[Coral-List] the dismal and erroneous notion that we've already lost

Les Kaufman lesk at bu.edu
Mon Oct 2 17:08:00 EDT 2006

Picking up the thread of an earlier polylogue....

Some folks are saying that no matter what we do, the reef-building  
corals alive today are ultimately (and sooner than later) goners.

I will not argue with this.  What bleaching doesn't get disease will.

Perhaps we should be less concerned about what will kill the reef- 
building corals of the world.  We already have an answer to that  
question, though it could possibly be usurped by an asteroid.

Where I'm coming from is that we ought to concern ourselves with the  
conditions necessary to maximize the regenerative potential of coral  
reefs, since that is where our primary hopes lie.

It will not stop them from degrading horribly, like what happens in  
all those movies when anything from water (Oz's WWOW) to  
nannoparticles is dumped either on the first gorgeous dumb blonde or  
the villains at various points along the plot line, causing that  
characters to dissolve grotesquely.

However, we also know that many ecological communities, including  
coral reefs, can exist in a state comparable to what Bob Buddemeier  
(I think...or somebody) instructed us to call "coral communities".   
In other words, ratty, scuzzy excuses for what things could look  
like, but with most of the species still eking it out in bits,  
corners, and crevices.  Think Florida.

Let's call them dissemblages.  If that means they're lying, then so  
be it, that works, too.

What we've got to do is learn how to orchestrate dissemblages so they  
organize themselves back into lush reefs, forests, deserts,  
whatever.  For us, reefs.

The next step after dissemblage is a spiral of irreversible  
degradation through extinction.  This can be stretched out over quite  
the while.  Eventually things go so far that reassembly into a  
recognizable and valuable form is no longer a likely outcome.

As bad as reefs are today, especially in the north Atlantic, we are  
still very much at the more or less intact (in terms of species pool)  
dissemblage state of things.

This is where the issue of ocean acidification comes in.

Resolved: The importance of elevated atmospheric CO2 to coral reefs  
lies not in the possibility that it will kill them outright, but  
rather in the likelihood that it will greatly compromise their  
ability to recover.

Commence debate.

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

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