[Coral-List] Remnancy vs resiliency Part 3: making a list

Szmant, Alina szmanta at uncw.edu
Thu Mar 23 18:57:20 EST 2006

>From message below  "But I have to ask, if people stop visiting coral reefs, how can we build the constituency to protect them? "

Aah!  That IS the problem.  We all love coral reefs and some want to live as near them as possible.  Few of us can unless we are really poor and have nowhere else to go (e.g. third world people who by necessity over exploit the resources to stay alive), and then there's us first world folks.  Some of us can't afford to go there often but we go as frequently as we can save up for a brief vacation (but there has to be the infra-structure to support these brief visits), and some of us are really rich and want to have our own place to be able to visit whenever we want.  But we all place a demand on these systems, whether rich or poor:  the airplanes and boats that get us there, the exhaust from these vehicles; the land development that takes place to accommodate and entertain us(unless we sleep on the beach in a sleeping bag and tent); the restaurants that feed up; the local populations that take care of the facilities that house us, and all the things they need to reside there.  It goes on and on... the teachers for the children of the people that live there and work in hotels, restaurants, dive centers etc; the nurses, dentists and doctors for the residents and teachers; the grocery store owners.... Where does it all stop?  Are we to state that only poor and mid-income people can live on or visit coral reefs?

My message was a sarcastic and cynical response to the on-and-on Guana Cay discussion, where there were some obvious self-serving messages and diatribes by people who want to save the reef for themselves (or their special friends) while continuing to exploit (e.g. fish it)and live there themselves (with all their daily waste production, etc).  

There is a lot of hypocrisy going around, not necessarily intentional or even recognized by the people exercising it. Just because somebody gets there first, does that give them the right to keep others out? That has been tested in courts all over the world, and the democratic reply has been no.

The dilemma is that we all love those pristine "nobody has been here before me" vistas and remote islands, and so we want to protect them for the future (so we can go back again, or take our children to see them, right?).  But that rapidly goes down hill after the first few thousand (or million) humans have tromped through the area.

My message was intended to provoke a different kind of introspective debate.  The only way to fix the problem is for there to be fewer humans, and for fewer humans to live or visit the sensitive areas:  how are we going to manage that (globally)?  Who decides who gets to go there and in what kind of style?  Right now the practical answer is money.  If you are rich enough to afford to go there, then you get to pay to stay in an expensive resort (and expensive does not necessarily mean fancy...some of the more remote and eco-touristy places are pretty pricey).  Or you are really poor (e.g. folks in coastal areas of the Philippines) and you have nowhere else to go.  So now I'm repeating myself and I will stop.

But the part about not eating reef predators was for real...


Dr. Alina M. Szmant
Coral Reef Research Group
UNCW-Center for Marine Science 
5600 Marvin K. Moss Ln
Wilmington NC 28409
Tel: (910)962-2362 & Fax:  (910)962-2410
Cell:  (910)200-3913
email:  szmanta at uncw.edu
Web Page:  http://people.uncw.edu/szmanta

Dr. Szmant:
     I have nothing but the utmost respect for you, and long ago heeded your 
clarion call about the loss of biodiversity on reefs. And I certainly admit 
that my opinion could be biased, having spent most of my adult life in the 
marine tourism industry. But I have to ask, if people stop visiting coral reefs, how can we build the constituency to protect them? I've always felt that Sylvia Earle was right on   target when she asked, "How can we except people to love coral reefs who have never seen one?"   Do you think that even an IMAX film can sufficiently convey the experience of being on a reef? Personally, I don't think so. But then again, I'm just a dump scuba instructor.

I'm not at all trying to pick a fight here. It's just that opposition to 
tourism is a conservation strategy that I've never encountered before, and I'd like to hear more of what you and others think about this. Of course, the other issue is that tourism is now the largest industry on earth, and most of it takes place in or near the sea. So, this will be a real uphill battle.

Alex F. Brylske, Ph.D.
Training Manager
The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL)

"Working together to keep coral reefs alive."

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