[Coral-List] 82 Corals Status Review under the US Endangered Species Act
douglasfenner at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 11 00:05:33 EDT 2012
I would contend that the articles I referenced make it pretty clear that sewage bacteria is the most likely cause of one kind of coral disease, and rising temperatures increase the amount of coral disease. Perhaps the bacteria from sewage can't be verified from just taking a look around, and the temperature increases require looking a time series, but they are as verifiable as dredging, and they can be controlled and monitored. Societies may not choose to do so, certainly world societies have chosen, at least for the time being, to do nothing about global warming. As Patricia Warner says in her excellent detailed message, replacing septic systems in the Keys that don't work very well with real sewage treatment is expensive and the local government doesn't have the money.. (My impression was that there was a project to gradually do that anyhow) A year or so ago I visited the Keys for the first time in a very long time. I was
astonished at the number of private, pleasure motor boats. There were vastly more than I have ever seen anywhere else (but then I don't peruse yacht harbors in the states much). There were marinas, boat dealers, boat warehouses, boat yards, boats in people's back yards, in their canals, speedboats with outboard motors were all over the place, looking very well kept up. There is serious money in that area, but it is being used for things other than sewage systems. People choose how to use their money, and we all have to have priorities. Those people put a much higher priority on having speedboats than on having a good sewage system. And why shouldn't they, the sewage system isn't very visible (maybe that's what Gene means by "verifiable"?). But it has consequences, and the science is now saying that one of the coral diseases is caused by human sewage. But nobody likes paying taxes, and it's much more fun to buy a speedboat. Elected
representatives reflect the will of the people, which is not to collect taxes to rapidly build a good sewage treatment system.
Gene made an interesting point in an earlier email, that reef degradation has happened (including diseases) at remote locations far from people. Obviously if there are no people anywhere near, then it can't be due to people. That's common sense. That assumes that the effects of people do not extend very far from where the people are. That seems to make sense, the sediment from a dredging operation doesn't go far, heavy rains often produce a "halo" of muddy water around islands that is only 10's of feet wide. But some effects extend farther than we might think. A recent article by Nadon et al. found that it only takes about 200 people within 200 miles of a reef to remove most of the sharks. It wouldn't seem like disease would be able to spread from one island to another island that is so far away you can't see it. But whatever the disease was that killed the Diadema urchins, spread throughout the whole western Atlantic
area in the course of a year. By the way, there is some suspicion that humans might have somehow introduced that disease into the Caribbean from the Pacific. No hard evidence of that. But the net effect was that the disease reached the most remote locations in the western Atlantic. If humans put large numbers of the bacteria that cause White Pox disease on Acropora into the water by releasing poorly treated sewage, can we be sure that the currents won't carry those bacteria just like they carried the Diadema disease agent??? I bet the Florida Keys isn't the only place in the western Atlantic that doesn't have a state of the art tertiary sewage treatment system. I bet most of the poor countries of the Caribbean have very minimal sewage treatment.
Agricultural and forestry practices in a large area of South America influence how much sediment and nutrients flow with the water of the Orinoco river far into the Caribbean, and are then swept by currents into the rest of the Caribbean. Humans have increased the problem, and could reduce it, if they chose to. Surely cost money. Individuals and societies choose what to spend their money on.
How about African dust?? Surely increasing populations of humans in the Sahel south of of the Sahara have put more pressure on the few plants there by the grazing of their livestock, and the expansion of the Sahara is exacerbated by humans. Further, in the areas like Mali where the dust comes from, people do things like burn plastics, use pesticides and so on, that put dangerous chemicals into that dust. They may also provide some of the microbes found in the dust. That African dust goes a very long ways to get to the western Atlantic, and can reach the most remote islands there. If humanity really wanted to, it could reduce the pressure on the Sahel and slow the expansion of the Sahara, and also greatly reduce the amount of toxics that are released into the dust. But so far humanity hasn't chosen to do that. Would cost money.
And then of course there is that increase in temperatures produced by human releases of greenhouse gases, cutting of forests that would otherwise remove CO2, and so on. That effect is global, there is no place on the planet where you can get away from it. The temperatures are rising on islands in the Pacific that are far far more remote than anything in the western Atlantic. Several studies have documented (references in my earlier post) that increased temperatures cause increases in coral disease. Coral disease kills corals and degrades reefs.
