[Coral-List] Remnancy vs Resilence

Martin Moe martin_moe at yahoo.com
Sun Feb 26 22:55:02 EST 2006

Hi All,

Hoo Boy! The world is a scary place these days. Alina
is right, James is right, Curtis is right, Steven is
right, everyone commenting is right to a greater or
lesser degree. I wonder if Malthus was right

While acknowledging the global problems, the reefs of
the Florida Keys, and to a lesser extent, the Bahamas
and the Caribbean, are what concern me most
personally. It pains me to see huge coral heads slowly
dying, the tissue receding and the exposed coral rock
thick with algae and sediment, to see acres of coral
rock rubble composed of easily identifiable pieces of
the remains of huge elkhorn coral skeletons, and patch
reefs covered by extensive growths of Sargassum and
Dictyota algae.  I know what the reefs were like only
a few decades ago and the loss is staggering. The TDC
knows this also or at least it seems like they should.
(This is the Tourist Development Council for Monroe
County, the Florida Keys) Their latest brochure
http://www.fla-keys.com/diving/ has fantastically
beautiful pictures of the coral reefs of yesteryear,
some from the Bahamas but most from the Keys reefs of
the 60s and 70s available for download on the diving
page. Diving tourists are lured to the Keys by these
spectacular photos but the reality they find is quite
different. There are no vast growths of huge elkhorn
coral colonies, and few great healthy heads of brain
and star coral, a sort of governmental “Bait and
Switch” advertising. 

So what can we do?

Of course there is no simple answer. All reefs,
Pacific or Atlantic, are separate ecosystems connected
closely or distantly, and each reef area has its own
web of life and its own constellation of problems and
solutions. Some problems are global and some are
local, the only way to proceed is as the bumper
sticker says, “Think globally, act locally”. Grand
analysis of global and regional social, industrial,
population and pollution problems are critical and
essential and must be pursued and solutions sought on
a national governmental scale, but we also have to
take care of the trees as well as worry about the
forest. As many contributors to this thread have
stated, we have to focus on local conditions and find
ways to improve specific reef areas, and what we learn
and achieve on a “micro” level will pave the way for
“macro” efforts. (Or we can say, “Nothing can be done,
the world is going to collapse.” And move to the
mountains and seek self sustainability with a cache of
weapons and foodstuffs. Hmmm
 The Rockys or the

To do nothing is not an option, I repeat, not an
option. We have monitored and measured and we know the
problems. We don’t know all the causes and we don’t
know the future of the global problems but we have to
work with what we have. We talk of resiliency,
remmancy, and sustainability and look for coral
genotypes with the capability to survive despite
adverse conditions, and this is good, but a coral reef
is much, much more than just coral. It is a web of
life that interacts with itself and feeds upon itself
and grows according to the balance of its life forms.
A reef in all its complexity cannot be resilient and
withstand adversity if the ecology that drove its
evolution is impaired. And the reefs of Florida, the
Bahamas and the Caribbean are greatly impaired by the
almost total loss of the herbivores that maintained
the balance between the slow growing, reef forming
stony corals and the rapid growing, energy producing
macro algae. Without herbivores, establishment of
functional reef resiliency is the “impossible dream”.
Without herbivores, planting seedling coral colonies
on the reefs has little chance to succeed. Without
herbivores, coral larvae have no place to settle. The
extent and depth of other problems that plague our
reefs cannot be accurately determined until the
herbivores return. The first consideration in
ecological reef restoration in this region should be
how to return herbivores (think Diadema) to the reefs.
And like all great journeys, we have to start with
small steps, but we must start. Actually the work of
Szmant, Miller, Capo, Nedimyer, me, and the Nature
Conservency, FKNMS, and Mote Marine Laboratory is a
start. I hope we never abandon this effort because it
just seems like an impossible task. 

Martin Moe  

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