[Coral-List] coral reef ecosystem protection

Szmant, Alina szmanta at uncw.edu
Mon Nov 2 17:12:55 EST 2009

Dear Curtis:

I don't disagree with all of what you write, but I want to set the record straight.  I do not think you have any idea what universities or university faculty and researchers are about:

1)  Universitties DO NOT have millions and billions of dollars.  Most are quite strapped economically and trying not to lay people off.   The only funds "we" have are what our legislators give us, which is less and less each year; the monies paid by students for their tuition and fees; and whatever we can ellicit as donations and endowments from wealthy people.  Most of the latter come with stainless steel cables attached, and cannot just be used for whatever the faculty want.

2)  Those of us who work for universities are paid to do specific things, not just whatever we want.  Mostly, we are paid to teach, up to 4 or 5 courses per semester (luckily I don't have that kind of teaching load but many colleagues do), and not just anything we want to teach, but our core curriculum as well as specialty courses in our discipline, to all kinds of undergrads.  And we are paid to serve on committees and do lots of paperwork.  In my coral reef ecology course I do cover anthropogenic effects, overfishing, pollution etc, (and I require my students to subscribe to Coral List for the semester) but those are only a few lectures and a small part of what I teach, and will always be that way because of what the course is about.

3)  Some small portion of the time for which we are paid, we are encouraged to do community service and outreach, and many of us do as much as time and resources allow, and most on our own time and dime.  We have NO MONEY for any of that.  The only funds we have access to for anything we do outside of teaching is by getting grants, and grants also come with strings attached:  there are specific problems to be addressed and specific measurements or experiments to be conducted.  Most of them are not related to conservation or restoration because there's little funding for that.  We can't just take the grant money and do advocacy with it or we wouldn't ever get another research dime.

Thank you for the advocacy that you do.  From our time together on the TAC I know how dedicated you are, but please don't give scientists a bad rap or expect us to be able to do things that others can't do.  We are just hard-working, good intentioned mortals, often quite tired and stressed, with a good scientific background, not magicians.

Alina Szmant

Dr. Alina M. Szmant
Professor of Marine Biology
Coral Reef Research Program, Center for Marine Science
University of North Carolina Wilmington
5600 Marvin K. Moss Lane
Wilmington NC 28409
Tel:  (910)962-2362; fax: (910)962-2410;  cell:  (910)200-3913
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml..noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Curtis Kruer [kruer at 3rivers.net]
Sent: Monday, November 02, 2009 12:44 PM
To: 'Pam Hallock-Muller'; coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] coral reef ecosystem protection


        I guess it was inevitable that local coral reef ecosystem protection
and management would eventually become secondary to addressing a global
issue (climate change), as if a relative handful of reef scientists could
result in a change in human behavior that got us in this mess.  I never
meant to demean or blame reef scientists (and definitely not teachers) for
anything, I just reacted to the expressions of amazement by others here when
it was announced that the #s of believers (and I'm a believer) are now
actually declining and that reef scientists getting the word out about
threats to reefs worldwide  wasn't enough to turn global beliefs around.
For several reasons scientists don't wield the power and influence they
think they do, they just use up most of the available money. As suggested by
others, and based on my 35 years of agency and conservation work, I too
believe the system is broken.

        But here's a thought.  If you really believe that threats exist to
reef ecosystems do what concerned advocates and scientist/advocates try to
do every day with their limited funding and resources.  Every time in an
region of reef ecosystems you hear of a local proposal to deepen a harbor or
widen a navigation channel, build or expand a cruise ship port, locate an
industrial facility or a huge subdivision in a low-lying coastal area,
change zoning or expand urban boundaries into sensitive areas, "renourish" a
beach,  build more nuclear reactors on the coast, deal with large volumes
(millions gpd) of sewage on small islands in reef habitat by using injection
wells that only extend 60 feet deep, expand a commercial marina, create new
navigation channels through shallow seagrass habitat, and the like get in
your car (or carpool) and go to the meetings where decisions are made and
speak up - like true advocates do.  Write a strong letter or a bunch of
letters and use that great e-technology, make a bunch of phone calls. Learn
the law.  Address issues like cumulative impacts, organize others and don't
let up. Don't just go to the "big" meetings, got to them all.  Volunteer to
help out the groups of your choice and don't hesitate to volunteer to
testify with all your expertise (the learning of which was typically paid
for with taxpayer $$$) when push comes to shove and true advocates end up in
court fighting the good fight.

