 
our childern that this is happening at this particular time, for we now 
cause this decline knowingly and deliberately, recovery will likely be 
a very lengthy process, and we are seem to be doing our best to inhibit 
even that.  The long view will always be there to make us feel better 
in some existential sense, but it is no balm to those of us who wish to 
enjoy and benefit from coral reefs during our lives and the lives of 
our children and grandchildren.

Indo-Pacific coral reefs exhibit a vigorous ability to bounce back from 
denudation or phase shift, so long as there is a stable physical 
substratum on which they can rebuild (dynamite rubble piles are not 
very good for this).  However, the proportion of reef surface that is 
in a disturbed, regenerating state at any given time, and more 
importantly, the size-frequency distribution of these disturbances, 
looks very odd and very different than when I was a graduate student.  
Are we using the right data to characterize and track these changes, 
Rick?  Because the Pacific is still more robust than the Atlantic, 
there is much of concern that we can choose to overlook if that is our 
bias.  We'd better be careful not to be too easily reassured by the 
positive signs that coral reefs in the Pacific could hold their own, 
given the chance...because they by and large are not being given the 

The pace and extent of bleaching alone is awesome.  Who is coming 
forward to call this a non-event, or our response to it exagerated and  
misplaced?  Who is saying that overfishing is something that will have 
no effect on reefs worth worrying about, and that we can ignore it?  
Who is saying that the industrialization of reef destruction is not a 
real thing worth keeping in check? Who is saying with confidence that 
the earth is not getting warmer, that bleaching is not more frequent 
and severe, or that corals will definitely adapt to these changes and 
that the world shall remain much as wonderful as it has always been for 
us, no matter what we do?

So what gentle hand is it, exactly that Gene and Rick wish to lay upon 
the scene?

Les Kaufman

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