The Trouble with our Ocean

Precht, Bill Bprecht at
Fri Nov 17 11:37:56 EST 2000


As we both know, the debate about "green" water in Florida continues...
there are many that believe there is a direct link to anthropogenic
nutrients and others that don't...this has been debated quite extensively in
the scientific literature with no apparent end in site (see the recent
thread in L&O).  However, I thought I would share with you a note from my
dive log of my first reef encounter in the Florida Keys circa 1974 (Spring
Break Freshman Year).  At that time I was told that the 'must see' reef was
Looe Key.  For me, these early notes put much of this argument in

"Today I dove on Looe Key... The visibility was less than 20 feet and the
water was pea soup green... big disappointment.... could hardly see the reef
or the fish.... was very surrealistic... even a bit scary... conditions were
so marginal we moved to Sombrero Reef for our second dive"

I noted two days later that the conditions were very different...

"Did two tanks on Looe Key... this place looks totally different than two
days ago... great visibility.... the reef although very shallow (<25 feet
depth) was extraordinary... huge coral heads, lots of staghorn and elkhorn
coral... Dive master noted that the reason for the great visibility (in
excess of 100 ft.) was a landward shift in the Florida Current i.e. Gulf

A few years later I met Gene Shinn for the first time and discussed my
observations... he directed me to a note he wrote with Bob Ginsburg that
dated to 1964... he told me that these "inimical" green bank waters were
common and in-part controlled the reef building community of Florida... I
bring this up only as a point of reference that the green water problem
isn't new or novel.  In fact, there is mention of "black water" in the Lower
Keys that killed large stands of coral ~ 100 years ago.


Ginsburg, R.N. and Shinn, E.A. (1964) Distribution of the reef-building
community in south Florida and the Bahamas. (abstract)  Amer. Assoc. Petrol.
Geol. Bull. 48:527

see also:

Ginsburg, R.N. and Shinn, E.A. (1993) Preferential distribution of reefs in
he Florida Reef Tract: the past is a key to the present. in Proc. Global
Aspects of Coral Reefs - Health, Hazards and History, Univ. of Miami



William F. Precht
Ecological Sciences Program Manager

-----Original Message-----
From: deevon [mailto:deevon at]
Sent: Wednesday, November 15, 2000 2:01 PM
To: Ursula Keuper-Bennett
Cc: coral-list at
Subject: Re: The Trouble with our Ocean

Dear Ursula--I sympathize with you but would point out that in the Florida
Keys, the water turned green and we still have those who would deny that
there is a problem.  Sure the nutrients can't be traced to the reef--its in
the green water...and the algal blooms.....etc. .     Regards, DeeVon
Quirolo, Ex. Director,  Reef Relief 

Ursula Keuper-Bennett wrote: 

Dear Coral Types, 

I've been following the debate about the demise of coral reefs with great 

As recreational divers who have adopted a coral reef, we care very much 
about the health of "ours".  This reef is also home to a group of Hawaiian 
green sea turtles we love and that makes our interest even more intense. 

Right now coral researchers can discuss/debate all sorts of issues that 
affect coral reefs --global warming, sedimentation, pollution, run-off, 
over-fishing, coral predation, El Nino, bleaching, faunal/floral changes, 
thermal events, coral mortality events, algae blooms, this model and that 
model --but ultimately there's a problem. 

And Tim Ecott spelled it out nicely. 

He wrote: 

>Given that it is reasonably easy, in layman's terms, to convince the 
>'general public' that the sea is an essential component of our fragile 
>biosphere, then there seems only one useful end to the debate about coral 
>mortality - that the planet is in deep shit. 

Drawing from our own experience diving in West Maui, Hawaii, it is VERY 
difficult to convince the "general public" that our section of ocean is in 
trouble, let alone get action.  And we ARE in trouble. 

We've had repeated algae blooms: 

1991  <
<> > 

and here from just this summer: 

<> > 

On strong current days we have to pick algae slime off our favourite corals 
to make sure they don't smother: 

<> > 

The vast majority of the sea turtles we know have tumours. 

<> > 

Most corals to our northern perimeter are just green lumps, with seaweed 
growing on them, killed in the '89 bloom. 

But here's the REAL problem. 

No matter how many turtles sicken, 

<> > 

no matter how much seaweed-stink lines our beach attracting white flies, 

<> > 

no matter who SLIMY the water is to swim in (that's my husband and his fins 
right side there, and yes, we dive in this stuff) 

<> > 

the "general public" lounging on the beach or enjoying a tour on a 
catamaran, will look around and see only BLUE OCEAN --and be lulled into 
thinking that nothing is wrong. 

That ocean BETRAYS us --it stays blue no matter WHAT is happening under the 

Even in 1991 when I was armpit deep in Cladophora one day. 

<< <>

And there were rafts of Hypnea on the surface. 

< <> > 

to anyone else looking seaward that day, guess what? 

That ocean was BLUE.  It was business as usual. 

And back then I was silly enough to think that all that blight would harm 
tourism in our area --that people would not come back because of the slime 
and the stink.  But I was wrong.  Last summer (almost ten years later) 
tourists now PLAY with the seaweed, tossing it to each other.  They lie on 
the lounge chairs --a bit away from the white flies mind you --but still 
catch rays among the weed and the flies. 

Tim Ecott wrote: 

>We journalists are certainly 'simplistic'. It is a simple issue. The reefs 
>are dying and most of the world doesn't know about it - let alone care. 

He's right.  So long's the ocean's blue on top, people really don't care 
WHAT'S been swept under the "carpet"! 

And calling back Tim's comment from before: 

>Given that it is reasonably easy, in layman's terms, to convince the 
>'general public' that the sea is an essential component of our fragile 
>biosphere, then there seems only one useful end to the debate about coral 
>mortality - that the planet is in deep shit. 

I agree completely -- "the planet is in deep shit." 

And I'm convinced the planet is in deep shit because we humans can adapt to 
anything --INCLUDING shit. 

So long's that ocean's BLUE! 

Ursula Keuper-Bennett 

P.S.  This does not mean we've given up! 

<> > 
               ^               Ursula Keuper-Bennett 
              0 0              mailto: howzit at 
     /V^\            /^V\ 
   /V     Turtle Trax    V\
  /                        \ 

"A promise is a promise, Lt. Dan." 

           \       /      -- Forrest Gump 
           /  \ /  \ 
          /__| V |__\ 
        malama na honu

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