        Research institutions and universities have millions and millions of
$$$ to spend while environmental law clinics and local civic and
conservation groups go begging for $$$. But believe me that's where the
action is and that's where gains are made. We have the science we need and
have had for a number of years.

        Stressors and impacts are widespread and increasing but the status
quo seems to be OK with many in government.  Sanctuaries and national parks
and refuges haven't begun to keep up with the increasing stressors by
implementing new protective measures (not shifting the baselines) even
though that should be the standard, and leads to the belief by many that the
system is broken. Many with knowledge to effect change spend most of their
time sucking up to funding sources, and once funding starts the ability to
disagree or argue a contrary position (and debate IS healthy) is typically
lost. The go along to get along mentality is extremely damaging to natural
resources everywhere and I refuse to play.

        Let's protect coral reef ecosystems on a local level, not get lost
trying to solve the world's problems and then pitch a fit and go home when
we can't.  If I insulted any educators I apologize.  And I get nauseated
also - just for different reasons.

        Thanks for listening and see you at those meetings and legal
proceedings.  And as far as "scientists are voices crying in the
wilderness", the main problem is that only scientists really believe that.

Curtis Kruer

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Pam
Sent: Saturday, October 31, 2009 8:42 AM
To: Bill Allison
Cc: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov; Faerthen Felix
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] big high pedestal


I get almost nauseated every time I hear/see someone "blame" scientists and
teachers for the lack of science education.

Americans have long been schizophrenic about education and intellectual
issues in general (read Wallace Stegner), and science in particular (think
Scopes Trial). As a child in rural America, I recall neighbors discussing
higher education as something only men who were disabled (e.g., polio
victims) or inept would pursue; a "real man" worked with his hands. School
was for the 3 Rs. The anti-intellectual/anti-science undercurrent in America
was reinforced in the late 1940s into the 1960s, with the
government-sponsored campaigns and regulations aimed at getting women out of
the workforce (where they were encouraged to go during WWII) and into the
"consumer force". Women who sought higher education were tracked into
elementary education, where they were told not to worry their pretty little
heads about science and math because it was "too hard". Public university
degree programs were legally allowed to reject women until 1972 (I was
rejected from at least one graduate program specifically because they did
not accept women - they told me that in the rejection letter). Thus, despite
the "space race" and an emphasis on science and math in the 1960s, education
programs were turning out eager young elementary teachers who had been
taught that science and math were "too hard", which too many promptly taught
their students, both boys and girls. Combine that with the reluctance of
teachers to even mention anything related to evolution or reproduction to
avoid the wrath of parents and administrators, and we now have a largely
science-illiterate nation.. (My sister, one of those elementary teachers,
was forbidden by her Principal from showing fossils to her 5th grades
because he claimed that "fossils are only theories".)

By the 1980s, the anti-education undercurrent was greatly reinforced by an
ever growing portion of the American population with minimal
education in science and math. That "upwelled" into the election of a
leader whose attitude towards the environment was "if you've seen one
redwood tree, you've seen them all". For much of the past 30 years,
anti-intellectual, anti-science attitudes have been mainstream
nationwide. This has been especially true the past 8 years, when beliefs and
"gut-feelings" consistently trumped evidence and expertise.

For example, here in Florida, many public schools essentially stopped
teaching science for six years starting in 1999 because science wasn't
initially included on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests. I
personally had a 15-year outreach program "killed" outright by the FCAT.

- my group was not longer welcome at schools except one day per year for the
"Great American Teach In", where we compete with every other
possible topic for half-hour blocks of classroom time (as compared to
the previous program aimed at reinforcing specific learning units).

Individuals and groups interested in power and resource dominance are
threatened by an educated and informed populace/workforce. Now the
"mainstream media" is completely owned by those groups and daily
reinforce the "belief" that belief is more important than evidence. And that
is who is "informing" the American public on global change issues.

Scientists are "voices crying in the wilderness", except the wilderness is
now urban.

Pam Hallock Muller

Pamela Hallock Muller, Ph.D., Professor
College of Marine Science
University of South Florida
140 Seventh Ave. S.
St.Petersburg, FL 33701-5016
Phone: 727-553-1567
FAX: 727-553-1189
e-mail: pmuller at marine.usf.edu
Website: http://www.marine.usf.edu/reefslab

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