[Coral-List] Community consensus on whether or not local efforts are of value to coral reef conservation.

Les Kaufman lesk at bu.edu
Thu Nov 2 10:31:40 EST 2006

Tom and James make highly valid points that are familiar to most of  
us.   It would be useful to agree on whether or not local efforts are  
of any value to coral reef conservation.  The answer must not be so  
as suggested in recent posts- i.e., that local efforts are irrelevant  
because climate change is global- given that both Tom and James are  
involved in aggressive advocacy against land-based nutrient sources,  
and Tom has pioneered experiments in local reef restoration (Biorock  
installations) that have, ironically, been criticized as pissing in  
the wind.  We must presume that both Tom and James feel that local  
efforts can and do matter, in some way.

The Marshall and Schuttenberg "A Reef manager's Guide to Coral  
Bleaching" is actually a very useful educational piece.  However, the  
authors are strangely mute on those issues of greatest importance to  
managers interested in keeping their corals from dying.  For example,  
in Section 4.3, on page 109, there is a section entitled "Can corals  
adapt to climate change?"  The possibility of adaptation is raised,  
but the question is never answered.  The chapter ends, however, by  
embracing the inevitability of widespread decline in hard corals and  
radical changes in reef ecology.  Perhaps that is their answer.  The  
final chapter of the book is supposed to be about "Enabling  
Management" but is actually just about international law and  
outreach.  Again, an answer- it is hopeless except for diplomacy and  
activism that resists global climate change.  The appendix on the GBR  
coral reef bleaching response plan is all about watching and  
carefully documenting the death of corals, and then telling lots of  
other people that they have died.   So in fact, the book is quite  
realistic.  It reads a lot like one of those pamphlets you can get at  
a doctor's office about this or that terminal disease- there is  
excellent advice in them about making final preparations.

Many of us have retracked our research and education efforts to focus  
on making local action as effective as possible in enabling  
individual coral reef sites to resist and to recover from global  
impactors.  Intense dedication of this kind does not mean that  
anybody has lost their perspective or lessened their participation in  
the effort to get the world to wake up to the importance of arresting  
and reversing our global atmospheric chemistry experiment.  Since the  
contributors to this list include some of the wisest and most  
experienced professionals in coral reef biology, economics, and  
conservation, this life change that so many of us are bound up in  
would suggest that we have some reason to expect a modicum of gain  
from local management efforts.  If this is true, we should be saying  
so instead of wasting time arguing over pieces of the elephant.  If  
it is not true, but simply wishful thinking, and we know that for  
fact, then perhaps we really ought to be putting all of our effort  
into documenting the death of the wondrous Holocene coral reef  
assemblages so that future generations have an easier time with their  
palaeontology, and are perhaps even motivated to change the world  
once more to make it safe again for coral-dominated reef communities.

The alternative options for action are clear.

1.  Continue international pressure to resist global climate change,  
but focus major resources on the practice of maximally enhancing the  
survival and repair potential for coral reef communities.
2.  Put nearly all our efforts into resisting global climate change,  
but allocate a small portion of our collective resources to  
documenting coral reef decline to provide visuals and data for our  
international efforts.

We could be much more effective if we at least had some meta- 
awareness of who is allied with Option 1 versus Option 2.  Then the  
two groups could sort out and we would have something resembling a  
battle plan as an academy, with two divisions, each with some chance  
of finding its mark.

I happen to be an Option 1 kind of guy.  I'd like to know who is on  
my team, and very much hope that we have a big team for Option 2 as  
well.  Then we can do both, and then we are doing everything  
possible, and then we can look our kids and grandkids in the eye and  
say with conviction that we did our best.


Les Kaufman
Professor of Biology
Boston University Marine Program
Senior PI
Marine Management Area Science
Conservation International

“I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.”
George W. Bush
Saginaw, Michigan; September 29, 2000

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