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

Steve Mussman sealab at earthlink.net
Fri Dec 14 16:29:57 EST 2012

   There is nothing wrong with giving consideration to Geneâs views, but his
   expertise does not in any way preclude his opinions from being challenged.
   To  reject out of hand that anthropogenic climate change could present
   stressors whose impact may be beyond those found in the geological record is
   in my opinion the very epitome of dogma.
   It  is interesting that you refer to George Carlinâs musings about the
   misgivings of attempts to save the planet. For they are a feature of the
   Climate Change Dispatch which also offers this bit of unbiased scientific
   opinion. . . What CCD seeks to do is repudiate the consensus that the cause
   (of climate change) is man-made and the principal culprit is CO2.
   Sorry, but you donât have to tell me that diplomacy is not your strong suit.

     -----Original Message-----
     From: Dennis Hubbard
     Sent: Dec 14, 2012 12:02 PM
     To: Steve Mussman
     Cc: Eugene Shinn , "coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov"
     Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Impact of listing 66 coral species on coral

     TIME OUT!!! Everyone go find your sleeping mats. It's "quiet time".

     I started this post over a week ago and put it away remembering an earlier
     admonishment of long missives. Having now read enough verbiage to fill a
     bad first draft of a master's thesis, I've pulled it back out.

     Clearly, this is an important discussion and one we will not resolve here.
     My short answer to the very eloquent parable of December 7th is that
     clearly we saw Hitler as a bigger threat to our society than we saw our
     society as a threat to our own life-support system... and that is sad
     indeed.The good news may be that we're doomed.

     In Home Economics, Wendell Berry wrote, " We have never known what we were
     doing, because we have never known what we were UNdoing. We cannot know
     what we are doing until we know what nature would be doing if we were
     doing nothing." This is, in effect, Geology's seat at the grown-ups table
     when it comes to discussions of climate change, environmental "decline",
     etc. The geologic record gives us a temporal and spatial perspective that
     I find missing in much of the literature.... and the design of many
     ecological experiments.

     Having said that, we (geologists) have our blind spots as well. Too often
     we fail to recognize that, while the record we see is both temporally and
     spatially grand, the laws that dictated how it unfolded operated largely
     on a day-to-day basis that we simply can't tease from the record. So, we
     have to do the best we can by trying to think beyond what we can measure
     in a core or an outcrop. I've fallen into that trap too many times to not
     look for it.

     We geologists may not be the brightest bulbs in the pack, but I really
     doubt that Gene's been going back to the Keys year after year looking for
     Elvis to return from the dead. I believe the term "local extinction" has
     not been struck from the scientific lexicon. Gene's probably spent more
     time "looking" at reefs than most of us combined, so I've learned to think
     very carefully when he brings up a point that really pisses me off. He's
     usually either right or has at least reminded me that there is something I
     need to think more carefully about.  If one looks objectively at the
     arguments that go on in the popular literature (and I consider Science and
     Nature to be among these) the curmudgeons are most often people who have
     lived and worked at Marine Labs. I suggest you go back and look at some of
     the back-and-forth discussion as the reefs off Disco Bay were coming apart
     to see passionate but well-framed and civil disagreements.

     Those of us who have been fortunate to spend any significant time living
     near the reefs on which we work are mindful of the tremendous spatial and
     temporal variability that occurs on individual reefs. I spent over a
     decade bringing students and colleagues back to the same place only to see
     how much "shake-and-bake" there was  (I think that's the proper term in
     the stasis literature). Also, I have seen places that I visited on an
     almost  daily  basis  (and published on) varyingly described in the
     literature as "rich" or "poor", "stable" or "declining"..... and often
     based  on the same data (sometimes mine) viewed through the lens of
     individual bias - this is the stuff of dogma. Many of our arguments depend
     on which perception we choose to accept. Yes, reefs are "changing", and I
     would argue they are  "unhealthy". However, I am always mindful that the
     latter is largely a personal position, which includes biases from having
     spent so much time so close to the patient.

     Too often we go to places at great expense and temporal investment (and,
     let's not forget the blazing trails of carbon we've left as we visit our
     favorite sites far afield). As a result, we spend so much time "working"
     that we don't spend enough time "looking". I remember a very gifted
     colleague years back explaining that their field site, which was the
     "model" for the northern third of the GBR, was chosen based on "where the
     captain would anchor". These are the realities of research, but we still
     don't want to forget that our careful measurements can still benefit from
     taking the time to just burn a little air looking around.... or a little
     valuable journal space just musing. Yeah, it's not random and can't be
     entered into a non- metric scaling analysis, but.......

     I often think back to Bill Gladfelter's warnings about WBD that went
     largely unnoticed.... and it was damned frightening as you watched it
     unfold. But, for some reason, it didn't get any traction until it hit the
     Keys..... go figure. Then it was a big deal. Any bias there?

