[Coral-List] "sarcasm, endless disagreements, personal attacks..."

Michael Risk riskmj at mcmaster.ca
Fri Dec 10 21:46:32 EST 2010

Hi Jim, fellow coral-listers.

I have just returned from a coastal conference in Iran, from which I watched the postings to coral-list with falling spirits and rising gorge. A couple of events in Iran serve as microcosms which reinforce my belief that the coral reef community will not be able to gather itself together in time to be effective in preventing the extinction of our chosen ecosystem.

Conferences in Iran begin and end with poetry readings, usually from Persia’s glorious history. At this conference, Mohamad Reza Shokri (ex-UBC) presented the results of transplantation of more than 4,000 coral colonies in Chabahar Bay.

I had been to Chabahar four years previous, and had noted the presence of corals there that were progressively being buried by sediment from development activities. I naively said (little did I know!), well boys, those corals will die-if you don’t get them out of here.

A team from a local university, with a very small budget, went in a year later. They were able to achieve success rates of >90% survival two years after. They transplanted Porites colonies up to 3m diameter. That is not a typo-3m.

There are a number of complex reasons why this sort of activity is not more general in the “developed” world, but one of these is the role of religion. Islam teaches that there is no firm dividing line between the individual and the environment, and that it is the God-given/Allah-mandated responsibility of each individual to care for and respect their surroundings.

In the West, the religious right has forgotten that the root of “conservative” is “conserve.” Those who wish to be guided by the Bible would do well to remember there is a critical mis-translation in the Aramaic-to-Hebrew-to English process. In the first chapter of Genesis, we are not given “dominion over” but “custody of.” Makes a big difference.

The second example comes from a case the previous year. Iran wanted to develop the world’s largest gas field, the Pars Field, offshore in the Persian Gulf. They negotiated a huge loan from the EU, one of the conditions of which was an environmental protection clause. Baseline surveys were done and an EIA approved.

In due course the Iranians set about developing this field, drilling, laying pipelines, etc. After a year or so a European delegation visited-and it all hit the fan. The Iranians had laid pipelines across coral reefs, and were dredging, creating vast plumes of sediment. The EU held up the funding, development stopped, both sides sat around glaring at each other.

I was brought in to mediate the dispute, which was an unfamiliar role for me. The Iranians pointed out, quite rightly, that the initial baseline surveys had completely missed those inshore reefs (hard to believe-there are km of them) so how were they to know? We agreed that the corals already sent to coral heaven by pipelines and dredging were gone forever, so we concentrated on protecting those that were left. The major threat was sediment stress. I wrote up a set of recommendations, which were agreed to by both sides within a matter of a few days.

I said, SPM values should at no time exceed 10 mg/l. A calibration curve was worked out between SPM and NTU’s (one of the MANY reasons NTU’s need to be abandoned is the need for site-specific correlations). Every day, an independent contractor goes out in a small boat and takes water samples. If the values exceed 10mg/l, all operations shut down until the water clears.

I have NEVER heard of a similar arrangement in the West. The arrangement I suggested for the Gulf would never have been accepted-I can hear the howls from my colleagues right now:

-you didn’t use my method/instrument/brother-in-law.

-why 10? Why not 20? Let’s do a study.

-every reef is different.

-It’s not sediment, it’s grazing.

-we need more work on the subject-let’s form a committee and write a Mission Statement.

So this would never have worked in the West because of bureaucratic inertia and the competing clamour of voices of “experts.”

CIDA is Canada’s foreign development agency. They employ about 1500 people in Ottawa, and hand out $zillions. Of those 1500 employees, there is NOT ONE scientist or engineer. I asked a CIDA maven some years ago why this was the case, and his answer is illustrative:

“We used to have several scientists. Every time we asked two of them for an answer, we got three answers. They could never agree.”

The culture we have created inculcates in us the desire to challenge. The reward system encourages us to publish “new” stuff, which means that there is no scientific endeavour so littered with the debris of re-invented wheels as coral reef science. (How many different coral reef monitoring schemes are out there? The basic process was outlined in 1972.) We are culturally unable to agree, and to coalesce behind and support simple concepts. Perhaps it is time for me to rest my case…



Dr. Michael J Risk
Professor of Biology and Geology

On 2010-12-01, at 8:44 AM, Jim Hendee wrote:

> I usually don't forward messages, rather encourage direct submission,
> but this one is special.
> -------- Original Message --------
> Subject: 	Re: [Coral-List] More La Ninia
> Date: 	Wed, 01 Dec 2010 08:13:09 -0500
> From: 	
> To: 	Jim Hendee <Jim.Hendee at noaa.gov>
> Good morning Jim, I assume you are the editor/manager of the list?  I am writing to you directly, not the list.  I am a coastal engineer, also subscriber to the coastal list sponsored by UDEL.  Earlier this year, I joined coral list, as I have become more involved in artificial reef design, am working more closely with marine biologists...Basically I joined coral list hoping to gain insight/knowledge, and to experience the same type benefits demonstrated by the coastal list.
> What a stark contrast between the two lists.  Where the coastal list provides single threaded, concise announcements/responses, such as information on upcoming events, data, employment opps/resumes, projects, research (is there a paper or research on xyz, if so please share info on subject, etc.), it is not an open forum for sarcasm, endless disagreements, personal attacks, belittling others, questioning their knowledge or lack thereof, questioning the motives of the US Govt in the aftermath of the oil spill, etc....
> My experience with the coral list, unfortunately, has been deeply disappointing and inadvertantly humorous, but in a pitiful way, only a handful of the 20+ daily posts (which I assume are edited for content/appropriateness?) are actually informative (from my perspective).   As an engineer (believe it or not, some of us coastal engineers are also lumped into the tree hugger category), it is precisely this type of preconceived behavior/reputation among environmental professionals that discourages and actually frightens other professionals within the coastal industry of possible project derailment and delays. 
> I sincerely hope you will consider re-evaluating the purpose and functions of the list, and encourage those who disagree/insult repeatedly to take it up between themselves, off list.  Unless the purpose of the list is in fact this sort of thing (ongoing debates), then I will remove myself from the coral debate list, as I have gained very little insight, a few chuckles, and mostly junk mail.
> If you agree with me and wish to post this (which will probably receive the same type of insulting backlash), please do so anonymously, remove my name/email address if it might help you in your efforts to reign in the list.  In my opinion, its in a perpetual state of spirally out of control.
> Thanks for listening,
> ...anonymous...
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