[Coral-List] Reef Decline: the root cause

Nasseer Idrisi nidrisi at uvi.edu
Sun Sep 14 15:25:54 EDT 2008

Hi all,

I am glad to see Peter Sale's optimistic view, and share that. Peter
outlines a number of 'culprits' in the root cause, as does Stephen
Jameson. Please let me add one more that I didn't see on the list - us
scientists. It is easy to look over our shoulders and blame others:-
governments, societies, advocate groups, etc.
Let me explain briefly. Here we enter the realm of 'the politics of
science' as opposed to 'the science of politics (political science)'.
As well intentioned we may be the problem of communication/education
still exists, as does the urge to interject our own opinions and views
whereas we need to remain unbiased and leave the views, etc. to
advocates and politicians, which it is their job.
We haven't done our jobs as well as we could. Why is it in this election
year, the candidates have not agreed to a policy on science debate
(requested by ScienceDebate2008.com)? I think both candidates have real
concerns on the environment, but this kind of debate is risky and the
reason why - the public does not have a clear idea on issues dealing
with the environment, accelerated climate change, decline in resources,

My suggestion, lets have a clear idea of how we can help solve the root
cause from our end, then we can work on the other root causes, including
-possibly changing the behavior of how we interact with our

Thanks, nasseer

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of
sale at uwindsor.ca
Sent: Saturday, September 13, 2008 3:42 PM
To: Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Reef Decline: the root cause

The recent comments on the list concerning the global decline of coral 
reefs and the real cause (i.e. Homo sapiens in all his/her non-sapient 
glory) have been an interesting read.  Some of you may have seen my
article in Marine Pollution Bulletin on the subject, now extended by 
Stephen Jameson's piece he circulated a couple of days ago.  Elsevier 
would not give me permission to post my pdf on my website, however I
fill any requests for it: Sale 2008. Management of coral reefs: Where we

have gone wrong and what we can do about it, Mar. Poll. Bull. 56:
 (I believe it is posted on the website of Coral Cay Conservation -- an 
NGO that I am not affiliated with -- Elsevier gave them permission
refusing me.  Such is the logic of publishing houses!)

In June of this year, UNU-INWEH published a lengthier document, freely 
downloadable from our website titled:  "Stemming Decline of the Coastal 
Ocean: Rethinking Environmental Management".  In this article the
all of whom have considerable coral reef experience, try to go beyond 
enumerating the many ways in which human actions degrade coastal marine 
environments, to identify what specifically is wrong and why, and make 
recommendations on what can be done to improve the situation.  We find 
fault with just about everybody engaged in coastal management or use -- 
from the local managers and governments to industry, international NGOs,

multinational agencies (read UN, World Bank, etc), and even local 
communities both on coasts and in developed nations far from coasts.
we also make suggestions for action that each of these groups might take

on to improve the currently rather poor situation.

Now is not the time to give up on people or our social structures just 
because they have been working very ineffectively to manage our impacts
the environment.  Now is the time to inform, educate, and encourage 
changes to behavior (individual, communal, and corporate).  I personally

cannot believe that we humans are not a lot more capable of managing our

impacts on the biosphere than our present and past behavior suggests. 
Hopefully my optimism is not misplaced.

To download "Stemming decline" go to www.inweh.unu.edu, click on
Zone Ecosystems", and go down to bottom of the page.

Peter F. Sale
Assistant Director
International Network on Water, Environment and Health
United Nations University  (UNU-INWEH)
Coral-List mailing list
Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

Dear Friends,
> The following Guest Editorial just came out in the September issue of
> Marine Pollution Bulletin.
> Jameson SC (2008) Guest editorial: Reefs in trouble ? the real root
> Marine Pollution Bulletin 56(9):1513-1514
> I wrote it in response to the International Year of the Reef /Science
> Magazine issue "Reefs in Trouble" (14 Dec 2007) that, in my opinion,
> a golden opportunity to address the "real" root cause of "Reefs in
> Trouble".
> It is also my International Year of the Reef contribution.
> I am attaching it below, as I thought it would be an interesting
> topic for the coral-list.  I would very much appreciate your
> reactions.
> Best regards,
> Dr. Stephen C. Jameson, Chairman
> Coral Seas Inc. - Integrated Coastal Zone Management
> 4254 Hungry Run Road, The Plains, VA  20198-1715  USA
> Office:  703-618-2775
> Email:  sjameson at coralseas.com
> Web Site:  http://www.coralseas.com

In this "International Year of the Reef" it is paramount that we truly
understand the root cause of coral reef decline around the world and
swift action to remedy the situation if there is to be any hope for our
children to enjoy the benefits of these valuable natural resources.
exigency is great because we consider coral reefs a leading indicator of
global ecological degradation and we are on a fast track to potentially
this entire ecosystem from the face of the earth - a dubious global
environmental distinction.

