[Coral-List] Impact of listing 66 coral species on coral research
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.
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
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 <sealab at earthlink.net>
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
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 worldÃ¢s 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
>From: Eugene Shinn
>Sent: Dec 10, 2012 3:31 PM
>To: 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 727 553-1158----------------------------------
>Coral-List mailing list
>Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
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Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
"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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