     A  few  years back, Hal Wanless kindly shared some of his photos of
     magnificent A. palmata communities in the Turks and Caicos (acres of
     them.... it was Buck Island reincarnate). Then they got hammered a few
     years back by multiple hurricanes and cover was decimated. I crossed paths
     with  Hal  again  this  past  summer and he showed me photos of the
     recovery.... and it is incredible. What's up?? I have seen photos of
     acre-after-acre  of  A. palmata along the south coast of Cuba. Same

     I mention this not to argue against listing of the species (that's above
     my  pay grade), but to point out that this phenomenon is incredibly
     variable and we have opportunities to perhaps understand what factors
     combine to make A. palmata so "happy" at these and similar sites. Maybe
     it's a larval dispersal peculiarity. Maybe it's because Cuban fishermen
     using too small a mesh size in their traps just disappear. I doubt it's a
     matter of warming passing these places by. If I were inclined to bring out
     the "over-the-hill" gang and take some more shelf-edge cores, I'd probably
     go to one of these sites to see if A. palmata along the deeper shelf edge
     survived through the two millennial-scale gaps in the species 6,000 and
     3,000 years ago throughout the Caribbean (nobody's given me any samples
     from those intervals in nearly a decade since I first mentioned this). I
     can only imaging how easy it would be to get a permit to core through one
     of the few remaining A. palmata communities in the region.

     So, while I do not share Gene's healthy skepticism about our ties to this
     problem and the potential value of listing species, I do share his sense
     that we too often use environmental strategies to convince ourselves that
     we understand an issue or are "doing something to deal with it". With the
     best of intentions, we toss terms like "decline" and "health" around with
     abandon. Unfortunately the number of perceptions of what these mean is
     probably close to the number of people participating in the discussion.
     For years, I have read both civil and uncivil discussions of the relative
     importance of "top down" vs "bottom up" vs "side in" impacts (we're
     running out of directions folks). .... and the animus has risen to the
     point where the people who probably know the most about these things no
     longer talk to one another..

     The following wise words of the recently passed savant, George Carlin seem
     appropriate here: "Weâve only been engaged in heavy industry for a little
     over two hundred years. Two hundred years versus four and a half billion.
     And we have the CONCEIT to think that somehow weâre a threat?..... Save
     the planet, we donât even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We
     havenât learned how to care for one another, weâre gonna save the %#*&ing
     planet? Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is
     fine. The PEOPLE are f%#*&ed.

     So, I end my post with three questions in the hope that they will spawn
     careful introspection and a measured response. First, "What is "healthy"
     and what would we return reefs to if we were the Secretary of Coral
     Reefs?" Does anyone really believe that if we don't remove the stresses
     that are responsible, keeping species behind a fence will do any good?
     Yes, I understand that the listing process has recovery plans and a number
     of other tools to implement solutions. These are well intentioned, but
     until we understand the habitat-level relationships, they are just window

     Second, "what could we have done, or might we do, other than the obvious
     things we've "fiddled with" over the years as CO2 levels have steadily
     risen?". Politics matter - and until we get better at engaging the public,
     we shouldn't expect much success. We get our butts kicked in debates over
     climate change and evolution for a reason.

     Finally - my original question of a few weeks back. Could someone who is
     more familiar with the subtleties of the listing process briefly lay out
     what they see as the pros and cons of listing in general, and specifically
     "threatened" versus "endangered". I didn't ask this to set off another
     hostile thread. I really don't know the answer.

     So, whether you can embrace with any of the points I've made here, I hope
     you  can  agree  that a bunch of obviously well educated and gifted
     scientists lifting their legs and marking trees in the back yard probably
     won't get us where we want to be at the end of this discussion.

     Sorry, but diplomacy isn't my strong suit.


   On Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 10:07 AM, Steve Mussman <[1]sealab at earthlink.net>

        Dear Gene,
        I  suppose  you  will  never understand/learn why coral scientists and
        environmentalists are so worried about the impacts of anthropogenic
        change..  Although the geological record is essential for understanding
        species respond to natural climate change, there are a number of
     reasons why
         future  effects  on  biodiversity  will likely be different and
        severe. Human-induced warming is already rapid and is expected to
        further. Changes, not in models, but in the real world of glaciers,
        records, species distribution and behavior, are already evident.  It is
        quite possible that in a geological instant, planetary conditions will
        transformed to a state unlike anything that the worldâs modern species
        ever encountered. Most ecosystems have already degraded and lost
        from past human activities. In this context, synergies from temperature
        increases, ocean acidification, chemical pollution and other factors
        lead to cascading extinctions for the changes are occurring too rapidly
        adaptations like those found in the geological record to reoccur.
               And this time around, we believe we could have done something
        -----Original Message-----
        >From: Eugene Shinn
        >Sent: Dec 10, 2012 3:31 PM
        >To: [2]coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
        >Subject: [Coral-List] Impact of listing 66 coral species on coral
        >Dear Listers, I suppose coral biologists and environmentalists will
        >never understand/learn what the geology of coral reefs is telling us.
        >As pointed out many, many times, about 98 percent of the Florida Keys
        >reefs are no less than a meter thick yet they have been underwater at
        >least 6,000 years. Acropora has come and gone several times during
        >that period long before all the current hysteria about
        >Co2/warming/alkalinity shift began. Seems likely that if history were
        >not repeating itself our reefs would be many meters thicker and
        >contain a continuous record of all the species we worry about. 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
        >Tel [3]727 553-1158----------------------------------
        >Coral-List mailing list
        >[4]Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
     Coral-List mailing list
     [6]Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

   Dennis Hubbard
   Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
   (440) 775-8346
    "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"
    Benjamin Stein: "Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream"


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