[Coral-List] Chagos MPA

Douglas Fenner dfenner at blueskynet.as
Thu Sep 30 03:31:16 EDT 2010

    I'd like to say that personally, I strongly support protecting near-pristine reefs like Chagos.  Several papers have come out in recent years, of some near-pristine reefs in the Pacific, and they provide a startling picture of reefs dominated by the big fish, mostly apex predators like sharks.  The reefs are crawling with them.  Half the fish biomass is often in these fish.  This is something most scientists have never seen, and I like most, assumed that the lack of them was natural, or simply didn't think about it.  And it implies that for most of the world's reefs, about half of their fish biomass is missing.  If half of the corals on your reef are missing, that's very important.  There are likely to be other startlingly different things about pristine reefs, and if we let them become damaged, we may never know what those are.
     I suggest that these reefs are worth their weight in gold.  These are the few last remaining scraps of natural reefs on the planet.  Shame on us if we let them get abused like the vast vast majority of reefs which are within reach of people.  Reefs have to be incredibly remote or incredibly well defended to have the complete ecosystems that these places have.  Unfortunately, they are easier for exploiters to reach than they are for enforcement to protect, so saving them won't be easy.
     They are worth their weight in gold for scientists and managers because they are one of the few, if not only, way to find out what a natural reef is, to measure what we have lost on all the other reefs, which we despirately need to know.  Of the millions of reefs in this world, only a tiny tiny handful remain that are "almost pristine."  They are the only controls we have left for the uncontrolled experimentation that human abuse and degredation represents.  A good experiment usually requires more controls than experimentals.  We literally have millions of experimental reefs and a tiny tiny number of controls.  We need each and every control reef intact, because each one is different in some way, they are in different oceanic conditions, different biogoegraphic locations, have different structures (some have lagoons, others don't, some are in heavy wave action, others aren't, etc.).  If we have just one "near-pristine" reef, and it has lots of sharks, and that reef is different from other reefs in a myriad of ways, how do we know which thing is responsable for the abundance of sharks??  We don't.  If we have a dozen such reefs, of all types, in all sorts of places, and they all have abundant big fish, then we have something.  We will learn from each of the pristine reefs something that is different.  So we need each and every one of them.  Desperately need them.  Undamaged.
    Old timers can tell us we've seen nothing, you should have seen the reefs in the old days.  And we can find old quotes that say that fish and turtles were plentiful.  But we can't go back in time and make all the modern quantitative measures that we need to.  But if we can find "near pristine" reefs now, we can do all those things, and do good science not just speculation.
     These reefs are made of solid gold.  We must find ways of protecting them, it is our inheritance that we must pass on intact for future generations of humanity.  Chagos is one of them, and a big one at that.  How that is best done, I do not know.  I think we do need to face the reality of the science of what may happen to them due to climate change, so we know ahead some of what we are up against, and can try to plan accordingly to do our best.  Protection can make a huge difference.  The new article on Caribbean sharks documents that some of the best remaining populations are in areas that are the best protected.  In the Pacific, Wake Is. seems to be a good example.  Plenty of people close to plenty of big fish.  How can that be?  It is a US military base, no fishing allowed.  They can enforce their ban on fishing like civilian authorities usually can't.  It is an unintended no-take MPA.  (joke in Hawaii long ago was that the military there was one of the biggest conservation agents in the islands, lots of little unused military bases, which developers can't touch, patrolled in some cases by guys with guns.).  A wild guess is that the US military base at Diego Garcia will not give up to sea level rise without a fight, and they will have resources that others don't have to defend it.  They may be able to inhabit it long after others can't.  Maybe that will qualify as "inhabited"?
    I also know there is a long history in this world of taking land without compensation, forced removals, etc, in many many places.  I fervently hope that people can work together to find solutions that are fair to people as well as good for the environment.  I hope that we don't have to sell either one out to get the other.  But we'll only know if people work together to try to find a solution that provides as much as possible of both.  I believe that humans and healthy coral reefs can live together, but it certainly is not easy, more like incredibly hard.  Most worthwhile things are not easy.

News from "Science Now":  "Record Hot Summer Wrecks Havoc."

Science Now reports that NASA says this year so far is the hottest on record in the 131 years of record keeping.  Nearly 0.7 C hotter than the average from 1951 to 1980, and NOAA has found essentially the same thing using different data.  Nightime temperatures hit record highs in 37 states this summer.  The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, has found near-record ice area loss so far this year in the Arctic, and expects the area to hit a record low this year.  Ice volume is at a record low, 10,000 cubic kilometers lower than the average of the last 30 years.  Ice volume is being lost at 17% per decade.


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