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

William Precht william.precht at gmail.com
Mon Dec 17 12:34:30 EST 2012

Just an FYI for those involved in the *Acropora* thread.

In response to Sarah's post - I have long been a proponent for
science-based resource management.  Accordingly, I was coauthor on a number
of peer-reviewed manuscripts that helped to set the path for the original
ESA listing of the two acroporid species.

These included the following:

Aronson, R. B., & Precht, W. F. (2001). White-band disease and the changing
face of Caribbean coral reefs. *Hydrobiologia*, *460*(1), 25-38.

Precht, W., Bruckner, A., Aronson, R., & Bruckner, R. (2002). Endangered
acroporid corals of the Caribbean. *Coral Reefs*, *21*(1), 41-42.
Precht, W. F., Robbart, M. L., & Aronson, R. B. (2004). The potential
listing of Acropora species under the US Endangered Species Act. *Marine
Pollution Bulletin*, *49*(7-8), 534-536.

I was also on the IUCN Coral Red-List team (with Jennifer Moore) that
placed the two Caribbean acroporids in "critically endangered" status
(based on the IUCN Red-List criteria).

Aronson, R.B., A. Bruckner, J. Moore, B. Precht, and E. Weil. (2009a) *Acropora
cervicornis* (staghorn coral). *IUCN Red List: The IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species*, version 2009.1.

Aronson, R.B., A. Bruckner, J. Moore, B. Precht, and E. Weil. (2009a) *Acropora
palmata *(elkhorn coral). *IUCN Red List: The IUCN Red List of Threatened
Species*, version 2009.1. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/133006/0.

Because of the 2006 ESA listing we have learned a lot about these two coral
species.  We know much more today than when these species were first listed
-- much of which was either funded or permitted through NOAA.  The point of
my post the other day was that there is more than just threats that need to
be considered in reclassifying the status of these two corals (nevermind
the other 66).  We now have actual population numbers, genetic diversity,
forward looking population models, a better understanding of the causes of
mortality (and resistance to mortality), and we have made giant strides in
developing restoration strategies (including a number of incredibly
successful pilot projects).  All these new data need to be carefully
considered as we move forward.

As for the threats -- coral bleaching, white diseases and syndromes,
predator outbreaks, hypothermic stress (esp. Florida), hurricanes, etc. are
all still with us.  Unfortunately, there is little that scientists,
managers, or the ESA can do to stop a regional pandemic, cold
front, hurricane, or the main threat in Alina's post -- human population.

On a more positive note, my view from the bridge is that things look better
today for the acroporids than they did in 2006.

But then again - maybe I'm just an optimist.

Happy holidays,


On Mon, Dec 17, 2012 at 11:00 AM, Sarah Garvin <sarah.e.garvin at gmail.com>wrote:

