[Coral-List] Coral Reef Degradation

Gino Sabatini ginosabatini at yahoo.com
Tue May 18 06:44:33 EDT 2010

I did some diving with a group of tourists from a hotel dive center in Sharm El Sheikh (Na’ama bay - North Red Sea) last weekend (2 x 50 min) maybe half km offshore - strictly for recreational purposes on the shallow reef flat. Live coral cover couldn’t have been more than 30-40%, and I’m being generous. All divers were impressed with the fish! Especially those from northern climes. And these were all nice, obviously intelligent people.
The way things are going I don’t this ecosystem has a chance to survive. I think env scientist need to begin repackaging their message. Ecosystem/env degradation is not solely an environmental issue. Environmental degradation is a socio-economic and/or public health issue, and often involves both.
Environmental “news” is too often reported without proper explanations of consequences. For example, “polar bears are dying because of climate change”, or “the world’s oceans are rising”, or “the Amazon forest is disappearing”… Statistics on the number of threatened species in the wild, or the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere leaves the average person (including politicians), if not unmoved, certainly not more shocked than the report of another murder in a distant suburb on the 6:00 o’clock news.
For instance, we all (on coral list) know tens of millions of people are dependentupon reefs as a ‘pay-check’; over one billion people (that’s almost 1 person in 7) are dependent, directly or indirectly, on the fisheries associated with coral reefs. One reference I fell on states that coral reefs are responsible for worldwide goods and services valued at approximately 375 billion US$. Economically therefore, this ecosystem is one of the more valuable on the planet. The message should become that if coral reef degradation continues thenall those people dependent on this habitat will find themselves without ‘work’ and like many people in developing countries they will then find themselves dependent on financial aid from international organizations, and therefore dependentupon us.
A NOAAdoc also informs us that “...local economies also receive billions of dollars from visitors to reefs through diving tours, recreational fishing trips, and other businesses based near reef ecosystems. Every year, scuba divers, snorkelers, and fishermen visit U.S. coral reefs to enjoy their abundant sea life. In the 1990s, over four million tourists visited the Florida Keys each year, contributing $1.2 billion annually to tourism-related services. In fact, the Florida Keys are the number one dive destination in the world. In Hawaii, a state with many coral reefs, one popular reef alone is visited by over three million tourists each year. In the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, over 90 percent of new economic development is dependent on coastal tourism, including reef tourism.”
The above is the kind of message that must appear in the news: env degradation should be discussed in terms of the international language, i.e. money.
Another example:
Lobster shell disease has spread from southern New England waters all the way to Maine and has now reached Canadian waters in the Maritime region. Lobster shell disease does not taint the meat for human consumption but shells are so unattractive that they are too unappealing or unappetizing to serve in restaurants. Now if I told someone “Some studies suggest the lobsters may be contracting the disease from alkyl-phenols, chemical by-products from industrial sources. These compounds are found in everything from detergents to surfactants, to paints, and plastics. Such compounds are disposed of in the environment through untreated sewage and effluents which ultimately end up at sea, especially in coastal areas. In fact, alkyl-phenols have been found in higher concentrations in lobsters with shell disease than in unaffected lobsters.” I’m sure I’d get a blank look from that person.
However, if I told that same person (and this isthe only stats I found on the net):
Accordingto the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, in 1999 the lobster industry in this state alone generated 30 million US$ and employed 425 fishers. Four years later, the industry generated 16.7 million US$ and employed only 279 fishers. The reason for the drastic reduction in both revenue and employed fishers is lobster shell disease. And then I add: Dumping of industrial pollution at sea causes lobster shell disease....
I think there would be more of a reaction from that person, and maybe even public reaction (including from some politicians) to stopping any type of dumping in the seas. 
I think env scientists should begin relating their findings in terms of public health or socio-economic consequences so that env issues can gain the attention of a broader audience.
Gino Sabatini
Marine science consultant

From: Sarah Frias-Torres <sfrias_torres at hotmail.com>
To: melissae.keyes at yahoo.com; coral list <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Sent: Mon, April 19, 2010 5:26:36 PM
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Coral Reef Degradation

Melissa,where to begin.....
There is a wonderful book titled "wildlife films" by Derek Bouse. One of the comments in the book states that many wildlife films or nature documentaries are deceptive, in that they provide a view of the natural world which is still pristine, untouched and full of life, even if the filmmakers have to go to the ends of the Earth. In recent nature series,(Life, Planet Earth, etc) there is a snippet on how difficult it was for the filmmakers to do their job; but still, the perception of endless abundance and that all is working perfectly still remains in the general public.
Then, there is the pervasive problem of shifting baselines. I recently have a close encounter on that front at the Miami International airport. Billboard #1: "Get to know your neighbors: learn more about southeast Florida coral reef treasures" from REEF; Billboard # 2: "Coral reefs are thousands of years old. Respect your elders" from the US Virgin Islands, with a NOAA logo. The messages are engaging in both billboards, but the photograph provided in both cases show a coral reef in really bad shape, with no living stony coral, and a small school of fish pretty low in the food chain.. I don't doubt the PR department in both cases were looking for the most inspiring photograph, but considering this might be the only conservation message thousands of airline passengers will get, I wonder if we should provide the reference of how a healthy coral reef in south Florida (or the Virgin Islands)  looks like (if we still can find it), or, preventing deception
 from the unsuspecting tour
ist diver that might not encounter such pristine site, do a before-after comparison, with pristine vs degraded and say where we are going.  
Still, like any Hollywood movie, you need a happy ending. There is this message from nature photographer Sebastiao Salgado who says about 45 % of the world still remains in a natural state, and we should concentrate on preserving it that way. So there is some hope.

Sarah Frias-Torres, Ph.D. http://independent.academia.edu/SarahFriasTorres

> Date: Sun, 18 Apr 2010 11:34:31 -0700
> From: melissae..keyes at yahoo.com
> To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> Subject: [Coral-List] Coral Reef Degradation
> Hello, Listers,
> The public doesn't really believe the oceans and coral reefs are in so much trouble.  They see the beautiful programs like Blue Planet and even when the divers go diving, they can't see much more than the pretty fish.  Dive buddies of mine think I'm nuts when I point at coral.
> It will be interesting to see the turn out for the Disney movie that promises to give money to Save the Reefs if you attend the first few days.  Funny, I've looked at the trailers, and don't see any images of corals anywhere.  Where did they find all those big critters and huge schools of fish???
> Movie opens April 22.
> cheers,
> Melissa
>  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
> Melissa E. Keyes
> St. Croix, 
> U.S.Virgin Islands
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