[Coral-List] NOAA Finds 66 Corals Warrant Listing under the US Endangered Species Act

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Tue Dec 11 22:50:59 EST 2012


*The purpose of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is to keep species from
going extinct.  If listed species do not go extinct, the goal has been met.
While restoring species to their original abundances is wonderful, the Act
has not failed if species do not become abundant.

*Corals are killed by many things, including sediment, nutrients,
overfishing and bleaching.  Bleaching is preventable, by reducing
temperature increases caused by CO2 emissions.  One disease is caused by a
bacterium which is in sewage, it may be preventable.  Many other things
that damage corals, like sediment and nutrient runoff, are preventable.  All
mortality contributes to the decline of a species toward extinction, and to
the destruction of coral reef ecosystems.  Reducing any mortality helps
avoid extinction, and for corals that is very possible, and ESA can make
that happen.

*Corals and coral reefs are known to be resilient over geological time
periods, they recover.  But it can take a few million years for them to
come back.  What counts for us is whether we have them or not for the next
few hundred years, and whether we loose their ecosystem services of $30-300
billion per year.  Recovering a million years or even a thousand years from
now will do us no good.

*The Endangered Species Act is a tool, and like all tools works better for
some things than others, it is not a panacea.  But it can help get people
to stop doing things that kill corals, and be an effective tool (one of
many) for saving coral reefs.

*The cost to the taxpayers of listing corals as endangered species will be
miniscule compared to the subsidies to the oil corporations, and will have
no effect on the government deficit.

    First, your statement that “I am still waiting for someone to explain
how listing 66 coral species and elevating Acropora sp to endangered status
is going to enhance their growth.” implies that listing something as
Endangered could increase their growth.  Not likely.  More likely it might
increase their chance of survival.  Actually, the purpose of the Endangered
Species Act is to stop species from going extinct.  The purpose is not to
increase their growth, or even increase their populations.  Population
increases happen sometimes, like with Bald Eagles, wolves, and Green Sea
Turtles in Hawaii.  But that’s an extra that is nice to have, not the
purpose of the act.  Don’t accuse the Act of failing to do things that
weren’t its purpose.

     There are many causes of the deaths of corals and other organisms, and
every death contributes to the loss of individuals.  If losses of
individuals is greater than reproduction, then the population decreases in
size, and if that continues the species can go extinct.  So reducing death
of any individuals of a species, from whatever cause, reduces the loss of
individuals, slows the rate of population decrease (or increases it’s rate
of increase) and shifts the species away from extinction.

      So if you stop the death of individuals from causes that you know and
control, you can slow the extinction process, or stop or reverse it if you
stop enough mortality.  That can happen even if there are some deaths that
you don’t know the cause of, or can’t control.

     That said, much of the mortality in corals is from known causes, and
many causes have their root causes in human actions or can be influenced by
humans.  So we know that sediment runoff can kill corals, nutrients can
kill corals by fertilizing competing algae, fishing that removes herbivores
can allow algae to overgrow and kill corals, and fishing that removes fish
that eat urchins can lead to outbreaks of urchins which can grind away reef
and kill corals.  Nutrient runoff can fuel plankton blooms that can feed
crown-of-thorns starfish that can lead to starfish outbreaks that can kill
very large numbers of corals.  Humans increase fish mortality by fishing,
so humans can control fishing.  Humans increase sediment runoff with all
sorts of construction projects and agriculture so humans can control
sediment runoff.  Humans produce nutrient runoff by the use of fertilizer
and releases of sewage, so humans can control nutrient runoff.  Humans
produce and release vast quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is
causing the world to warm, which is causing corals to be killed with
bleaching, and the CO2 is also reducing alkalinity in the seawater, which
is slowing coral and reef growth, and humans can control the rate that they
release CO2 and so can control coral death from bleaching and also
decreased alkalinity.  They can control release of CO2, even those so far
they have not chosen to do so in a meaningful way.

      You state that listing will not solve the problem of warming waters.  How
do you know that?  No one knows that.  Part of the reason for petitioning
for polar bears to be listed was rumored to be a hope to force CO2 emitters
to consider the effects on polar bears when proposing new CO2 emissions.  Polar
bears were listed as “threatened” which has much less power than an
“endangered” listing.  There have been no suits to force CO2 polluters to
stop because of polar bears.  Some of the corals are proposed for
“endangered” listing.  If they are listed as “endangered”, someone may sue
to force CO2 polluters to stop, because an “endangered” listing is more
powerful.  I don’t know, I’m not involved, and I have no influence on
anyone who wants to do that.  But they may well do that.  So you have no
way of knowing that this listing will not have an effect on rising
temperatures.  I’m sure fossil fuel companies would not like any such suit,
and neither would the politicians that receive big campaign donations from
them, or the many climate change deniers funded by them.  They will be

