[Coral-List] Keys' Causes

Anthony J. Hooten ajh at environmentservices.com
Sun Jun 29 08:50:57 EDT 2008

Dear Recent "Re: [Coral-List] Macroalgae in the Keys" readers,

Like many I am sure, reading these recent these have been quite 
interesting-- some laughs and a couple of gasps. I most certainly take 
Jim Hendee's counsel on summing up discussions and joining in a common 
purpose. I don't do this very often (and know some are going to say 
'thank goodness'), but I have to jump into the thread, having been one 
historical participant in the Keys, albeit years ago now.  I must say 
first, however, that people like Curtis Kruer and Billy Causey are 
genuine architects and true pioneers- fighting the good fight in dealing 
with environmental impacts to such a special place like the Keys.  And I 
am for one highly respectful and very thankful of their accomplishments 
and involvement, regardless of the criticisms in the thread. And they 
got involved early and with incredible passion, capability and 
accomplishments for which we are beneficiaries.  It is frustrating to 
witness the defilement of such a special system over one's lifetime, but 
we all know and have seen this now in many places.  Some have chosen to 
move on from the Keys; others have chosen to stay -- but the passions 
and especially the experience and contributions of these gentlemen in 
the Keys shouldn't be questioned.  

I agree that there are enough problems in our world than to turn on one 
another, although it is simply human nature---and I would submit that 
--unintended-- our passions often turn to competition, and in so many 
cases get mis-read as a result.  I often quote Phil Dustan who summed it 
up humorously when he said that 'coral reef ecologists eat their young' 
as commentary on how competitive the coral reef world has been 
historically and today---and this has even crept into the management 
realm in my opinion, although I would also submit that the world is just 
getting more competitive on all fronts given how many people there 
are...which is indeed part of the problem, isn't it?

But having lived and worked in the Florida Keys from the early through 
the mid 1980s, I have a slightly different view from the recent threads 
(although some of which venn-diagram with what has been presented) on 
the observed changes in the Florida Keys and her management challenges.

As a young, wide-eyed graduate student in 1980, blessed with a very 
small grant by my major professor to drive a group of UGA researchers 
down to the Keys, like many I was captivated by its environment then, 
and was fortunate for that _one year_ to see the Keys like what Mike 
Risk referred to in his email. I believe he is right on the money when 
he wrote:

"I venture to say that no scientist in their 30's or 40's, working in 
the Caribbean, has ever seen a real reef. Before thundering off in all 
research directions, they should sit at the feet of the Grand Old People 
of Caribbean reef research and ask them, "Tell me what it was like." "

That ain't me, really, but Billy and Curtis knew.  I saw something 
special for a short time there (and also saw Discovery Bay, Jamaica, San 
Blas and the Eastern Pacific of Panama, Costa Rica and the Galapagos in 
the 1970s).  But right after that year -- 1981-  there was a referendum 
in the Florida Keys to widen the road ways, replace the bridges (from 
the cricketty old 2-lane seven-mile bridge to the one today), and the 
Aqueduct Authority's Fresh Water pipeline, the Florida Keys were and 
would never be the same again.  The development footprint drastically 
changed. It was the late Dante B. Fascell  (among others) who was 
largely responsible in his desire to "improve" the lives of people in 
the region by championing the public works to see all of this change, 
and a sad personal tragedy for him that he lost a son to a car wreck on 
the very 7 mile bridge that he worked realize.  

But it was E.P and H.T. Odum who drilled into many of us (in the context 
of ecology) the 1st and 2nd physical laws of Thermodynamics (as they 
apply to ecological systems--e.g. matter can't be created or destroyed, 
just transformed--and energy dissipates from order to disorder).  But at 
this time I observed-- even early after the political and public works 
approvals, the completion of the bridges, the road and pipeline 
expansion, the plain-and-simple increase in energy that flowed down 
US-1: the Winn-Dixie beef, the Florida orange juice, the Scotty's lawn 
fertilizer, the pumping of fresh water from Fla. City aquifer 175 miles 
down-archipelago just so we could pee in it and flush it into the ground 
(and thus nearshore waters). 

