[Coral-List] Impact of listing 66 coral species on coral research

Michael Risk riskmj at mcmaster.ca
Wed Dec 12 10:47:23 EST 2012

Hi Gene.

I am envious of your ability to provoke discussion-and recent postings have suggested that discussion is advisable here. I have been musing about some threads connecting the legislation you discuss, the history of reefs in Florida, and the bioerosion postings. I may see some cloudy connections, and I will try to follow your lead in being annoyingly provocative.

First of all, there seem to be some convictions out there that could be termed misconceptions, those that could only be held by biologists who avoided all those nasty geology courses when they were undergrads. The first is this idea that reefs are somehow "resilient." Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, it is true that "reefs", of some sort or another, generally appear after a reef extinction. In the Holocene, this takes at least 1,000 years, IF the water is dead-clean. In the record, it generally takes millions of years-and what replaces the dead reef complex may bear little resemblance to the predecessor.

Gene talks about the fact that the Florida reefs are thin, yet persistent, in that they seem to die back and recover over periods of a few centuries. I think there has been entirely too much Florida-centric discussion on this list. Florida has to be an exception, lying as it does at the northern limit of hermatypic coral distribution. Why don't we instead talk about the Permian Reef Complex of West Texas? This managed to accumulate at least 500m of reefal limestone, and then was slain by a water-quality crisis. These reefs were constructed by calcareous sponges, bryozoans, and Archaeolithoporella. Seen any of those critters making reefs lately?

Many of the huge, spectacular mountain peaks of the Canadian Rockies were constructed by stromatoporoids-and even if you believe that sclerosponges are living fossil stroms (a reasonable belief), they are not a major component of any modern reef. Causes of the demise of the Devonian reef fauna are unclear, but may involve ocean anoxia.

The modern Caribbean reef fauna owes much of its present aspect to a major mass extinction taking place at the end of the Oligocene. During this event, half the existing Caribbean corals died out. Large benthic forams were also affected by this event, whereas the (filter-feeding) coral associates and borers sailed through relatively unaffected. Correlation with shelf-edge phosphorites allows us to conclude that the extinction event was (again) driven by a water-quality crisis. (Edinger and Risk, 1994: PALAIOS 9: 576-598.) I could go on and on.

So what the geologic record tells us (he says through gritted teeth) is that reefs are not resilient, and that changes in WQ can slay them in short order. (Personally, I think many of those using the term "reef resilience" simply expose their lack of background.)

Next, the news that those who have proposed this extended list of corals for "protection" have assumed that climate change is and has been the greatest threat to reefs. I note that this is a US group…

…and here is my segue into bioerosion. In case you were wondering.

There is no denying that US scientists have done wonderful work in the past on bioerosion (Perkins, Ginsburg, Lukas, etc), and still do (Reaka-Kudla, Golubic, Keine). But looking at the field in general, I see a drop-off in the intensity of reef-relevant bioerosion work by US researchers. Instead, the field is now dominated by "foreigners", with a disproportionate amount of the work being done by some very talented women. Of course, the original and still-unchallenged carbonate balance work was the joint McGill-U Edinburgh work supervised by Terry Scoffin and Colin Stearn. In the last little while, the field has seen a great deal of excellent work from the French (Peyrot-Clausade, Chazottes, Tribollet), with the other side of the globe charging hard, with work from Schoneberg and Fabricius (who seems able to turn her hand to almost anything). There has also been significant input from researchers in Germany and Colombia, and I have no doubt left many others off. In which case, please forgive me-it's still early on a snowy morning.

In short, 40 years after Stearn and Scoffin proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that bioerosion was THE single most important ordering process affecting the carbonate budget of modern reefs, US researchers have turned their heads away. (I was recently asked by NSF to review something like 45 OA applications. NONE of them discussed bioerosion-NONE of the ones on reefs even mentioned the subject.)

Now, there are any number of possible reasons for this, including the possibility that I am mistaken. This has happened before…

But I am prompted here by the blithe assumption of those discussing this Endangered Plan that the major threat was global change, as well as some responses I have observed in the federal US bureaucracy. When we first produced our work on the impact of sewage discharge on Florida reefs, the reaction was...pyrotechnic. I will tread carefully here, because you guys have a lot of lawyers, but it was obvious that people-at least, some people-in the federal government wanted to hear nothing of the effects of development/sewage etc. And certainly the view that climate change has had THE major impact on reefs can only be held by those with a vested interest or a vast ignorance.

