[Coral-List] . Re: $33B Hawaii Reef Economics Value

Douglas Fenner douglasfenner at yahoo.com
Wed Nov 23 20:23:26 EST 2011

    Sorry, this is long.  Don't read it if you don't want to read a long post.

    Gene has touched on something here that I tend to agree with, my impression is that many divers can't tell the difference between a healthy reef and one covered with algae.  He is surely right that they like warm clear water, my bet is that they are most attracted to colorful fish, they also like big fish, and that the reef itself is less important to their experience.  Some surely can tell a reef with lots of coral from one dominated by algae, and truth be told there are a lot of beautiful algae, just look in the algae ID guidebooks the Littlers publish.  Would some kind of social science work with divers to document what they can distinguish and what they like and what they would prefer be worth the effort?  I agree with the idea another person had that divers need better information about which reefs are healthy and which aren't, and that could provide an incentive for locations to clean up their act.  Long ago I used to read every issue
 of Skin Diver magazine, and eventually I realized that they would always say nice things about any location they covered.  They seemed to try to say only things that were factually true, but they only presented the good things and never the bad.  Well, they were part of the tourist industry, and business has to advertise (and Skin Diver had lots of ads from the very dive operations they were talking about, an obvious conflict of interest), and in advertising you only present the good features of your product, never the bad, and you are often tempted to stretch the truth when talking about the good side.  There has long been a newsletter (Undercurrent) that accepts no advertising, which gives unvarnished reports by divers of various locations and publishes their ratings.  But those are anecdotal, and lack scientific rigor, and a good part of their reporting is about the accommodations and dive operations and so on, only part is about the reef.  I
 also agree with Gene and suspect that people tend to take the total money spent by all tourists at a reef location like the Florida keys or Queensland, Australia and use that to demonstrate the value of reefs, when only a portion of that money is spent on reef tourism.  We need to take more care.  Scientists have a fundamentally different role to play than Skin Diver magazine.  We have to get at the truth as best we can, we focus on the reef itself not the tourist accommodations, the actual evidence in as unbiased form as we can, whether it is good, bad, or ugly.  Let the cards fall where they may.  I have to agree with the original person posting that exaggerating does not do the environmental movement any good in the long run.  You get caught, you loose credibility.  We're all human, and we all have biases, and they do at times get into our work.  Science, though, can be very corrective, since there are people out there who are likely to have
 different biases and correct you in public, using evidence.  I recently saw on an environmental NGO's website, information on reefs that looked to me to be exaggerated, so I sent them an email that explained, they replied that they would fix their website.  I think we ought to do more of that.  Make sure they get it right.  I've read and heard people saying that climate change will increase the frequency and strength of hurricanes.  But I've read that the experts predict that while the strength will increase, the frequency won't.  Sometimes people think that El Nino ENSO is part of climate change, the evidence I've read says there is no evidence of a link.  In conversations I've pointed out a few times that sea level rises from global warming would increase the depth of water on reef flats which should allow more corals to grow on reef flats.  But people don't seem to want to hear that, because it indicates something good caused by climate
 change.  Now Barbara Brown and colleagues have published a paper that documents that several people have published this idea before I came up with it, and gives evidence of just this happening on reef flats in Thailand.  Hey, we scientists have to go with whatever the evidence tells us, good, bad, or ugly.  This effect on reef flats is minor compared to the damage to reefs that mass coral bleaching and acidification have already done and will do in the future.  We have to stick to the facts.  Reefs have declined badly many places.  But not everywhere.  Check the latest issues of Coral Reefs for papers and letters back and forth between Hugh Sweatman on the one side and Hughes et al on the other.  Bellwood, Hughes et al had a graph in a 2004 Nature paper that showed decline of coral cover on the GBR, but did not document the data source.  Looks like two different sets of data, highly variable points in the early years, low variation in later
 years.  Later year data points were very close to the AIMS monitoring program data points, looks like their points were derived mostly from AIMS data for late years.  The early year data came from some other source, perhaps Joe Connell's Heron Is. data.  They put the data from different sources together, plotted them on one graph, got a downward slope regression line, and declared the GBR to be going downhill.  Not so fast, Sweatman says, if they were different locations and different methods for the early and late data, maybe the data from earlier came from an area with higher coral cover, and the data from later from lower cover areas (AIMS data covers a vastly larger area than just Heron Is) and a difference in location produced the regression line slope, not a change over time.  Sweatman points out that within the AIMS data there is a decline, but smaller than shown in the Hughes et al graph.  Sweatman presents a graph of the early data alone,
 and within that data set there is no decline at all.  I really wonder if the other meta-analysis studies don't suffer an unknown amount from the same thing- early studies picked the best locations to survey, and late studies had lots more sites that were much more broadly distributed over sites that were good, bad, and ugly.  Could some part of the decline reported by the Gardiner study in the Caribbean or the Bruno and Selig study in the Pacific, have been due to this effect??  I haven't tried to wade through their methods, but I think anything based on just absolute values of coral cover may be subject to this problem.  Any study that compares one location at an early time with a different location at a later time cannot say with certainty that the change was due to time and not a change of location.  Mind you, these studies are a big leap forward from the knowledge we had before they were published, currently they are the best available data,
 and there is data from individual sites that show declines in the same location, so there is no doubt that they are correct that there have been declines, but the absolute values of coral cover at early times in particular may be unintentionally high- was average coral cover in the Caribbean really 55% in 1975??  That's awfully high, surveys of very remote Pacific reefs that have had very little human impact average lower than that.  John McManus (1995) once surveyed all the literature on near-pristine reefs he could find, and reports by Miller et al. (2008) and Vroom (2011) from the NOAA CRED division in Honolulu that monitors 50 US islands and reefs in the Pacific including many near-pristine reefs, these studies reported average coral cover in the 35-40% range in transects, even lower in towboard surveys (Vroom, 2011).  One way around the problem might be to use percent declines within studies that repeat the same sites.  That should be less
 subject to this problem.  And last, take a look at a paper by  Ridd (2007) and see what you think.  Now, to be balanced we need to not only not exaggerate, but also to show not just anecdotal examples, we need to give descriptions and measures of the whole situation (which is what the papers on the decline of reefs were doing, which is laudable) (which is why we use descriptive statistics of the central tendency like mean or median when we can).  So yes, some people do get carried away with their desire to raise the alarm about the decline of reefs and the future threats.  But that is actually a quite small portion of the whole of scientific work on the status of coral reefs, and the bulk of the scientific information about reefs that comes out is not exaggerated or heavily biased.  Reefs really have declined many places and are in very deep trouble indeed..  I say that, in spite of working in American Samoa where reefs are in surprisingly good
 shape, though certainly not unimpacted by humans (so I'm saying some damage has been done) but currently we actually have about 30% coral cover in transects (lower in towboards because transect locations are typically picked on areas of coral not sand or bare rock), and coral cover appears to be rising slightly, and most other indicators are relatively good.  That is, outside the harbor and the airport runway where reefs have been dredged, filled, sedimented, nutrified, and otherwise damaged (Fenner, 2011).  But relatively healthy reefs are more the exception that the rule these days, and the future threats are formidable.
     I also think that we will do best in dealing with the public to put all the relevant cards on the table, the facts that we like and support our view, and the ones that don't as well.  This is particularly important when discussing with the public things like plans for MPAs and the like.  We need to not get carried away with talking about MPAs like they are a panacea and that they will produce huge increases in fish catches and such, if the evidence actually doesn't show that.  Whatever the evidence actually shows is what we have to go with.  And we have to reflect the best estimates of the levels of uncertainty.  Not easy to present that in a relatively simple and easy to understand way in a short period of time to the public, but that's what we need to do.

