[Coral-List] Management paradigm
chwkins at yahoo.com
Tue Mar 7 23:01:30 EST 2006
Bill and All:
I too have followed much of this discussion with interest, from the disagreement over resiliency to the realization by many that biology has limitatations-specifically in effecting solutions.
Please correct me if I am wrong, but when I read:
"While we are all in agreement that Florida's coral reefs are threatened, I argue
that understanding the main causes of their decline (and their recovery) are of paramount importance in devising science-based management and restoration
strategies for these systems."
I hear, "If we just do some more biology and ecology we will understand the reasons for the observed delcines and figure out a way to fix the problems"
I, and others, disagree with this as an overarching approach. I am hearing more and more from my biologist friends that the main causes and causal relationships re declines are fairly well described and understood, and there is now decades of literature (in one case a transect going back to 1917) documenting trends.
While I am NOT suggesting that biology and ecological monitoring do not need to continue (they are essential to management activities), I AM suggesting that we are approaching management backwards.
Our current paradigm is one where managers (most of whom are recovering biologists) inherit enabling legislation (e.g. an act creating an MPA) and then set about to a) determine what science they want to pursue and b) determine how they want to manage the area.
I find this approach arrogant, in that it points to the fact that one group of people assumes they know what is best and what needs to be done. In isolation. And certainly without considering in the management plan the slew of reasons why a particular place was set aside to be managed in the first place. Take any MPA or coastal management act. Review it. You will find from the get-go it is loaded with social reasons for management (e.g. access, use, economics, cultural importance, spirit of place, etc.). Now, take the management plan that follows, and that is in response to, the enabling legislation, You will find biology, ecological monitoring, no-takes, closed areas, best hard science, and on and on. The bottom line is you will usually find a management plan markedly different from the associated enabling legislation. Why?
Management is not simply about protection and preservation. We just forget that.
So, our paradigm is backwards. We approach management by first throwing out all of the reasons society deems the place important and is willing to pay tax dollars to manage it. We then determine what hobby science we want to undertake. I use the term hobby science to describe science done in a vacuum...not related to goals or objectives. Science governed by itself.
Recent economic valuations attempt to right this, but economics is a narrow slice of the pie. It certainly does not go far enough.
I do not offer a magic bullet. There is none. I am an optimist, but until we start recognizing that biology itself does not, on its own, do much more than describe status and trends, and in some cases point toward promising management alternatives, we will make no significant progress towards managing reefs with regard to the many reasons we love them. And until we do that, until we fundamentally change how we approach management, we will also continue to see our research and management bugets shrink.
To All on the Coral-List:
During the last few weeks we have read a host of
about what to do about Florida's reefs and also
what to do about reefs
Recent scientific papers and newspaper articles
have admonished the U.S.
Government for not doing enough to protect the
valuable reef resources
of the Florida reef tract. While we are all in
Florida's coral reefs are threatened, I argue
that understanding the
main causes of their decline (and their recovery)
are of paramount
importance in devising science-based management
strategies for these systems. The generally
accepted model of coral
reef decline is that the shift from a more
state to a less desirable, macroalgae-dominated
state was primarily a
consequence of long-term overfishing and/or
making them more susceptible to other recent
disturbances. This model,
mostly based on weak inference and perpetuated in
the literature by a
series of affirmative ad hoc revisions, has
discovery and confounded the direction of
For Florida's coral reefs the implied lack of
management is based on the
hypothesis that the main causes of reef
degradation are historical in
nature and the woes that beset this system are
man-induced, and reversible. While it is easy to
take this view,
evidence linking overfishing and coastal
eutrophication to coral reef
degradation in Florida remains elusive
(specifically the decline of
corals and concommitant increases in macroalgae).
politicians, NGO's, managers and the public are
receptive to such
arguments because runoff from agricultural lands
in the Everglades,
sewage treatment (or lack thereof) in the Florida
overharvesting of finfish and shellfish are
things that make intuitive
sense and also have strong emotional appeal.
In the case of Florida, the catastrophic decline
in coral cover
(particularly for acroporid corals) started in
the late 1970s and was
empirically observed to be driven proximally by
stress and disease outbreaks, especially
white-band disease. More
recently, long-lived mounding corals such as the
species complex have also been killed by
ENSO-enhanced coral bleaching
and a host of other coral diseases (1983 -
present). Paleoecological and
ecological data indicate that this coral
mortality is largely decoupled
from changing levels of herbivory or water
quality, and that reef
dynamics on a regional level are at best weakly
linked to present and
past levels of nutrients or fishing pressure.
Improving water quality and conserving stocks of
reef fish should be and
clearly are high priorities of management, but
the positive, localized
impact on corals will be minimal in the face of
global-scale stressors such as disease epizootics
sea-surface temperature related to global
warming. Management steps are
already in progress in the Florida Keys to clean
up nearshore waters as
well as system-wide water quality and habitat
restoration efforts under
the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
engineering solutions to improve the quality of
nearshore waters will
only benefit the offshore reefs. Unfortunately,
no form of
locally-based stewardship, scientific management
or scientific policy
including total protection could have prevented
or changed the overall
trajectory of coral loss or ameliorated the major
responsible for reef decline in Florida. In
fact, what we have seen in
Florida has been mirrored throughout much of the
Caribbean. It has
become clear, that regional and global-scale
stressors now far outweigh
all local issues, however, this should not be
taken to mean that local
issues are not real or unimportant.
So what to do? Without coming to grips with the
global-scale, politically challenging stuff -
reefs will be managed to
death at the local-scale. Or should I say, reefs
will die in front of
the very managers and scientists dedicated to
protecting them. Is this
a grim view of the future or a snapshot of the
last few decades? In
either case, we need to start thinking and actly
globally if reefs as we
know them (or knew them) are to have a fighting
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