[Coral-List] Economic Valuation and market based conservation

Szmant, Alina szmanta at uncw.edu
Thu Aug 11 13:55:15 EDT 2011

Hi Gene:

Nice summary of the old times and history of the Keys.  I remember the Overseas Highway back in the 1950s when my family drove to Key West to take the ferry to Havana.  There were a few road-side stands with clumps of bleached Acropora cervicornis (no I did know the scientific name back then but I can clearly see the corals in my mind) and a few small A. palmata.  But I was most impressed as a child by the dried coconuts made into pirate faces!

The first time I went diving in Keys was 1977 and in the Bahamas (Nassau) 1971, and coming from living and working in La Parguera PR, where there were still lots of live coral (70+ % live cover) and fishes, and hardly any algae except in grassbeds and mangroe lagoons, I confess I was not impressed by what I saw, and attributed the differences to the marginal latitude and colder winters.  In PR we didn't start seeeing major loss of coral until after the 1987 bleaching events, and I was impressed with the amount of dead coral along the Andros reef line facing crystal clear Tongue of the Ocean, including unihabited Jolters Keys, in 1986-1987.  Mid 80's I had a chance to explore other parts of the Bahamas along Eleuthera, and was also impressed by high rates of bioerosion and partial mortality even in areas of minimal human presence.  My first work in the Florida Keys was on Carysfort in 1982 when the reef was covered by dense thickets of A cervicornis and palmata ..  We had a real cold winter December of 1983, and when I went back to look for the corals, spring of 1984, they weren't there.

While I am not discounting the potential negative influence of Keys development on the state of corals of the Florida Keys, it appears to me that bigger/more broadscale factors have been at work.  Could be Sahara dust was bringing in harmful substances including pathogens in the early 1980s, but a lot of work on that angle has not produced any conclusive evidence that I am aware of.  I still put my last 10 chips on the global warming square as being the factor that tipped the cart on top of overfishing and local sedimentation/water quality issues.  Unfortuneately, the interest in getting a better handle on coral reproduction and recruitment came late in the game once there wasn't much coral recruitment occuring on many reefs, and so now we can't really interpret what we measure as present rates with century back patterns.  We do know that places like Curacao and Bonaire have much higher densities of juvenile corals that places like PR and FL, but now these southern locations are going down-hill real fast as they have also been hit by severe bleaching this past year.  Thus we are losing our chance for comparative ecology with the loss of these until recently, fairly rich coral populations.

Now that I too am retired, it will be up to the younger scientists to see if they can figure all of this out.  Back in 1984, as I was applying for a different position with the University of Miami, I was asked by a terrestrial type within the Biology Dept., who had little regard for marine biology, and even less for anyone studying corals and coral reefs (we were obviously just sun-and-fun types), what I would work on if all the corals died:  My reply was that maybe that would at last shake loose some research funds!  It's unfortunate that both of these events came to pass, but the fudning came to late for coral reef ecologists to get enough work done on reefs before we were already studying sick systems (at least for much of the Caribbean)..

So much we have learned, so much more to learn, and not so much time to learn it in!



P.S.  I agree with you that the social valuation tack has not and will not work, because the problem is bigger than just coral reefs, and there at 7 Billion contributors to the problem (and growing fast)

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 Eugene Shinn [eshinn at marine.usf.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 2:53 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Economic Valuation and market  based conservation

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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