[Coral-List] Economic Valuation and market based conservation

Eugene Shinn eshinn at marine.usf.edu
Wed Aug 10 14:53:30 EDT 2011

Dear Listers,
      My criticism of economic schemes for saving corals and calling 
it "social engineering" apparently raised blood pressures and 
stimulated many thoughtful discussions. I can't respond to postings 
about many reef areas mentioned in the posts, but Rudy's posting 
touches on several events/changes in the Florida Keys that I know 
very well.
      I was born in Key West and began diving in the Keys in 1950. 
There are not many of us left. Because of age and location, I 
observed many historical and sociological changes leading to the 
present. Even though this is a rather long read, here is some history 
as seen through cynical eyes. Keys history suggests possible ways 
Keys history affected coral growth. One must first realize that the 
Florida Keys have been a magnet for people running away from 
something since the first pirates and later loyalists from the 
Bahamas. Key West for most of its history was like a foreign country 
more closely allied to Cuba than the US and people running from 
something are still arriving. First some diving and social history.
      When I began driving from Miami to go diving in the early 1950s, 
the only gas station between Homestead and Key West was in Marathon. 
The Last Chance Bar and Grill off US 1 in Homestead was almost the 
last chance. The Overseas Liquor store in Marathon was the other one. 
This was a time  when bay bottom mud was being pumped up to create 
Duck Key and Key Colony Village, and other Keys were being enlarged 
and cut with canals. 
       There were about 20 hardcore divers spear fishing in the Keys 
at that time. We pretty much knew each other because we often met at 
the same Miami fish markets and restaurants selling our fish. 
AAU-sponsored spear fishing contests were held somewhere in the Keys 
every year. One could launch a boat at places like the Gulf Stream 
Club on Garden Cove or other out-of-the-way places with little worry 
that your car and trailer might be stolen. If you carried your 6-hp 
outboard in the trunk, as I did, you could rent a wooden skiff for 3 
dollars a day. There were no dive shops or dive boats. "Aqua lungs" 
were beginning to appear, but most skin divers could not afford them. 
The greatest deterrent to Keys diving and fishing was the mosquitoes. 
Getting from car to safely offshore was painful.
      Some roadside shops sold a few conch shells and coral but there 
were few tourists. Mosquitoes kept them in their cars. The Coast 
Guard was still dynamiting coral to open a channel for supply boats 
that supplied the men living on lighthouses. About 5 people manned 
most lighthouses. Carysfort had telephone communications to shore and 
the remains of the cable are still in the access channel.
      Motels were few and far between, and water barely trickled from 
showerheads. It came from a 12-inch-diameter pipe that ran from 
Homestead to Key West. Keys well water was brackish. Lack of water 
and periodic hurricanes such as Donna in 1960 and Betsy in 1965 kept 
development in check. The granddaddy of all hurricanes, of course, 
was the Labor Day Storm of 1935. It wiped out Flagler's railroad, 
killed more than 400 people, and remained on the minds of many Keys 
residents. But what about the coral reefs?
      In the late 1950s, Dr. Gill Voss (one of my professors at UM) 
became concerned that the growing numbers of shell and coral 
collectors were collecting excessive amounts of coral. Few knew how 
fast corals grew, although the Carnegie Institute laboratory at 
Loggerhead Key, Dry Tortugas, had determined growth rates in the 
1920s and 1930s. Voss published many articles that helped lead to 
creation of John Pennekamp State Park. The Park was named after 
Pennekamp because as Editor of the Miami Herald newspaper, he had 
played a major role in creating Everglades National Park. National 
Park rules prevented parks from being named after people. Ironically, 
the main purpose of the State Park was to prevent spear fishing. 
There had long been a war going on between Conchs (the name for Keys 
and Key West residents) and charter boat captains, and young spear 
fishermen from Miami. These young divers, including me, brought 
little money and competed for the local fish. They were socially very 
different. One diver I knew was actually murdered by lobster 
fishermen. No one was prosecuted. Interestingly, very few charter 
boat operators or lobster fishermen could swim or cared about 
learning. Fellow fishermen ridiculed them whenever one accidentally 
fell in the water. They literally looked down on those who donned 
masks (we called them face plates) and flippers. Hardcore divers 
scorned snorkels. They were for tourists and the usually had 
Ping-Pong balls or flaps on the top. So when did the major changes in 
the Keys begin and why?
