[Coral-List] Remnancy vs Resiliency: Part 3

Szmant, Alina szmanta at uncw.edu
Sat Feb 25 08:50:30 EST 2006

Hi Phil & others:
I am the first to agree with you that human overpopulation, and all of our demands on the environment to support the number of people living today is the root of all 'evil', including over fishing of all marine (and terrestrial) systems, not just coral reefs.  World forests are in far worse shape than coral reefs, dissappearing in %s per day and yet we don't do much about it  Deforestation to clear land for farming, homesteads, and collect wood for building materials or making charcoal, is followed by soil erosion, and coastal sedimentation.  Human needs for food and other commodities lead to over-application of fertilizer and pesticides; fossil fuel burning for modern industries and to support our fat life styles; not to mention religious and ethnic conflicts etc.  Not just coral reefs but every marine and terrestrial ecosystem on Earth are being affected by human activity, and many such as tropical rainforests, much more than coral reefs!  Think about all the big deserts we have created through deforestation.  Every human living in the tropics and elsewhere makes their tiny daily contribution to environmental decline not just of coral reefs but of Earth resources.  Look around you and notice how many additional wooded areas in your neighborhoods are being cut down for new developments, and the muddy runoff that seeps into local streams and coastal areas. I have been plugging a new book by Jared Diamond in which he recounts how past and present human societies have gradually over-exploited their environs to their own demise [book is titled:  "Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed"].  Diamond expressed some hope for the future because he found a few examples where when strong leaders, or small cohesive communities, realized what was happening they were able to choose to take  actions that prevented future decline and were able to restore their damaged ecosystems and save their societies.  However, he presented many more case studies where such actions were not taken and where the socities ending up becoming extinct.  So which way are we headed?
You ask for action and in the past few years, the President's Ocean Commission and the Pew's Ocean Commission both reported on and recognized most of the environmental problems above and that you stated in your email.  It's not that people don't know what is going on, rather that there are conflicting views about the severity of the problem, and what can be done about it.  Those two reports if you read them contain many of the measures needed to at least slow down some of the abuse of the world's oceans, but of course totally side step the human overpopulation issue.  This is not a poltically correct issue to bring up in our polite society:  you might offend someone who has 5 kids or 53 grand children...  If we had strong leadership in our country we would expect to see something happening after the must publicized release of those two extensive reports with long lists of urgently needed action items [Side note:  if you look though those reports, pretty coral reef photos abound in them].   I have not seem the US public beating down the doors to Congress making sure those action items are acted on!  Why not?  
China was criticized to high heaven for politically limiting human reproduction.  In some parts of the world, people have self-limited family size, but in others 6 to 10 kids is the norm.  We glorify in our newspapers that a 62 year old woman who gave birth to her 12th child!  (recent article in US news).  We don't help women in poor countries control their reproduction so that they fewer children that they can provide for better.  We keep coming up with new treatments to reduce infant mortality so that they can survive to live a life of hunger and poverty and contribute to more environmental abuse and political strife.
For the first world folks reading this message, I would ask how many of you that clamor for more action be taken right now to save  coral reefs drive an unnecessarily  big vehicle? (not picking on just SUVs, but Hummers, giant pickups to take kids to soccer etc)?  How many TVs and gadgets do you feel you must have?  These are all life-style attributes we can chose to change, and if enough people do it, maybe we can turn things around.  Unfortunately, people are selfish and few want to give up the better life we have built for oursleves this past century, and all those out there that don't have our modern, high consumption life style know about ours and want it too!  Globally, things will only get worse over the next few decades.
So where are we headed?  I don't believe in "sustainability" because it is a meaningless word the way people think about it, which is: ' if we could only find a way to continue to fish as much as we do now without affecting the fish stocks' [not close a fish stock, and in 20 years or more, fish 1/10th or less of what we take now].  Or cut down all the remaining old growth forests because we need wood now and replant with fast growing pines. Or pump more oil and gas and coal from our own lands so we are not beholden to other countries for energy because we have to support our presnet life style needs and a GROWING economy.
Going back to Diamond's book, I am less optimistic than he because (1) I see no evidence of strong or insighful leadership on the global scale needed to get us out of this pickle, and (2)  human societies are too conflicted to make much of a difference with the bottom up approach.
So when we come down to ot, coral reef decline is the least of our problems, albeit one that readers of this forum hold close to their hearts.  But as long as we continue to think about coral reefs as a separate special case of the continuum of nature, we will get nowhere.  We are really fighting for the future of the human life-support ecosystem and it needs to be done at every local planning board meeting and in every choice we make.  How many of us are up to that level of engagement?   I know I am not doing enough or as much as I could.  It's easy to sit here in my study and write this long diatribe about world issues and then go on with life as usual.   I drive a Pruis but I am surrounded by electronic gadgets I'd be hard pressed to live without.  
So, we can continue to fret about resiliency, remnancy, vitality indices etc, but as long as we don't connect the dots all the way to the top and start problem solving there, all we are doing is venting our frustrations with being part of the bigger problem. 
In a pessimistic mood this morn',
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


From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov on behalf of Richard Grigg
Sent: Fri 2/24/2006 2:42 PM
To: Phil Dustan; coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Remnancy vs Resiliency: Part 2


         Coral reefs are not dying all over the world.  We have 1000's that
are very healthy in the Pacific, not to say there are not problems but it
doesn't help to make sweeping false generalizations.

                                                                 Rick Grigg

At 12:23 PM 2/24/2006 -0500, Phil Dustan wrote:
>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?
>                 Thanks,
>                 Phil
>Phillip Dustan  Ph.D.
>Department of Biology
>College of Charleston
>Charleston   SC  29424
>(843) 953-8086 voice
>(843) 953-5453 (Fax)
>Coral-List mailing list
>Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

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