     As several people are saying, surely there are many reefs that have declined, many greatly, the future threats are formidable, and we need to do more, surely we are agreed on that, right??  And don't we need the help of everybody in different disciplines?  And yes, let's look at these things critically and not just take it on faith that the authors have everything right.  I thank those who are pointing out the weaknesses in some of the analyses, we will all be better off for having that pointed out.  But let's not throw the baby out with the bath water; the bulk of the scientific information is good.

     So, is there a way we could summarize the scientific information about reefs in different locations where dive tourism goes on, for the diving public?  How about the Wilkinson "State of the Reefs of the World" series?  Do we have much scientific information about many individual tourist dive sites?  Maybe we have enough for a start?  (Reef Check may have a lot.)  Summarize it on some kind of website that could be updated frequently and easily accessed by divers?

Sorry for the long message,  Doug

Brown, B.E., Dunne, R.P., Phongsuwan, N.,
Somerfield, P.J. Published online 3 Aug 2011.  Increased sea level promotes coral cover on
shallow reef flats in the AndamanSea, eastern Indian Ocean.  Coral

D.R.; Hughes, T.P.; Folke, C.; Nystrom, M. Confronting the coral reef crisis. Nature 2004, 429, 827-833.

Sweatman, H.;
Delean, S.; Syms, C. Assessing loss of coral cover on Australia’s Great Barrier
Reef over two decades, with implications for longer term-trends. Coral Reefs 2011, 30, 521–531.

