[Coral-List] fiddling symphonic hypotheses while cities of coral crumble.

Les Kaufman lesk at bu.edu
Wed Oct 11 23:15:08 EDT 2006

Boring organisms are invisible snores, but...

while everybody is snoring, it is easy to forget that there is a  
distinct reef phase- albeit uncommon these days in the Caribbean- in  
which coral reef is reduced to deeply gouged carbonate moonscape, by  
swarms of echinoderm beavers.  What Andrew says about sponges is  
absolutely true- who is examining the effects on clionid excavation  
rates of food web alteration combined with coastal eutrophication?   
Also ignored are endolithic fungi that prey on living corals, and few  
notice that stony coral skeletons are shot through with a complex,  
multifaceted community of fungi, three algal phyla, sponges,  
prokaryotes, and motile fossorials that may well profoundly influence  
colony attachment, submarine cementation, coral health, and the coral- 
fleshy algal relationship.  In the Indo-Pacific, what to us are  
boring clams are to triggerfishes fascinating delicacies; the pig- 
like invertivores pulverize healthy coral beds in hot pursuit of the  
long skinny steamers.   The life and death of coral reefs is baroque  
and filigreed, and never so simple as a paper must be in order to  
pass peer review.

Folks are dead wrong if they promise that radical reductions in  
nutrient inputs, fishing, and deforestation will completely reverse  
the decline of coral reefs, not while that giant magnifying glass in  
the sky moves diabolically about.  But local stewardship will damned  
straight help, though admittedly to varying degrees, and nobody has  
suggested a single better idea of what to do out in the real world,  
while suits duke it out over carbon units in all the world's tongues  
beside the Hudson River.

Local communities need scientists willing to stay put long enough to  
teach and set an example, who roll their sleeves and bend their  
shoulders to the tasks of local stewardship alongside those very  
citizens they strive to empower.   That scientists must argue amongst  
themselves to hone their deductive and predictive powers is a given,  
but that is the joy of their craft and worlds apart from what is  
required of them on the beach.  When we're out there counting fish  
and running transects and experiments in the field, let's all take  
the time to become adopted by our host villages and nations, and to  
explain straight up, over and over again, why what they themselves  
can do matters so.  The science may have a very long way to go, but  
the wisdom is already there and has been for centuries.

Unless, of course, you are truly convinced that those giant moving  
spots of heat and pestilence ultimately and soon will end it all for  
coral reefs no matter what we do.

Tell us all this: how can marine scientists throughout their careers  
be better communicators and leaders in seaside communities by virtue  
of, and without sacrificing, their scientific credibility?  Those  
among us secured by tenure who do not so speak out should be ashamed  
of ourselves.   As for those who are still at the mercy of their  
seniors, we traditionally exhort junior scientists not to be too  
publicly visible before they get tenure.  So listen: we who are  
voting on your future have little idea what you all are actually  
doing out there in the field, so do some good outside our view lest  
you be penalized for ignoring your studies.  Our careful experiments,  
our scholarly debates- these matter a great deal in the long run.   
But in the trenches, today and tomorrow, it is us as that army of  
muddy, wet, beer-swigging, outspoken leaders who will carry the day.


forwarded message:
   I hear nothing of the double edged sword that is top-down grazing  
in the presence of plenty of nutrient: the boring/ bio-erosion aspect  
of reef dynamics.
   In terms of overall reef preservation/restoration there is more  
then just top or bottom... It's more of a 3-D set of dramas.
Even if the grazers turn out to be the great saviors of living,  
growing coral, based on what i see in Montego Bay the reef structure  
is still crumbling from within so long as the water is full of sponge  
food. And the urchins themselves are no angels.
   My two cents.

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

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