a question and a debate

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg oveh at uq.edu.au
Sun Nov 12 17:50:18 EST 2000

Dear Osha,

Congratulations to you and the others on publishing the GCRMN study and
brochure.  Very useful indeed and a major contribution to reef science and

Your email caused me some concern however.  In particular, your description
of the "simplistic" nature of the message "coral being gone in the next 20
years or so" (mainly coined by journalists) seems to be simplistic in
itself.  To say this is to miss the essence and careful study that resulted
in conclusions that perhaps underlie this paraphrasing of the science.
Perhaps a reading of the background to the broader statements underlying
this one would be useful at this point.  In fact, I invite you to tell me
(and the others that have flagged this possibility) where the science is

That aside, I see your email as an opportunity to begin a wider debate.

As I am sure you realise, the fact that oceans are warming rapidly (up to 5
degree per century according to a recent NOAA press release) and we have
seen increasingly (not decreasingly) severe outcomes (as is recorded in the
excellent GCRMN account - 19% lost in the thermal event of 1998) from these
increasingly severe thermal events, there is a major issue brewing.  One
degree per century would be enough.  By 2020 (which I guess is your
"simplistic" reading of the Mar FW Res 1999 study), we will be regularly
over the sea temperatures that we currently know to cause (and can use to
predict today - see HotSpot program) major coral mortality events.  What is
perhaps more worrying, we will regularly see anomalies that will be double
and even triple those we have seen in the past two decades by 2020.  We have
nothing to tell us that this wont happen.  Currently, we have little
evidence of the ability for coral reefs to evolve with a sea temperature
that is changing at the rate of 1-5 degrees per century.  Again, we the
evidence that corals will rapidly adapt to an ever increasing sea
temperature is not jumping out at us.  In fact, we mostly have evidence to
the contrary (mortality events, no decreasing trend in severity or frequency

So - I ask you - where is the "simplicity" in the Mar FW Research (1999)
hypothesis argument?

A.  Is it in the sea temperature measurements?  Are the rapidly warming seas
a figment of our imagination?  Has Al Strong at NOAA been misreading his

B.  It is in the climate models?  Are the Max Planck, IPCC, CSIRO, Hadley
Centre, UN atmospheric and geophysical scientists got it all wrong?

C.  Is it in the coral biology and the assessment of the impacts
fundamentally flawed? Have we completely misinterpreted the meaning of the
thermal events and outcomes of the past 20 years?  Can we say that bleaching
is trivial and will not effect coral communities in the long term?  Are the
Okinawan reefs going to repopulate within the next 2 Years?  Is 19% loss
every few years trivial - how many even 1998 thermal events could reefs
sustain before corals become minor components?  Can we say that adaptation
over a few years is possible (with an ever increasing stress profile)?  Have
the faunal changes that occurred during the interglacial transition been

Remember, this is not an argument about corals going extinct.  They probably
wont.  It is an argument about reef health and function.  That then flows
over into the meaning of this for human users.  If corals become minor
components to reef communities, can we say that the reefs they built will
continue to function as they have when they were coral dominated?

I look forward to your comments and to a wider debate among members of the
coral reef community.  As I have indicated, the 1999 study was in some ways
a "target" ... one which we needed to erect rigorously and one, which, if we
can destroy scientifically, we will all rejoice (me included).  I stress the
word "scientifically" - it is not enough to say you don't believe (as I have
heard from some).  We must debate this in hard scientific terms with the
idea of resolving the core issues.

I look forward to joining the debate on my return from COP6 on Nov 24th

Best wishes,


Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
Director, Centre for Marine Studies
University of Queensland
St Lucia, 4072, QLD

Phone:  +61 07 3365 4333
Fax:       +61 07 3365 4755
Email:    oveh at uq.edu.au

  [Ove Hoegh-Guldberg]
   -----Original Message-----
  From: owner-coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:owner-coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov]On Behalf Of Osha Gray Davidson
  Sent: Sunday, 12 November 2000 11:00 PM
  To: mjrtom999
  Cc: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
  Subject: Re: a question


  Not sure, but maybe you're thinking of the posting below:

  The "Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2000" brocure (PDF document, by
  Clive Wilkison, Global Coordinator) is now posted on the Global Coral
  Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) page at: http://www.coral.noaa.gov/gcrmn/

  At that page click on: Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2000. Its
message about reef conditions, while dire, is not as simplistic as "coral
being gone in the next 20 years or so." It is thoughtful and
throught-provoking and, yes, alarming.


  At 05:29 AM 11/12/2000, you wrote:

    Hi all,
        There was some mail being bounced around here recently about the
    being gone in the next 20 years or so..? can someone please get me the
    original refernce source for that "fact"?
    I would be very much appreciative
    thank you much
    -tomas oberding

  Osha Gray Davidson          Home page: www.OshaDavidson.com
  14 S. Governor St.          Phone: 319-338-4778
  Iowa City, IA 52240
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