[Coral-List] Thank you for the threats!

Szmant, Alina szmanta at uncw.edu
Tue Apr 15 10:21:47 EDT 2014

Actually what you have counted as 11 different threats are only 3-4 because several of them are the same ones but using different words:  ocean warming = bleaching and disease.  The elevated temperature causes the bleaching and disease outbreaks.  Thus one (temperature) is the cause of the other two.  Same with coastal development:  coastal development is the cause of the sedimentation and nutrient enrichment, and leads to the algal competition (along with more substrate available for algae after coral death from bleaching and disease, and lack of herbivory from overfishing). Overfishing and all of the previous are consequences of human overpopulation.  Lack of enforcement is also a consequence of human overpopulation pressure on limited resources (plus human greed of course).  Ocean acidification is the latest band wagon/diversion that may eventually affect coral calcification rates if we keep on the same path, but there will likely be few corals left alive by then to be affected by ocean acidification.

 So if you want to diagram all of this start with human overpopulation at the top and connect the dots of the various consequences and pathways below it.

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Eleanor Roosevelt

“The time is always right to do what is right”  Martin Luther King

Dr. Alina M. Szmant
Professor of Marine Biology
AAUS Scientific Diving Lifetime Achievement Awardee
Center for Marine Science
University of North Carolina Wilmington
5600 Marvin Moss Ln
Wilmington NC 28409 USA
tel:  910-962-2362  fax: 910-962-2410  cell: 910-200-3913

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Sarah Young
Sent: Monday, April 14, 2014 12:36 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Thank you for the threats!

Dear Coral List,

A huge thank you to everyone who responded to my request for information on coral expert perceptions of the major threats to coral reefs.  I should
have anticipated I was opening a can of worms!   Just in case anybody else
is interested I found these three publications the most useful, based on date published, sample size or the number of coral reef based institutions

Brainard, R.E., Weijerman, M., Eakin, C.M., et al. (2013). “Incorporating Climate and Ocean Change into Extinction Risk Assessments for 82 Coral Species”. Conservation Biology, 27:6:1169-1178.* – Tiny sample but adoption of results by wider coral community, recently published and ranked data.*

1. Ocean warming,  2. Disease,  3. Ocean acidification, 4. Reef fishing – trophic effects, and 5. Sedimentation.

Wilkinson, C. (2008). Status of coral reefs of the world: 2008. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Townsville, Australia, 296 p.* – no methods on how impacts are prioritized (unranked), Caribbean region split into subsections with different threats, authoritative publication.*

Coral bleaching, Excess sediment and nutrient discharges, Disease, Coastal development and Hurricanes.

Kleypas, J.A. & Eakin, M.C. (2007). “Scientists’ perceptions of threats to coral reefs: results of a survey of coral reef researchers”. Bulletin of Marine Science, 80:2:419-436. *– 10 years out of date (data collected in
2004) but good purposive sample and ranked data.*

1.  Human population growth, 2. Coastal development, 3. Algal competition, 4. Overfishing, and 5. Laws and enforcement.

As you can see these publications emphasis 11 different threats.  Our message is not very clear.

Isaac Westfield raised a good point – the scale at which you are looking at threats makes a difference to the consensus you can achieve between experts, you would predict the larger the scale, the greater the consensus (or aggregation). It will be interesting to see if there is more consensus among the general public as to what threatens reefs.

The aim of the exercise is to help prioritise proactive and effective responses in resource limited management environments.  In those situations it is useful to be as specific (locally appropriate) as possible about the threats and impacts and trust that the implementation process is robust enough to deal with differences of opinion.  By robust I mean all those delicious principles of good governance we aim for (participation, accountability, transparency etc.).  In the same breath we are desperately trying to avoid simplifying threats to a list.  The last thing we want is policy makers deciding, ‘if we tackle the top two things on this list everything will be ok’ (assuming it is even possible to address 'climate change' and 'human population growth').  It is challenging to portray the links, synergies and accumulative effects multiple stressors have on complex marine systems such as coral reefs without confusing people into inertia.

Dennis Hubbard makes another excellent point about how perceptions of threats change given distance from impact … perceptions change along any number of lines – the usual demographic suspects, but also value orientation, life experiences, knowledge on a subject, interest in it, the degree to which you believe a threat impacts your sense of autonomy etc.
There are volumes of psyc journals written about perceptions of risk and how these link to behavioural outcomes.  I personally believe that perceptions have a much greater influence on human behaviour than any ‘objective reality’ of a threat…. Which means that knowing what people think is impacting coral reefs is just as important as knowing the primacy of a particular driver.....

Thank you to Clive Wilkinson for his list of lists! Gene will be pleased to know that at least one person mentioned African Dust! Alina Szmant – people are not the problem – they are the solution…..

Thanks again and best wishes,


Marine social psychologist
Future of Reefs in the UK Overseas Territories Marine Ecosystems and Governance Research Group Newcastle University _______________________________________________
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