T.P.; Bellwood, D.R.; Baird, A.H.; Brodie, J.; Bruno,
J.F.; Pandolfi, J.M.  Shifting baselines,
declining coral cover, and the erosion of reef resilience: comment on Sweatman
et al. (2011).  Coral Reefs 2011, 30,

H.; Syms, C. 2011. Assessing loss of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef: a response to Hughes et al. (2011).  Coral Reefs 2011, 30, 661-664..

Gardner, T.A.; Côté, I.M.;
Gill, J.A.; Grant, A.; Watkinson, A.R. Long-term region-wide declines in Caribbeancorals. Science 2003, 301, 958-60.

Bruno, J.F.; Selig, E.R. Regional
decline of coral cover in the Indo-Pacific: timing, extent, and subregional
comparisons. PLoS ONE 2007, 2, e711.

Alvarez-Filip, L.; Dulvy, N.K.; Gill, J.A.; Côté,
I.M.; Watkinson, A.R. Flattening of Caribbeancoral reefs: region-wide declines in architectural
complexity. Proc. Royal Soc. B 2009, 276, 3019-3025.
M.J.; Reynolds, J.D.; Aguilar, C.; Appeldoorn, R.S..; Beets, J.; Burkett, E.W.;
Chittaro, P.M.; Clarke, K.; Esteves, R.; Fonesca, A.C.; et al.  Recent region-wide declines in Caribbean
reef fish abundance.  Curr. Biol. 2009, 19, 590-596. 

McManus, J.W., Vallejo, B., Meñez and Coronado, G. (1995) ReefBase: an international database on coral reefs. In: Marine/Coastal Biodiversity in the Tropical Region (workshop proceedings). East-West Center, Honolulu.

Miller, J., Maragos, J., Brainard, R., Asher, J., Vargas-Angel, B., Kenyon, J., Schroeder, R., Richards, B., Nadon M., Vroom P., Hall, A., Keenan E., Timmers M., Gove J., Smith E., Weiss J., Lundblad E., Ferguson S., Lichowski F., and Rooney J. 2008. State of coral reef ecosystems of the Pacific remote island areas.. Pp. 353-386. In: J.E. Waddell and A.M. Clarke (eds.), The State of the Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2008. NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 73. NOAA/NCCOS Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment‘s Biogeography Team. Silver Spring, MD. 569pp.  http://ccma.nos.noaa.gov/about/biogeography/.

Vroom, P.S.  2011.  “Coral dominance”: a dangerous ecosystem
misnomer?  Journal of Marine Biology,
Vol. 2011, article ID 164127, 8 pages.

Ridd, P.V. A critique of a
method to determine long-term declines of coral reef ecosystems. Energy Environ. 2007, 18, 783–796.  http://eprints.jcu.edu.au/9768/1/EE_18-6_Ridd.pdf

D.  2011.  The state of the coral reef habitat in American Samoa, 2008.  Pages42-111 in Kilarsky, S. and Everson, A. R.
(eds.), Proceedings of the American SamoaCoral Reef Fishery Workshop.  NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/SPO-114.   http://spo.nmfs.noaa.gov/tm/

Douglas Fenner
Coral Reef Monitoring Ecologist
Dept Marine & Wildlife Resources
American Samoa

Mailing address:
PO Box 3730
Pago Pago, AS 96799

work phone 684  633 4456

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 From: Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov 
Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 9:43 AM
Subject: [Coral-List] . Re: $33B Hawaii Reef Economics Value
Dear Listers, I did not expect everyone to agree with my last posting 
on the value of the Hawaii coral reef.  Yes it is priceless, what 
ever that means. Don't we all receive a lot of on-line jokes that 
claim to be "priceless."?
     I am reminded that when I worked for USGS and wrote proposals for 
funds to do coral reef studies I always had to justify the work by 
providing a value of the reef I wanted to study.  The value was an 
inflated amount based on the amount of money tourist spent in the 
Florida Keys each year. Those numbers were usually provided by the 
Key West Chamber of Commerce or the Marine Sanctuary and were likely 
inflated to attract more tourist revenue. It always seemed to me that 
what diving tourists appeared to appreciate most was the clear warm 
water that beat the heck out of diving back home.  Because of 
"shifting baselines" few tourist had ever seen the reefs in their pre 
1980s pristine glory to compare it with the present situation. All 
they seemed to care about was that the diving was a lot better than 
diving in that cold dark quarry back in Michigan. Because of this I 
can't help but get a knee-jerk reaction when people put a monetary 
value on a coral reef or anything in nature. I'm sorry if I offended 
anyone. It seems that society is so divided on any issue these days 
that no one agrees on anything. Gene


No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
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E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
College of Marine Science Room 221A
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
<eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
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