So Gene asked me "How will listing prevent extinction or continued decline of the 82 corals? Tell us just how that will happen." First of all, the decision has not been made yet to declare any of the 82 corals as either threatened or endangered. If none of them are declared, it will certainly not prevent anything. If some or all are listed, that doesn't guarantee any action whatsoever. If they are only listed as threatened, then there will be little action taken. The Acropora in the western Atlantic were declared threatened, and my understanding is that there has been very little of anything done that would get in the way of scientific studies or much of anything else. A bit more attention given to them, perhaps. But no order that the Florida Keys must stop releasing sewage, no orders that someone must finance the actions in the Sahel to reduce the production or toxicity of African dust, no order that anyone must do anything to
reduce runoff in the Orinoco or global warming. If no action is taken based on a listing of these species as threatened, then regulation is hardly an onerous burden like you make it out to be, but also there is no way that the listing can have any serious effect on their decline. Doesn't seem like much of a tool. If any of the species were declared "endangered," my impression is that suddenly the ESA becomes a more powerful tool, and if governments don't act, then NGO's can sue to force things like sewage systems in the Florida Keys. So far as I know, no suits have been filed based on the polar bear listing, to try to force reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. But then they were listed as threatened, not endangered, so the act seems to be pretty toothless for species only listed as threatened. My wild guess is that some of the 82 might be listed as threatened, but very few if any will be listed as endangered. If so, you may be quite
correct, the ESA listing as threatened may do very little to stop the decline of these corals (maybe stop a project that will kill a lot of them by dredging, but it could stop that only in US waters, and the US has a very tiny proportion of the world's coral reefs). Indeed, ESA may be quite toothless when it comes to this situation, but the up side for you is you don't have to worry about lots of burdensome regulation.
The potential for the ESA if species were listed as endangered could be much greater. A suit by an NGO could force a sewage treatment system to be built in the Florida Keys with all deliberate speed (but only if one or more Florida corals were listed as endangered). If the scientific evidence is correct that sewage bacteria cause White Pox on Acropora, we would expect that disease to decline and the portion of the decline of Acropora due to that disease to be reduced or removed. Similar for the other effects. Not hard to figure out, but impossible for anyone to predict what is going to happen if we don't know how many species will be listed as threatened, how many endangered, whether NGO's will sue, whether they will win suits, and so on. As with climate change, you can't predict what is going to happen, mainly because you have no way of knowing what people are going to do- will it be "business as usual" (which means increasing
releases of CO2, sewage, chemicals in African dust, nutrients in Orinoco runoff, etc.) or will society bite the bullet and start reducing these things. So far "business as usual" seems to be winning on most of them.
Should we be surprised if reefs, including reefs remote from people, continue to degrade??
The steady degradation of coral reefs around the world is a recent phenomenon. Didn't happen in the 1800's, or there would have been little left for us by the 1950's, when in fact they were still in near mint condition. So why is it happening now?? Totally natural?? If so, why are the reefs degrading, and why is that coincidental with the vast expansion of human production of CO2, river runoff, human sewage, etc etc?? What is the alternative that you propose that causes reef degradation is so many places simultaneously just when human impacts are greatly increasing, if it isn't increasing human impacts?? What are we going to choose, "throw the hands up and say nobody knows" or "accept the published peer-reviewed papers that show that specific human activities like sewage and CO2 caused warming cause damage to reefs"??
Dept. Marine & Wildlife Resources
Nadon, M.O., Baum, J.K., Williams, I.D., McPherson, J.M., Zglizynski, B.J., Richards, B.L., Schroeder, R.L., Brainard, R.E. 2012. Re-creating missing populations baselines for Pacific reef sharks. Conservation Biology 26 (3): 493-503.
From: Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
To: coral-list at coral.aoml..noaa.gov
Sent: Thursday, June 7, 2012 7:34 AM
Subject: [Coral-List] 82 Corals Status Review under the US Endangered Species Act
There can be little argument against protecting corals from
anthropogenic sources when the sources are verifiable such as the
"usual suspects" dredging etc. They can be controlled and monitored.
It is different when other mysterious anthropogenic or natural
sources that are not easily verifiable wipe-out large reef areas
throughout the Caribbean. More ESA regulatory bureaucracy just builds
additional barriers to research and diverts the funding needed to
discover and eliminate those sources of coral demise. Such additional
bureaucracy also pits major agencies and their divisions against each
other. What is happening in the Florida Keys may be partly
anthropogenic; especially in near shore areas where coral patch reefs
were recently killed by the cold front in 2010. Fortunately a branch
of NOAA (Dept. of Commerce) and yet another Federal Agency (National
Park Service) already protects all corals in the Florida Keys and
nearby Dry Tortugas yet demise continues as I have been documenting
for over 50 years. <http://gallery.usgs.gov/videos/334> There are
hopeful signs that Acropora cervicornis is recovering in the
Tortugas, however, it will likely be temporary because coring has
shown it was never a significant reef builder there. However, father
out in the greater Caribbean the slow death continues, including
places where humans are few, and far between, and extreme coral
killing cold fronts do not occur. Listing will do nothing for those
corals or those in Florida for that matter. The euphemism, "tools
provided by ESA," mentioned by DeeVon I assume means more laws and
regulations. If so that should really scare scientists and government
agencies trying to do research on the causes of demise. Gene
No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
College of Marine Science Room 221A
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
<eshinn at marine.usf..edu>
Tel 727 553-1158----------------------------------
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