The trouble with high profile reef science

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg oveh at
Tue Dec 5 16:09:27 EST 2000

Dear Mark,

I thought we were as one!  I also dream that Chris and Fiona (now 2 and 4)
will also be able to enjoy reefs as I have.  I also often lie awake at night
thinking that if the majority of our assessments are even slightly correct,
then reefs will be frightenly degraded when they are old enough to really
enjoy diving reefs. This brings me down to earth - how academic we can
sometimes become in the discussion of the loss of reefs!

In reality, it is quite the enviro/sci fi nightmare.


  -----Original Message-----
  From: Mark and Arnaz Erdmann [mailto:flotsam at]
  Sent: Tuesday, 5 December 2000 6:46 PM
  To: oveh at; fspsuva at; coral-list at
  Subject: RE: The trouble with high profile reef science

  Dear Ove,
          Indeed, there is no real difference of opinion here - I fully
agree with you on the importance of providing clear expert statements to
policy makers on urgent environmental issues facing reefs (including, but
not limited to, global warming).  It is for precisely this reason that
Austin and I point out that there are other urgent issues facing reefs in
the developing world today that ALSO need to be communicated to policy
makers (especially those in the developing world). Far from suggesting that
you tone down your admirable championing of the global warming/coral
bleaching issue, my email was simply meant to demonstrate that
strongly-worded, focused headlines aimed at Washington, Canberra, Tokyo or
Europe CAN have counterproductive, if unintentional effects in the
developing countries that own the majority of the world's reefs. I agree
with you that the solution to this, if any, will certainly not be found in
toning down statements about the imminent threat of global warming/mass
bleaching or in quibbling over which threat is more important. Rather, it
behooves us to present well-argued and balanced statements to the press and
policy-makers that accurately reflect the wide range of urgent stresses
facing coral reefs today. I believe we both agree on this!

  Far from dreaming of controlling headlines, I dream that in 15 years my
daughter will be able to dive and experience the same reefs that I've been
fortunate enough to marvel at (and even these reefs, as has oft been
remarked, are nothing compared to what divers even 30 years' ago
experienced!) As you have pointed out, given the coherence of assaults on
reefs from both global and local levels, we've got a big job ahead of us....


  At 07:01 AM 12/4/00 +1000, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg wrote:

    Dear Mark,

    I don't see that there is too much of a difference of opinion here.
Thinking globally and acting locally is a good call (even if clichéd).   No
one would seriously dispute that.  As someone who also works in Indonesia, I
am under no illusion as to the scale of "local" problems that face the reef
resources of that developing country.

    The one viewpoint/opinion that I would dispute is the negative effect of
drawing attention to issues like climate change (which I guess is the major
point of your email).  The urgency and scale of the response to that
particular issue (as with blast fishing and water quality) would militate
that it would be very negligent to sit on one's hands and not make clear
expert statements or take action on the issue.  Recent effective
deliberations on climate impacts and solutions (or the lack thereof) in the
Hague emphasize this point.  Unless we are clear about the potential impacts
of climate change, the policy makers at the international level will find it
hard to take the urgent action required to reduce the scale of future
damage.  If you think telling them that climate change represents a serious
threat to coral reefs is tricky, try asking them to define a forest for you!

    So - to the issue:  "how does one present expert advice on the problems
that face reef systems."  Controlling headlines would be useful but is
impossible.  Equally, and I think more damaging, the appearance of
scientists quibbling over which stress is "bigger and badder" may also lead
to non-productive outcomes and headlines.  I think we have to go beyond
these issues and provide clearer responses to those trying to find solutions
(and loopholes!).

    As you and I have discussed before, weighing up immediate human needs
versus sustainable reef usage presents a similar (confusing to some) set of
arguments.  Similar "reasons" for inaction might also eventuate from this
situation.  Equally, negligence on Greenhouse by developed countries like
Australia, Europe and the USA may provide a convenient excuse not to take
action on local reef issues in Indonesia.  However, as we know, this
argument does not present a water tight or even logical argument for
inaction.  Hence a greater role for champions of reef protection such as
yourself.  Rather than dream of controlling headlines, you should be ready
with the argument that climate change will mean that reefs will be even more
vulnerable to local scale threats than before.  That there is a greater not
reduced need for action.  In the same breathe, you may also ask why
Indonesia is so intransient and impotent when it comes to real political
action at the international level against countries like Australia and the

    So if we are into take home messages - avoiding mention or watering down
statements on issues at either end of the spectrum of problems facing reefs
is no solution.  The only solution is to make sure that policy makers
realise that climate change will make the management of local reef stressors
more and not less urgent. Given the coherence of assaults from global and
local levels, immediate and appropriate action at all these levels is
urgently required.



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