[Coral-List] ***SPAM*** RE: Strobes blind seahorses?

Garnet Hooper garnethooper at hotmail.com
Tue Apr 6 06:50:16 EDT 2010

Dear Mel (and all),

I'm going to play devil's advocate here. I don't think this is as 
off-topic as many may have initially thought when you consider the pygmy
 seahorse. Due to the lack of data on pygmy seahorse species (e.g. 
Hippocampus bargibanti), they are described as "data deficient" in terms
 of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (addressing Gene's comment 
that "maybe they should be listed as threatended?"). These sea horses will be of 
particularly interest to ReefCheck Malaysia as Several of the most 
commonly dived sites in East Malaysia (e.g. SeaVentures Mabul, Sibuan 
Island) have sea fans with known pygmy seahorses that the dive companies
 are aware of. This means that you literally get queues of divers with 
cameras waiting their turn at these fan corals to take pictures of the 
same pygmy seahorses. At SeaVentures, this is particularly regular as 
SeaVentures is a dive platform and it's only a few hundred yards of the 
main dive resorts on Mabul and hence this site gets dived by several 
groups every day. As seahorses are visual feeders, and as they've only relatively recently been discovered, this could be 
of some importance locally. Especially as they
 are also very highly desired prizes for
 underwater photographers.  I think in this case not only should the 
effect on the eyesight of these seahorses be considered, but also the 
effect of the strobe and divers on their habitat - i.e. the fan coral. 
As with previous answers, I'm not suggesting strobes do blind seahorses,
 but there is the possibility in such cases, and the more likely 
possibility that this causes stress and reduces feeding efficiency. Anecdotal evidence suggests that regular 
photography may have some sort of negative impact on the coral itself (i.e. even the dive companies have noted the degradation in quality of 
the fan corals in
 comparison to others found in the vicinity over time since they found 
the pygmy seahorses). Yes, the fan
 coral gets degraded from bits being accidentally broken off by divers, 
but the health of the fan coral may also be being affected (e.g. less 
vibrant colour) - from the physical contact caused by camera equipment 
touching coral tissues (but not strong enough to break off branches) or 
by the flash from the strobe, perhaps? is there any research on this? At
 this point I have to mention that many underwater photographers are 
very careful about ensuring they don't damage their subjects or their 
habitats, and there are guidelines for underwater photographers to this 
effect. I also have to mention that certain local dive companies who show their clients the pygmy seahorses do try and restrict the effect by requesting that divers only take 1-2 photos per person (although it's obvliously easy for divers to get carried away), and several of the fan corals are at depths where bottom time is restricted (30-40m). However, some damage will inevitably occur, and not all impacts 
are known/recognised.   

I felt I had to respond in this case as the trend of responses was 
veering towards "the level of impact is so small it's unimportant so 
it's a ridiculous waste of time considering it". I would like to remind 
those who submitted such "glib" responses that as scientists we need to 
remember to take into account regional and species-specific importance 
of impacts. I am a marine ecologist working in the commercial world, and
 conduct impact assessments and monitoring studies for industries such 
as aquaculture, marine aggregate extraction (dredging) and renewables, 
and as part of that I also talk to the fishing industry. The response of
 the forum was disappointing in that I often hear similar responses 
regarding benthic marine habitats or fisheries - "there's plenty there, 
so any impact is obviously unimportant". In comparison to the surface of
 the Earth (510,072,000 km2), the surface area of the Great Barrier Reef
 (344,400 km2) is only 0.0067% - so is that unimportant (again, 
addressing Gene's stats)?? Maybe we should stop protecting that? Or any 
other smaller reef system as coral reefs cover an insignificant area 
(< 1%) of the Earth's surface... ??? No-one on this list is likely to agree with those statements, but for someone unaware of the importance of coral reefs (if there's anyone left who doesn't) they may be swayed by the stats... 

Even if such questions are not be globally critical, only affect a very 
small percentage of local regions, and are not regarded as "cutting 
edge" science, they are obviously of interest to a number of people - 
and hence isn't the purpose of such forums the dissemination of 
information and purely to ask questions in case anyone knows any 
answers? I appreciate that the main aim of this forum is the linking of 
expertise in order to push forward the boundaries of scientific 
thinking, but the forum is also a way many people working in coral reef 
ecology and coral science (especially those in remote areas) can access 
academics and academic knowledge - a direct link to the experts in the 
field of coral science. And as the saying goes - "there's no such thing 
as a stupid question - just a stupid answer". Many of the responses were
 obviously of interest and very useful - but for those that weren't so 
helpful - please, even if you think such questions are stupid, they are 
obviously important enough to someone or them to ask, and hence it would
 be great if you could remember that. If you're not interested in the 
question, you have the option of just not answering it and even deleting it. Many of us listers for whom the question bears no direct relevence often 
find the question and the answers interesting enough to read them.  

On the other hand, I also understand the need to prevent e-mailboxes being filled with responses to what may be seen as "irrelevent" questions when many listers may already have hundreds of emails a day..

However, I do think there is room for the occassional alternative question, and 
forum members should not be deterred from asking questions that are 
important to them - even if they may only have local significance. After
 all, the forum is a fantastic resource, and of great importance to a 
wide range of members.

Kind regards,

Garnet Hooper Ph.D. 

Marine Ecologist

> From: Mel at briscoe.com
> To: 
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> Date: Sat, 3 Apr 2010 09:07:46 
> Subject: [Coral-List] Strobes blind seahorses?
 Thanks to all of you who took the time to respond to this query. It is
 important that the knowledgeable scientists offer their input in these
 public-related issues; this is the kind of thing the public really 
> about, and letting them live on an urban myth is not 
helpful to them or to
> the science. 
 I believe the mean/median/modal response to my query was: there is no
 specific science to support the blinding statement, but there is plenty
> anecdotal and behavioral evidence to suggest that continued 
> photography and other interruptions cannot possibly be 
helpful, is surely
> not neutral, and is likely harmful to the 
seahorse, if only to interrupt
> their foraging and provide some 
additional stress to their environment. 
 So the message to the photographers is almost identical - be judicious 
> careful in your use of strobes, and in your photography in 
general - but the
> reason is more one of avoid stressing the 
animal, not a made-up reason about
> blinding the little guy. I'm 
OK with this.
> I'm sorry a few 
posters on this topic felt it was off-topic for this board.
Perhaps the on-topic version of the question would have been: is it
 important and appropriate for working scientists to engage in public
 communications? Should scientific errors and misinformation in the 
media and
> public domain be addressed and corrected by 
> Mel Briscoe
 (retired from Woods Hole, NOAA, and ONR, now at Ocean Leadership)
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