[Coral-List] Reefs of horror / reefs of hope

Christopher Hawkins chwkins at yahoo.com
Tue May 20 14:57:46 EDT 2008

Sarah and Listers:
  Much of what has been said below is quite valid.  However, I would to point out that if "we know what causes degradation and destruction of coral reefs and their inhabitants" then I question a narrow disciplinary view of coral reef research that states "it is essential that we continue our current research efforts to understand the ecology of coral reefs".  
  Obviously that part of the equation is very important and should continue, but it does seem to me that addressing the (mostly human-based) causes of coral reef degradation and destruction will not be dependent on yet another biophysical reef study or series of studies.  As you point out, we know much of this already. 
  Given that our conception of what comprises a coral reef ecosystem no longer maintains human benefits and impacts as outside of the ecosystem, we must expand our research paradigm to understand the linkages between humans and the environment.
  Before folks say "But we are quantifying impacts and benefits...", let me say that simple, descriptive research into the nature and magnitude of human impacts (for example) gives us only a superficial understanding of this linkage.  There are a number of other areas where social research can assist with many of the causes of degradation.  
  Unfortunately our science and monitoring plans typically (and generally speaking) prioritize and fund research into the biophysical dimensions to the exclusion of the human dimensions, rather than give each appropriate weight and priority and interweave them.  What a great coral reef management world it might be if we both acknowledge the human part of the problem (which we are quite good at) AND institutionalize social research that seeks to predict, understand, and address the roots of these problems.  Sometimes these roots are attitudinal and value oriented, other times they are economic and sustenance oriented.  Sometimes it is a recreational issue, other times it is commercial issue.
  The bottom line is that all of these are often interlinked and interlinked again with the environment.  A more holistic research tradition may finally will us to comprehensively address these reef horrors.  That is my reef hope.    
  Christopher Hawkins, Ph.D. Candidate
  Human Dimensions of Marine and Coastal Ecosystems Program
  University of Massachusetts Amherst
  Dear Coral-listers, 
Coral reefs are seen and used as a commodity, not
 as a resource worth protecting. The coral reefs
 and its inhabitants are killed, displaced, sold
 as souvenirs, silted, polluted, stepped on, their
 entrails removed, blasted off.. . and don’t’
 get me started with global warming. 
We know what causes degradation and destruction
 of coral reefs and their inhabitants. We also know
 that coral reef “restoration” does not bring
 a degraded or destroyed coral reef back to its
 pristine condition. And with less than 1 % of the
 ocean protected in the form of some sort of
 sanctuary (and much less of that is coral reef
 sanctuary), there is little hope for a future.
Talking and doing some outreach about the amazing
 biodiversity in coral reefs, the resources and
 benefits they provide, the need to conserve
 Nemo’s home and so on is simply not enough. It is
 essential that we continue our current research
 efforts to understand the ecology of coral reefs, and
 current conservation and outreach, but we need
 to do so more diligently, wisely, and with a
Whether it is greed or ignorance, the world at
 large simply is not getting the message. We can sit
 and complain about it, and share our reefs of
 horror stories (as Tom Williams names them) or we
 can do something about it.
So to all coral-listers, please, take some time
 today out of your busy schedule, and think
 carefully what action are you going to take. Think big,
 think tiny, local or globally, don’t be afraid
 to write down what you think you can accomplish
 yourself or with the help of others.  Make a plan,
 make a shopping list of action items, with a
 specific timeline (the next 3-6 months, or by next
 year) and then take action. Stand up and be
Then, we can either use coral list or the
 upcoming ICRS, and post our action items on some board
 at the poster sessions, or brainstorm some more
 during the receptions or at the closing banquet. We
 can end up with a true plan for action, and
 then, do it.

Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D. 
Marine Conservaton Scientist
Ocean Research and Conservation Association,
 Florida, USA


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