[Coral-List] Reef research needs

Douglas Fenner douglasfenner at yahoo.com
Wed Oct 26 03:02:39 EDT 2011

Someone sent me this story:

Many, many years ago I was on an island that has reefs, at some sort of reception. All 
the beautiful people were there, politicians from the capitol-as well as 
grad students working at the lab.

Big smooth politico surrounded 
some young naive student: "Tell me, sweet thing, what brings a pretty 
young lass like you to my island?"
working on the effect of the hotels, and do you know what? Around the 
outfall of every hotel the coral is all dead!"

She was gone in 24 hrs. Pulled her visa.

From: Douglas Fenner <douglasfenner at yahoo.com>
To: Christopher Hawkins <chwkins at yahoo.com>; "coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov" <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Sent: Monday, October 24, 2011 4:13 PM
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Reef research needs

     Thanks, Chris, well said!  It has often been said that we can't manage reefs, only people.  The problems on reefs now are the problems caused by people.  I don't worry about hurricanes or tsunamis damaging reefs, reefs have been recovering from them for thousands or millions of years..  (mind you, if humans have degraded a reef, now it may not recover from such natural disturbances)  We rarely if ever get to directly affect the reef, instead we must change how people are damaging reefs, if we want to save them.  To do that, we must understand why they do it, and how to get them to change.  That's not molecular biology, genetics, or ecology of the reefs, that's human behavior, social science.  I agree not only is everything government does designed to affect human behaviors, but also the entire commercial world- advertising to get people to buy their goods, paying people to do work, you name it.  And there is no alternative, having no
government means anarchy and that means people with guns will modify other people's behavior (and survival).  People influence each other's behavior, that's what humans do, and it will continue no matter what we do.  We can use that to help the reef, or not, our choice.  (note that if mosquito spray damages reefs, we would have to get the people who decide to do the spraying to change that, if we want the spray to stop damaging reefs.  We'd have to change what someone does.)

      Here's one example of the need to understand people's motives, and understand how incentives work, and thus why people do what they do.  Some people say making reefs valuable will make people value reefs.  I say sometimes yes, sometimes no.  Tourism gives reefs and sharks value in Palau, and now they protect them.  Great.  But take some places in the Caribbean, where reefs have been deteriorating.  If they have a large or huge tourist industry, the tourism is worth a huge amount of money.  You might think that would mean they would protect their reef.  They might.  But they also might look the other way if the tourism industry damages the reefs, say, for instance, by releasing sewage, or by cruise ship anchors destroying coral.  Along comes a reef biologist, sees the reefs deteriorating, maybe figures out sewage is part of the problem.  Is that information welcome???  Often it very much is NOT welcome.  The biologist may have any
support for his work withdrawn, loose permits, loose visa, and become persona non grata.  The important thing is to protect the tourism industry, not the reef.  Most divers can't tell the difference between a dead reef and a live one, let alone what killed the reef.  So let the reef go down the tubes, but then it becomes very important not to let the truth out.
      Mind you, you don't have to have a PhD in psychology to figure that out, and figuring it out may not suggest any easy solutions.  Getting strong evidence about what the problem is may help push people to fix the problem.  Or it may get you in deep hot water with powerful people who don't want bad news to spoil the lucrative tourist industry they have.  They may have ways of modifying your behavior to get you to shut up.  Being part of a larger environmental organization might be helpful.  Might.
      Not all problems are like this, many may involve little things that lots of people do, that add up.  Then the strategy might be to work on educational campaigns and so on.  Each situation is likely to be different.  But one thing in common, and that is that it is critical to change what people do.  Preferably in a positive, friendly, helpful way that benefits those people as well as the reef.

      Cheers,  Doug


From: Christopher Hawkins <chwkins at yahoo.com>
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov; Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
Sent: Sunday, October 23, 2011 10:30 AM
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Reef research needs

Hi all:
I have to say that it has been heartening to see the research need posts that pertain to human dimensions.  Perhaps we are finally turning the corner from simply talking about ecosystems as human-inclusive...    
Gene of course is right to say that we should be concerned about the effects of chemicals in the nearshore (and many other stressors), but I think he errs when he seemingly trivializes social engineering.  The unavoidable fact is that so much of what local, tribal, state, and federal governments do when it comes to managing these resources is based on modifying people's attitudes and behaviors rather than some direct manipulation of nature. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_engineering_(political_science):
"For various reasons, the term has been imbued with negative connotations. However, virtually all law and governance has the effect of changing behavior and can be considered "social engineering" to some extent. Prohibitions on murder, rare, suicide, and littering are all policies aimed at discouraging undesirable behaviors....changing public attitudes about a behavior is accepted as one of the key functions of laws prohibiting it. Governments also influence behavior more subtly through incentives and disincentives built into economic policy and tax policy, for instance, and have done so for centuries."
With that in mind, previous posters like Jim Bohnsack are correct to point to the disparity between social and biophysical research in the coastal and marine domains.  A first step towards changing negative attitudes and behaviors is foundational research to understand what creates them.
Finally, as I have said before, those of us in the natural resource management field are stewards of public resources.  Understanding what those publics want and need from those resources and how they want them conserved, should therefore be of no small importance to us and is best accomplished by folks with appropriate research training.

--- On Thu, 10/20/11, Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu> wrote:

From: Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf..edu>
Subject: [Coral-List] Reef research needs
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Date: Thursday, October 20, 2011, 2:13 PM

Much of the recommendations so far seem to revolve around some form 
of social engineering. Why is there so little concern about they way 
we saturate the  Florida Keys with aircraft delivered mosquito sprays 
the composition and effects of which is known only to the pesticide 
manufacturer. If the spray does not affect insects other than 
mosquitoes then why are places like the Fla Keys Marine Laboratory 
and other sensitive areas avoided?
If there were genuine concern we would all be clamoring for bioassays 
to determine if these toxic chemicals are slowly eating away at the 
onshore ecosystem and offshore coral reefs. To quote Denny Hubbard, 
"If you get on the wrong bus then every stop is the wrong stop" Gene

No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
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>
Tel 727 553-1158---------------------------------- 
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