     Major changes began in the 1970s. First came the 36-inch water 
pipe to Key West. Motels and other businesses at last had sufficient 
water. Next came aerial spraying of toxic chemicals to control 
mosquitoes, and coincidentally butterflies. Additionally, and what I 
think most important, no hurricanes struck the Keys between 1965 and 
Andrew in 1992. Fortunately, Andrew missed the heart of the Keys. 
Burger Kings, McDonalds gas stations and marinas popped up by the 
later part of the 1970s. The biggest monetary change occurred when 
the square groupers arrived. Square grouper was the local name for 
bales of pot. Pot, smuggling, and later cocaine, brought sudden 
wealth, and almost overnight many lobster fishermen began driving 
Mercedes and purchased fleets of boats and thousands of traps. Motels 
and marinas enlarged and property values skyrocketed. Homes, 
property, and boats were being bought with suitcases of hard cash 
while beer trucks transported weed northward on US 1. Illegal aliens 
flooded in, leading to creation of roadblocks on US 1. They were 
usually right next to the Last Chance Bar and Grill. Inspecting car 
trunks revealed the true extent of drug smuggling so periodic 
roadblocks persisted. Roadblocks of course impacted tourism, leading 
to establishment of the so-called Conch Republic in 1981. Creating 
the Republic and threatening to secede from the Union was a joke but 
the term Conch Republic stuck and proudly remains today. To avoid the 
roadblock, smugglers could telephone the Last Chance Bar and learn if 
one was in place. Some Keys politicians and public employees could 
not resist easy money. Some roads to nowhere were constructed. The 
one on Sugarloaf Key was covered with skid marks where small planes 
landed to unload. It was a very different place worthy of many Jimmy 
Buffett songs. A pirate turns 40 became popular.
      The exact dates escape me but a Federal court ruling limited the 
State's offshore jurisdiction to 3 miles on the Atlantic side of the 
Keys. Pennekamp State Park could no longer protect the best reef 
areas farther offshore. That change in Federal law provided an 
opportunity for NOAA's new Sanctuary Program to take over 
jurisdiction of unprotected offshore waters. By then, the National 
Marine Sanctuary Program had been created under the Department of 
Commerce to protect the site of the Civil War ship Monitor. 
Establishment of that site was followed by a proposal to create the 
Texas Flower Garden Reef Sanctuary; however, enactment took many 
years because NOAA was up against Texas politics and the petroleum 
industry. Sanctuaries were also being proposed in many areas 
previously selected as potential oil exploration areas. There was 
much angst within the petroleum industry and on Capitol Hill. But 
that's another long story.
        Meanwhile, the Key Largo Marine Sanctuary was created after 
much wrangling, and State rangers were deputized to patrol both State 
and Federal waters. I was on the boat and took photos of the ceremony 
when John Pennekamp cosigned the official documents. At that time, 
corals were almost pristine.
      After the new water pipe, initiation of mosquito spraying, lack 
of hurricanes, and the creation of the Sanctuary, the upper Keys 
became a magnet for out-of-state divers. They came in droves! Dive 
shops sprang up, as did dive charter boats. The war with line-fishing 
charter boats was over. Scuba diving became king!
       Meanwhile, business leaders in the lower Keys took note and 
looked longingly at the activity and money lavished on the upper 
Keys. After some preliminary studies, NOAA next proposed 
establishment of the Looe Key Sanctuary. Several long and heated 
public hearings ensued. Most Conch Republic residents because of 
their independent nature resisted anything associated with the 
Federal government. Signs everywhere said, "Just Say No To NOAA." 
Some faded signs still exist. NOAA left but returned again thereafter 
and held the public hearings in Miami to avoid all the flack. Keys 
residents still did not want it, but finally the last bill Jimmy 
Carter signed on the night before he left office created the Looe Key 
Marine Sanctuary. Soon after, the first manager got busted and was 
fired for spear fishing at Looe Key.
      Keys Conchs know the rest of the story. Sentiment began to 
change as non-Conchs (they are known as freshwater conchs) moved to 
the Republic. Population exploded, business flourished, and adult 
bookstores appeared on every major Key. Sometimes I wonder what the 
Keys real attraction really is?
