[Coral-List] Guardian Article on Recent Studies by Cinner et al & Bruno & Valdivia

Avigdor Abelson avigdor at tauex.tau.ac.il
Wed Aug 10 03:42:45 EDT 2016

Dear Johnny,
I am writing in response to your Guardian article (link: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/the-coral-triangle/2016/aug/02/are-local-efforts-to-save-coral-reefs-bound-to-fail).  In addition to this quick response, I have also written a response (to be submitted to Scientific Reports) to Bruno and Valdivia (2016; B&V), in which I detailed what I see as the scientific weaknesses and gaps of B&V's study (e.g. the use of a single questionable proxy, disregard of diverse environmental and anthropogenic drivers).  However, the main problem with their study is not its shaky scientific basis, but rather its conclusions (statements), which could lead to severe consequences for reefs worldwide, through the misinterpretation of the statements, or their abuse, by local decision-makers and stakeholders. 
Unfortunately, your Guardian "layman's perspective" article demonstrates my fears only too well. I believe that it paves the way for the legitimation of B&V's unsafe statements. There is a theory, the 'Overton window' (mainly in reference to political sciences), which explains how marginal ideas that are in a state of being publically 'unacceptable' or 'radical', can become 'acceptable' and even 'sensible', by shifting the 'Overton window'. A possible way for this to occur is through their comparison with other more radical, or similar ideas.  I am afraid that your article has started such a process by comparing the study by B&V with the seminal study by Cinner et al.. (2016) and "grading both as right" (referring to their main conclusions).
As opposed to Cinner et al. (2016), B&V limit their analysis to a single proxy of human impact, ignoring a series of anthropogenic and environmental drivers. Furthermore, they do not examine any of the potential global-scale drivers, and yet assert that their findings: "...also highlight the truly global reach of anthropogenic warming and the immediate need for drastic and sustained cuts in carbon emissions".  Based solely on their missing analysis, they state about their finding that it "...has important management implications: fishing bans and reductions in coastal pollution, though desirable, might not meaningfully reduce macroalgal abundance or restore corals if the ultimate drivers are larger-scale and beyond the control of local managers". Such a statement could thereby give local stakeholders and decision-makers apparent justification  to pursue their  injurious activities, which according to B&V are "antagonistic" to the main threats - the global drivers ("Our results also suggest that the effects of local and global stressors are antagonistic, rather than synergistic as widely assumed").  Even if their study had been based on sound scientific grounds, they should have been more cautious with the potentially harmful conclusions and statements.
I hope that B&V statements will not affect numerous efforts being conducted on local-regional scales in diverse locations worldwide to countermeasure those stressors whose adverse effects have been clearly proven.  I think that the ball is now in your court, as well as theirs, in order to clarify this issue and avoid misunderstanding.
Best wishes ~AV 

Bruno, J. F. and Valdivia, A. 2016. Coral reef degradation is not correlated with local human population density. Sci. Rep. 6, 29778; doi: 10.1038/srep29778
Cinner, J.E. et al. 2016. Bright spots among the world's coral reefs. Nature  535:416-419, doi:10.1038/nature18607

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of johnny langenheim
Sent: Tuesday, August 2, 2016 2:19 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Guardian Article on Recent Studies by Cinner et al & Bruno & Valdivia

Hi listers,

A little look at these two recent studies from a layperson's perspective in The Guardian today.




Johnny Langenheim
+44(0)7427 312 760  (UK)
+62 (0) 8123 657 3757.  (INDONESIA)
Skype: Johnny Langenheim
Coral-List mailing list
Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

More information about the Coral-List mailing list