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

Martin Moe martin_moe at yahoo.com
Sun Nov 5 10:01:18 EST 2006

Good analysis, Les. For what it’s worth, I’m with you
there in Group 1. Now I’m basically a simple guy, an
old retired fishery biologist/aquaculturist, not a
high profile, greatly experienced and knowledgeable
coral reef scientist, and I tend to look at things
from more of a macro level and try to make sense of
the big picture. I know, one can get into big trouble
looking at things on that level, but on the other hand
being lost in detail and failing to take action until
every question has an answer can also result in
failure to achieve what could be achieved. Hopefully
one of the strengths of this list is that the elusive
middle ground, that point and time between the
extremes of too quick and too cautious, where action
has the best chance to succeed, can become obvious as
a result of open exposition of knowledge, experience,
opinion and imagination. 

As far as the coral reefs of Florida, the Bahamas, and
the Caribbean are concerned, I’m a strong advocate for
aggressive research (in addition to just monitoring)
into ways that we can affect ecological restoration on
our coral reefs. There’s a lot of talk and analysis on
how to identify and create resilience in western
Atlantic coral reefs so to better preserve what we
have in hopes that in the future we (humanity) will be
able to reverse global warming, stem local and global
pollution, and control our unconscionable rape of
oceanic resources, thus giving our oceanic environment
the chance to repair itself.  So managing toward
resiliency whether possible or not in all situations,
is a good thing. And of course one doesn’t know what
is possible and what is not possible until you try,
and try, and try again.

So whatever can we do, besides monitoring and
reporting on the decline? Well there is a tool that
can be employed to improve the ecology of our Atlantic
coral reefs, it needs research though, but managers
should be looking at all possible ways to aggressively
combat the decline of the reefs.

Looking at the big picture, it seems to me that
restoration of ecologically functional Diadema
populations on western Atlantic coral reefs would be a
very good thing. As I understand it, Diadema have been
present in large numbers on western Atlantic reefs for
at least 100,000 years and as such the reefs we used
to know a few decades ago developed with a balance of
coral and algae growth controlled by grazing
organisms, with Diadema being one of the most
important. So it seems that the presence of Diadema on
a coral reef would improve the resilience of the reef
to recover from instances of bleaching and help corals
resist the negative effects of pollution, fishing, and

In my opinion the algae grazing and surface cleaning
effect of Diadema on an “ecologically balanced” coral
reef (if I can use that term in a broad general sense)
can (or may) greatly help the condition of the
Florida, Bahamas, and Caribbean coral reefs through
the following mechanisms.

Diminish the growths of macro algae that compete with
coral for space and light on shallow reefs.

1 Diminish the presence of presence of algae generated
chemicals that negatively affect corals

2. Clear rocky and coral substrates from accumulation
of sediments.

3. Stimulate the growth of crustose coralline algae.

4. Develop hard substrates environmentally conducive
to coral settlement and survival, and also settlement
and survival of Diadema.

5. Possibly reduce the populations of micro predators
present in dense algal growths and sediment
accumulations that may be detrimental to corals and
other desirable coral reef organisms. 

6. Possibly diminish the virulence of coral diseases
by cleaning diseased coral tissues from some species
of affected corals before the disease can spread and
consume the entire colony.

7. Possibly diminish the destructive effects of
erosion from boring sponges by removing external
sponge tissue from carbonate rock surfaces and also
the soft surface rock invaded by bio eroders.

8. Perform other as yet unidentified ecological
functions that are beneficial to healthy coral reefs. 

9. Punish those uncaring divers that reach under a
coral head to turn it over in search of lobsters (OK,
I’m not serious on this one, but

Many of these functions are well documented in the
scientific literature, some are just indicated, and
some are just speculation, but speculation based on
the observed activity of Diadema on the reefs, and
certainly worthy of investigation.

So I wonder, is there any knowable, experienced
western Atlantic coral reef scientist that holds the
opinion that the reefs are better off without the
presence of ecologically functional populations of
Diadema? Or that holds the opinion that these coral
reefs were improved by the loss of about 97 percent of
these urchins in 1983 – 84? Or that would not wish to
see the return of Diadema in numbers that could reduce
algae growth on the reefs? If so, I would certainly
like to know their rational for this opinion.

I am sure that there are some, if not many, coral reef
scientists that hold the view that it just isn’t
possible to help effect a return of Diadema to our
coral reefs, and they if they are to return in
numbers, then it will occur as a natural event and not
due to restoration efforts. Well, maybe so, but it is
possible, or should be,  to propagate in a hatchery
large numbers of reef competent, genetically diverse,
healthy juvenile Diadema and use these, as well as
wild at-risk juveniles rescued from shallow unstable
rubble zones to establish and maintain effective
populations of Diadema on small, particularly valuable
reef areas. By this method, we could establish small
reef areas where corals can exist, grow, and reporduce
without excessive competition from algae and Diadema
can maintain the natural ecological balance between
algae and coral growth. It won’t be easy, or
inexpensive, but our reefs, even just small sections
of it, are worth it!

These small “Diadema reefs” will also provide the
density of population needed for successful and
effective reproduction of Diadema, which may help
these areas to spread. As an example, the queen conch
populations of the Florida Keys essentially collapsed
on the 1970s due to excessive harvesting. Much effort
has been expended in developing hatchery technology
and outplanting hatchery reared juvenile conch.
Although this effort was biologically successful it
was too expensive for the results that were obtained.
It was found that moving reproductively inactive
adults from near shore areas to offshore locations and
creating colonies in favorable areas resulted in
successful reproduction and an increase in the conch
populations. Eggs in queen conch spawns number in the
hundreds whereas female Diadema produce hundreds of
thousands to millions of eggs per spawn, and spawn
more frequently. Thus if queen conch populations can
be improved through concentration of adults in the
right environment, it stands to reason that Diadema
populations might also be improved by maintaining an
effective spawning population in the right areas.  The
larval period is roughly the same and the currents
that host and return conch larvae can do the same for
Diadema. Volunteer efforts in the creation and
maintainence of these Diadema reefs will make such a
project much more affortable.

Each region, each contiguous area, each reef has its
own general and specific ecology and its own
constellation of problems and resilient factors. There
is no magic bullet that will restore all the reefs and
prevent future incidents of decline. But one of the
few tools that we have to directly improve western
Atlantic coral reef ecology is to increase grazing
through establishment and maintenance of Diadema
populations. There are a few small projects aimed at
this now and we are working on it as best we can, but
shouldn’t research into this concept of possible reef
restoration have a bit higher priority?

Martin Moe

--- Les Kaufman <lesk at bu.edu> wrote:

> 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  
> obvious
> 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
> Les Kaufman
> Professor of Biology
> Boston University Marine Program
> and
> 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
> _______________________________________________
> Coral-List mailing list
> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

More information about the Coral-List mailing list