     On November 16, 1990, a new bill was signed that converted the 
entire Florida Keys into a National Marine Sanctuary. The final 
management plan was completed May 1993. It should be noted that the 
Sanctuary is under the Department of Commerce, which is 
philosophically and politically distinct from nearby Everglades Park 
and Biscayne National Park, which are under the Department of 
Interior. Pennekamp State Park still exists, as does the Looe Key 
Sanctuary, and there are several other State-owned land areas. In 
addition, there are Fish and Wildlife-protected areas nestled within 
the Marine Sanctuary. Fish and Wildlife is also under Department of 
        So what has all this activity created? By 1990, there were 
30,000 septic tanks, about 10,000 cesspits (septic tanks without 
bottoms), and dozens of small sewage treatment plants outfitted with 
a total of 1,000 shallow injection wells to receive treated sewage. A 
regionalized sewage system is presently under construction, but green 
lawns flourish thanks to chemical fertilizers and weed killers. 
Mosquito spraying remains routine and I am told some butterflies are 
making a comeback. To my knowledge, no significant studies have been 
conducted to determine the effect of mosquito spraying on coral and 
the marine ecosystem. I conclude that even hardcore environmentalists 
draw the line between which organisms live and die. All these changes 
came rapidly, and one might at this point ask, did creating the 
Sanctuary to save the reefs have a reverse effect by publicizing and 
attracting more and more divers, businesses, residents, hotels, and 
motels, etc., to the Florida Keys? On other hand, did people come 
because of the unprecedented 27-year-absence of hurricanes? Or, could 
it have been the sudden abundance of freshwater and lack of 
mosquitoes? Was it the resultant increase in human sewage and 
chemicals that contributed to reef demise? Or was it caused by runoff 
of chemicals from agriculture, so-called "Big Sugar," to the north? 
Clearly overfishing explains the dwindling fish population, but 
whether that affected coral growth is controversial. Most Keys 
citizens have selected a favorite villain and some would like to see 
a barricade at the entrance to the Keys, or at least a tollgate. I 
personally maintain that a major factor has been the absence of big 
hurricanes since 1965. Periodic hurricanes, such as those that 
occurred repeatedly before 1965, would have greatly changed Keys 
history and development.
      Nowadays, many argue coral demise is due to global warming, or 
the newest villain, alkalinity shift (a.k.a. ocean acidification), 
but they forget that major coral mortality began back when leading 
scientists were predicting global cooling.
      As every coral scientist knows, the demise of the coral reefs 
began in the late 1970s and peaked in 1983 and 1984. Coral bleaching 
came to Florida later in 1986-87. Coral demise was occurring 
throughout the Caribbean in the early 1980s, even around islands with 
few people. The black-spined sea urchin Diadema suffered at least 90 
percent mortality everywhere in the Caribbean. The urchins literally 
died off in a period of one year during 1983, about the same year 
seafan disease appeared. Many acres of elkhorn and staghorn corals 
died within a few months adjacent to the Finger Lakes Marine 
Laboratory on remote San Salvador, Bahamas. The rapid die-off that 
happened in 1983 was well documented by the scientists at the Finger 
Lakes lab.
      In retrospect, 1983 and 1984 were the banner years for African 
dust transport to the Caribbean as well as Acropora coral demise most 
everywhere in the Caribbean. I am reminded that the sponge industry 
suffered a similar Caribbean-wide demise in 1938 and later in the 
Gulf of Mexico in the late 1940s. The causes of the sponge deaths 
were not determined, and the events have long been forgotten. So what 
really caused reef demise and the earlier sponge deaths? Could it be 
a combination of factors? Many scientists and agencies seem to have 
their favorite candidates that shift with time. They generally prefer 
an activity such as anchor damage and boat groundings that can be 
controlled through fines. Natural biological cycles or the African 
dust hypothesis are not acceptable villains.
      There is much we still don't know, and currently little research 
is aimed at experimentally determining causes. Finger pointing will 
likely continue until the coral bounces back and everyone can claim 
victory. I admit this is a personal rather cynical history not likely 
found in most publications such as those published by Chambers of 
Commerce and various agencies. Does any of this history relate to the 
original question of saving reefs through economic means? Will an 
economic valuation and market-based conservation approach as proposed 
for a mini-session at the next ICRS prevent a "tragedy of the 
commons?" Will these schemes actually save the corals? Who will 
profit and who will lose? I wonder if the corals will benefit.



No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
Marine Science Center (room 204)
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
<eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
Tel 727 553-1158---------------------------------- 

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