Sooner rather than later, people working in bioerosion run smack into the relationship with nutrients.

I wonder if my US colleagues are, perhaps subconsciously, self-selecting, and avoiding an area of research that would quickly put them in conflict with some very powerful vested interests?

Just a thought…over to you, Gene.

On 2012-12-11, at 3:16 PM, Eugene Shinn wrote:

> Well I am still waiting for someone on the Coral-List to spell out 
> how listing these coral species will save them.  However, I did 
> receive lots of interesting comments from coral researchers off-line 
> and decided to share them without revealing their names. Here are a 
> few:
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Right Gene, not sure how listing these species will affect these 
> corals when the group advocating for these listings states that 
> climate change is the biggest reason for them being threatened. Also 
> claiming the aquarium trade is a problem is a bit of a red herring 
> since only a handful of the species (<5?) are traded in any 
> significant way plus much of the Acropora coming from Indonesia, 
> Vanuatu and Fiji is aquacultured.
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I can't wait until I retire so I can carry on saying the things that 
> need to be said to these folks.
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Eugene;
> 	There are many instances that can be cited where the 
> legislated protection of a species has indeed positively impacted the 
> survival or resurgence of that species.  But in every instance (of 
> which I am aware) the legislative action was necessary to either halt 
> harvest or implement a physical action to save the species.  I wish 
> this were true of these 66 coral species, but I fear it is not.  Hope 
> I'm wrong.
> 	What the listing will definitely achieve however, will be a 
> morass of red tape and effective blockage of ALL coastal projects in 
> areas where one or more of these corals are thought to perhaps exist. 
> The unintended consequences of the listing are likely to be 
> widespread, expensive, and will ultimately result in the development 
> of adverse public opinion.
> 	Like I said, I hope I'm wrong.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Hi Gene
> Plus, if these 66 corals are threatened, why aren't all corals being listed?
> Plus, population data are apparently not relevant. They don't care 
> how many are out there. We sent them population estimates for the six 
> species in the Keys, and the numbers are huge for most.  And the ones 
> that have fewer numbers have always been rare.  So, the population 
> biology of rare species does not matter.
> Group therapy is a good description of what they are doing.  I would 
> add that they are also self-congratulatory to the point of delusion.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Don't look at me. I went to one of the meetings and vehemently 
> opposed this "new" listing. No recovery plan put forward for Acropora 
> corals, yet. Not good.
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Inmates are running the asylum.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> From an ex-Steinhart aquarist (albeit volunteer).  Other impacts from 
> this new ESA designation that you may not anticipate:
> 	You could now be required to do an ESA impact assessment to 
> launch a boat with bottom paint into tropical waters
> 	Require another special license to take or culture any coral 
> on the ESA list.  This permit will be overseen by an idiot in an air 
> conditioned office in the EPA DC office who has never left the 
> beltway and won't be able to look at your permit until next month 
> because of required training courses his office must attend.
> 	Require special permits to maintain (don't even consider 
> rebuilding or expanding) any shoreline infrastructure in the tropics
> 	Require all marine labs in the tropics (okay - probably all 
> residences too) to construct individual WWTPs to treat all sewage to 
> drinking level standards (there goes the research budget)
> 	Given the present definition of "Take" will you be allowed to 
> swim over a reef and block the sunshine?
> 	Require toilet facilities on ALL boats carrying divers - Yup, 
> even that 8-foot Avon!
> 	What kind of a permit do you think it will require to allow 
> cultured (read: potentially contaminated) Diadema to be intentionally 
> placed near a bed of ESA corals? Humm...
> The list could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Once these 
> regulations are established it will unleash the (deleted) who will 
> come up with hundreds of new rules all well intentioned, and all with 
> additional unanticipated affects.
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I have read your Op Ed with great interest and have concluded that 
> you know too much about these matters that are of gravest importance 
> to those who want to keep their job.
> As we plunge off the fiscal cliff (yes, I believe we will) remember 
> your natural history. All of those lemmings didn't die, otherwise the 
> species would now be extinct.  Same applies to corals, a point you 
> have made very clearly.
> I would have added my own list of unintended consequences but right 
> now I am worried about Dec 21 which seems just a valid as a lot I 
> have been reading. I suppose that once listed we could use the 
> approach Fish and Wildlife is advocating for saving the spotted owl. 
> That approach would stop those pesky parrotfish from taking lethal 
> bites out of Montastrea sp.  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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Michael Risk
riskmj at mcmaster.ca

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