     Several scientists have pointed out in their publications that corals
and reefs are resilient over geological time frames, they have come back
after periods when conditions were far worse than anything predicted in the
next few hundred years.  They have also pointed out that those recoveries
took more than thousands of years, most took millions of years.  If you are
willing to wait that long, that’s up to you, but most of us realize that we
humans can’t wait that long.  Or stated another way, the ecosystem services
of coral reefs around the world, estimated to be worth $30-300 BILLION
dollars a year, are something that we can ill afford to loose.  Of course,
with increasing temperatures and sea levels, we will loose far more than
that.  Hurricane Sandy cost the east coast of the US around $60 billion
dollars in a few days.  It is a mere hint of the losses we are highly
likely to face in the future, due to CO2 emissions.

      No, of course listing corals as endangered will not keep the US from
going over the fiscal cliff.  Nor will it make the blind see, the deaf
walk, or the sun stop shining.

      The question of whether listing this species under the Endangered
Species Act (ESA) will be helpful to these species is at least a relevant
question.   ESA is a tool in the reef manager’s toolbox.  MPAs are also a
tool.  Regulations to control fishing, sediment runoff, and nutrient
releases are tools.  Like tools used to fix a car, no one tool can fix
everything.  You can’t fix all problems on a car with a screwdriver, even
though it is very good at tightening screws.  ESA listing, however, can
provide significant power to stop something like sedimentation that is
killing endangered coral, or nutrients, or fishing.  Surely it is easier to
apply it to control local threats.  But it might be useful for global
threats like CO2 emissions as well, no one knows at this point.  Fact is,
any time it can be used to reduce mortality in a coral species, it can help
reduce the danger of that species going extinct.  That is its purpose.  The
Endangered Species Act is a conservation tool.  It has a very good record.  No
species that has been protected under the act has gone extinct, and
hundreds that were petitioned for listing under the act but for which
decisions have been long delayed, have gone extinct while waiting for a
decision (and thus were unprotected).

     There will be some expense with listing some corals as endangered or
threatened.  How much will that be?  I don’t know, and while it may seem
large compared to a single person’s salary, it will be tiny compared to the
subsidies the US government gives to the oil companies, which is in the
billions of dollars a year.  If you are worried about balancing the US
federal budget, you are wasting your time complaining about the cost of
listing these corals as endangered species, it is too small.  If you want
to save the taxpayers some money, you might do better to start complaining
about the billions of dollars in subsidies to oil companies, ethanol fuels,
and farmers, as well as many other large budget items.  On the other hand,
the world’s coral reefs provide an estimated $30-300 billion dollars of
ecosystem services a year.  Isn't that worth spending a tiny amount of
money to try to save?

Cheers,  Doug

On Wed, Dec 5, 2012 at 8:08 AM, Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu> wrote:

> Dear Coral-Listers, I am still waiting for someone to explain how
> listing 66 coral species and elevating Acropora sp to endangered
> status is going to enhance their growth. We can only hope that
> listing may open taxpayer's pocket books to accomplish research aimed
> at discovering exactly what ails these corals. But, will listing fix
> the problem if the cause is discovered? Such research may take place
> if researchers have the time and patience to obtain the necessary
> research permits. Some excellent fieldwork has already suggested
> genomic effects allow certain individuals to thrive. In other words
> the strong will survive.  Warming seas of course is one of the usual
> suspects but unfortunately listing will not solve that problem.
>       We should all commend those who have made important discoveries
> already by transplanting hardy individuals to special underwater
> racks and clotheslines.  These are important
> discoveries/demonstrations that indicate hardy individuals will
> eventually repopulate the reefs as they have done repeatedly during
> the past 6.000 years.  An interesting and surprising outcome of these
> coral garden experiments is accelerated growth even while growing in
> the same water that was supposed to be killing them. Listing clearly
> will not change that.  We should be thankful that most species, at
> least in the Atlantic, are already protected from physical abuse in a
> number of sanctuaries and MPAs. The question we should ask is, will
> adding another layer of expensive tax-supported government
> bureaucracy and specialized lawyers be helpful? Will another layer of
> government bureaucracy that cannot save these corals keep us from
> going over the fiscal cliff?   Yes, there will be 18 public hearings.
> How much that will cost? In  my experience these hearing exercises
> are a form of group therapy that simply softens the blow of larger
> expenses that follow.  I guess what will be will be.  It is a done
> deal like it or not.  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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