The real root cause of coral reef decline is not carbon dioxide
rising sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification, coral disease,
fishing, destructive fishing techniques, eutrophication, sedimentation,
sewage, herbicides, pesticides, African dust, increasing human
or any of the other individual or synergistic combinations of stressors
affecting coral reefs locally, regionally or globally - these are only
symptoms of much bigger and more profound problem.

At its core, the real root cause of coral reef decline, when objectively
looking at the evidence, seems to be attributable to innate human
behavior characteristics determined by how we are genetically
It raises two key questions.

(1) Does the human species, when operating in very large groups such as
nations, have the genetic capability to live sustainably with its

(2) Does the human species have the genetic ability to create and
systems of national governance that makes sustainable environmental
stewardship possible?

The answers to these two questions have important ramifications for the
future of not only coral reefs, but for ourselves and our children, and
other species that inhabit this planet.

With respect to question (1): We are able to make conservation and
sustainability progress on small scales and when working with small
of people (Birkeland 2007).

But when operating as a large group, such as a nation, the behavioral
characteristics of the human species take on different characteristics,
especially when decision-making is driven by competing national
and economic interests.

While no one has any real quantitative data, one can just look around
see that the forces of environmental degradation and destruction in the
world are many orders of magnitude greater than our conservation
and, as a result, our best collective global environmental stewardship
efforts fall short of global sustainable living (Speth 2008).

In regard to question (2): Our every day experience in the United States
(and in many other countries) informs us that the state of our
where wealthy business and special interests use campaign financing,
lobbying, and media control to manipulate government policy and public
perceptions is not a viable system for conserving coral reefs or for
sustainable living because it is predicated on the fact that; "He who
the political trump card wins" (i.e., gets the corporate tax break, the
favorable legislation, the permit to pollute, or the favorable "blind
It is a great system for creating corporate profit and socializing
at global cost, but it does not produce clean air and water in natural
environments or enhance biodiversity.  Growing marine dead zones at the
mouths of our major rivers are just one big indication of the failure of
"the best system of government money can buy" under which we operate in
United States.

To save our coral reefs, and ourselves, we must truly understand what we
as a human species.  Are we, as history indicates, just like any other
animal that outstrips its carrying capacity and suffers a dramatic
population decline?  Or do we really have the capability, when operating
a very large group such as a nation or group of nations, to govern
effectively and live sustainably with our environment?

If it is the latter, and we all hope it is, we must change the policies
under which we operate and the perceptions that guide them!  The age-old
practice of social groups moving upstream of their neighbors to "give
than receive" polluted water - the perception of eco-winners and losers
has morphed into the situation where the "stream" is entirely circular.
Ouroboros, the mystical serpent eating its tail, there is no
fountainhead -
the world is source-less.  The concept of "others" rooted in every
on the planet is obsolete within a global perspective.  We must design
maintain a system of human governance that balances human population
and consumption with carrying capacity and that accurately values
services in the economic equation and do it fast (Jameson 2006)!

Our children will soon find the true answers to these questions because
climate change challenge is not only a big chemistry experiment, it is
an unprecedented biological and social experiment that will determine if
are really different than other animal species.  Can society evolve from
community to global consciousness?  The results of this seminal
in living will be "the defining moment" for the human species that not
sheds important light onto who we really are with respect to our innate
genetic characteristics and capabilities - but will also define the
legacy in history.

Stephen C. Jameson, PhD.
Chairman, Coral Seas Inc. Integrated Coastal Zone Management
sjameson at coralseas.com


Birkeland C (2007) Pacific islanders' awareness of responsibility. Reef
Encounter 34: 34-35

Jameson SC (2006) How protected are coral reefs? Science

Speth JG (2008) The bridge at the end of the world: capitalism, the
environment, and crossing from crisis to sustainability. Yale Univ
New Haven and London

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