And "Sport Days", those famous grab-alls for spiny lobster. In 1984, I 
drove my brother-in-law from Big Pine Key back to the Miami airport 
right before the two-day recreational lobster harvest.  We counted just 
over 600 trailered boats back then---all coming across the Monroe County 
line to take lobster out (six per person per day for those who abided by 
the law), and leave solid waste and sewage in. 

All of these kinds of things---death by 1000 cuts in my humble 
opinion--- are largely the causes affecting the substantial changes we 
see in the Florida Keys--perhaps not so much climate change, but 
certainly the blights and marine pathogens contributed to the forcings.  
It's just that simple---and complex; we're puttin' things in and takin' 
things out and loving them to death in the process with so many people.  
Regardless of the managerial effort, these inputs and extractions have 
had and continue to have serious consequences.  Even though it may sound 
harsh, what Mike Risk wrote about the assessment of regional extinction 
relative to what was before, is a very fair comment, no matter how hard 
many are working to safeguard.  But that obviously doesn't mean our 
community should stop (something that our ISRS prez has mentioned in the 
most recent Reef Encounter issue).

Both Curtis and Billy have understood this change, having spent so much 
time with it, looking at so many different facets of it over their 
collective years, and in their own ways have made critical contributions 
in working toward slowing the decline.  But Curtis is right when he says 
he doesn't need to prove himself in the Keys---he did that in spades and 
long before many.  And as many of us on the Coral List know, it was 
Billy Causey who took bold steps to move from private enterprise in 
making a living from the reef into the realm of management because of 
what he loves. And in the face of all the changes we'd be in much worse 
shape if not for his efforts and leadership.

I never liked having my skiff boarded by the Florida Marine Patrol-- 
searching my coolers for short lobster or fish with an air of para 
militarism and sometimes one of 'guilty until proven innocent'---but 
even they and other professionals--regardless of the time they can spend 
there physically, are trying hard to make that crucial difference so 
that our increasing numbers can, too, appreciate to some degree what we 
were able to earlier.

Once one spends time there, one never really leaves the Keys---whether 
one physically does so or not. (I might add that one never walks a fence 
in Keys' politics, either; you're forced on one side of an issue or the 
other, and both Billy and Curtis have many well-earned war scars from 
this reality).  Even years ago, Alexander Agassiz, who studied coral 
reefs but didn't live there, kept returning time and again in his quest 
to disprove Darwin.  But I would say that whether folks choose to stay 
or still look back from afar, their commitment and passions remain very 
real, and so I will always listen to and respect pioneers, like Curtis 
and Billy, and whatever their perspectives on the finer points, I 
appreciate that they have led, and have given their best from where they 
sit in furthering the common good---even if there are differences of 
opinion and occasional threads of criticism.  

I also recognize and appreciate mid-and early-career professionals who 
are working to make positive impacts in an increasingly multivariate and 
complex world, and have that same passion and desire in working to 
protect, restore and capture the special place that is the Florida 
Keys--- even though she is indeed much different today than she used to 
be... (and in just 25 short years of my own shifted baseline perspective). 

But is it enough?  I know that our community will keep working, but it 
seems to me that there has to be not just on-line discussion internally, 
but a strong constituency putting pressure across all forms of 
governance (and I'd submit we listen to Billy on this given where he 
sits today), and holding not just key coastal representatives, 
officials, law-makers and their aides accountable, but a much broader 
legislative constituency--to review and insist on developing the broad 
spectrum of thoughtful, proactive interventions.  We often talk about 
lack of political will -- do we as a constituency have the will to keep 
up the pressure on our elected officials, regardless of where we live?  
Are we really doing all we can in this regard?  Many days I wonder...but 
as our on-line leader, Jim Hendee, says we'll do best to be aggressive 
with the cause and be supportive of one another. 

Andy Hooten, former Monroe (and that's pronounced 'MONroe') County Biologist

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