[Coral-List] #oceanoptimism, sort of
jhocevar at greenpeace.org
Wed Jan 4 21:55:04 EST 2017
I studied coral reef ecology in the early 90s, back when our biggest
concerns were Diadema die-offs and black or white band disease. More
recently, this community has struggled to keep up with its own
predictions of the demise of coral reef ecosystems on a global scale. We
have argued a bit over which are the most important or most preventable
threats, but most agree that climate change is the knockout blow to a
victim softened up by a right-left-right combination of high nutrient
runoff, depletion of herbivores, etc.
There is no question that we, the people best suited to know for sure,
are watching a disaster unfold.
And still, I can't help but think that as important as it is for us to
speak out clearly and loudly about what is killing the most diverse
ecosystems on earth, it is both a scientific and strategic mistake for
us to refer to the imminent extinction of coral reefs. Perhaps
everything will be so apocalyptic by the time we stop spewing carbon
emissions that even deep reefs will die off, but I don't think that is
supported by data or analysis. Am I wrong?
Deeper reefs are clearly doing better than shallow reefs. That seems
unlikely to change. We are going to lose some shallow species, perhaps a
great number of them. But deeper reefs are refugia for many coral and
reef associated species, and they will be able to repopulate shallower
waters once temperatures stabilize and start dropping again -
particularly if we reduce other threats by creating networks of marine
If scientists tell people reefs are going to disappear by
2100/2065/2050/2035, what incentive does that give anyone to act? If we
are sure that is true, ok, I suppose it is still our responsibility to
say so. But as far as I know, it is NOT something we can say is true. As
soul crushing as the death of shallow corals is, we need to be clear in
communicating about what we know.
Coral reefs are going to survive. How many species, and how quickly they
recover, is up to us. This is not some disingenuous dream to peddle to
people eager for good news, it is what we are seeing and have a
responsibility to share.
Happy New Year!
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