> Dennis, thanks for your response. I was not assuming an agenda, nor taking
> any animosity from your original post. I used it more by way of example of
> the trends I've seen in discussions about this topic here on Coral-List.
> As for the proposed change in status from "threatened" to "endangered" for
> Caribbean acroporids, I can offer one theory. I no longer work for NOAA
> Fisheries, so I cannot comment on the true ins and outs of this particular
> rulemaking. I did work for the agency when the Caribbean acroporids were
> listed originally. The status evaluation methods used when these species
> were listed originally were similar to the methods used for the 66 species
> proposed for listing; however, the determination tool used for the 66
> species (
> http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2012/11/docs/82_corals_determination_tool_web.xlsx
> )
> was not used for the Caribbean acroporids. It seems to me that it would
> only make sense to look at what would happen if you fed all the data we
> have for Caribbean acroporids into the determination tool to see what would
> happen. Would the determination tool come up with a "threatened" status or
> an "endangered" status based on the demographic, spatial, and threats data
> we have for these two species? Clearly it seems the tool popped out
> "endangered" as the agency is proposing uplisting the status for these
> species. To me, it seems reasonable to consistently apply the methodology
> developed for the 66 species to 2 species already listed.
> The uplisting of Caribbean acroporids, should it be finalized, would not
> really result in too many additional regulations for these species. Because
> of the special 4(d) rule already in place for these species that extends
> all of the ESA's prohibitions on take to these species, nothing much in
> terms of prohibited activities would change. The one significant change
> would indeed be the process for research permitting. Currently, existing
> federal, state, and territorial permits are sufficient for conducting
> research; however, should uplisting to endangered occur, folks would need a
> federal ESA research permit. That is why staff at the Southeast and Pacific
> Islands Regional offices for NOAA Fisheries are reaching out to all of you
> and asking you to get involved in the process. If active researchers on
> these species become informed and involved now, it is more likely that they
> will face fewer hurdles in the federal ESA permitting process.
> Last, (and this is for Bill Precht's post) in my years of working for NOAA
> Fisheries on these species, I can attest to the great weight we biologists
> place on data -- it mattered to us and it guided us in making policy
> decisions. The people working on these rulemakings are not nameless or
> faceless, and they are not simply cogs in a government machine. Great
> amounts of deep thought and consideration go into these rulemakings, often
> under tight, court-ordered deadlines, which leaves little time for getting
> everything done *exactly* right on the first go-round. Thus, the proposed
> rule and the public comment process.
> Thanks again,
> Sarah
> On Mon, Dec 17, 2012 at 6:59 AM, <coral-list-request at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> >wrote:
> Message: 3
> Date: Sun, 16 Dec 2012 14:46:04 -0500
> From: Dennis Hubbard <dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu>
> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Impact of listing 66 coral species on coral
>         research
> To: Sarah Garvin <sarah.e.garvin at gmail.com>
> Cc: "coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov" <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
> Message-ID:
>         <CAFjCZNbZC=
> >
> > CnOLzQYjeN8BgUMpkE9q9CGyuiraRxbt2f08=Dng at mail.gmail.com>
> > Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1
> >
> > Thanks Sarah:
> >
> > My questions weren't actually tied to any specific agenda or concern. As
> I
> > tried to lay out in my first posting on the issue, it was explained to me
> > and others at the original posting discussion that listing Acropora as a
> > threatened species was far more effective than listing it as
> "endangered" -
> > and would more likely lead to a better outcome for the two. I did not
> > challenge this view then, and I'm not challenging the opposite one now as
> > I'm not qualified to comment on the political and policy vagaries of such
> > decisions - and don't claim to be an expert on Acropora. I am all for
> > protecting these and other species. My question was simply a request for
> > information on why this position had apparently changed. I can think of
> > three likely scenarios. It could be based on a change in the condition of
> > the two corals and that would be of interest to me. ALternately,  the
> > people who explained the net advantages of "threatened" over "endangered"
> > were unfortunately wrong and this is an effort to correct an earlier
> > mistake. Or,  political or legal conditions may have changed in ways that
> > made "threatened" the right choice nearly a decade ago but now make
> > "endangered" the right one.
> >
> > My intent is not to challenge either decision. My interest is simply to
> > have a better understanding of the process by which decisions are made to
> > propose such changes to the public. I am motivated by the fact that a)
> I'm
> > sure my students will ask this, and b) I'm too lazy to do all the work
> when
> > I have experts at my fingertips. So, I thought this was a good idea. I
> > apologize if my post implied any animosity; it was certainly not
> intended.
> > So, if it is possible to generally explain the changes in the landscape
> > regarding Caribbean Acropora, I'd love to have an idea of what triggered
> > the decision as it will provide what I think are valuable insights to how
> > policy makers make decisions. I look at this as quite different from the
> > legal background and bureaucratic workings of the Endangered Species Act.
> > I've read through the very helpful exerpts that have been posted and that
> > has been a valuable process. I'm more interested in the "backstory" at
> this
> > juncture.
> >
> > Thanks again,
> >
> > Dennis
> >
> >
> > On Sat, Dec 15, 2012 at 1:52 PM, Sarah Garvin <sarah.e.garvin at gmail.com
> > >wrote:
> >
> > > Greetings Coral-Listers!
> > >
> > > I read with interest the various viewpoints raised by the proposed
> > listing
> > > of 66 species of corals, and I wonder if we would be having the same
> > > conversations and asking such difficult questions without the perceived
> > > "threat" of listing these species as endangered or threatened?
> > >
> > > Does the proposed listing raise such divergent (and impassioned)
> > reactions
> > > because it challenges "business as usual"? Do we feel threatened as
> coral
> > > enthusiasts (whether aquarium curators, biologists, geologists, etc.)
> > > because it forces us to question the underlying assumptions that drive
> > our
> > > work and opinions? Or are the ranges of opinions expressed driven by
> the
> > > fact that this is legally-mandated POLICY process, which must use the
> > best
> > > science AVAILABLE in a polarized governmental environment? Perhaps its
> a
> > > combination of all of the above.
> > >
> > > I don't have firm answers to any of these questions. Regardless, I urge
> > all
> > > of you to PARTICIPATE in the public process by *thoughtfully*
> evaluating
> > > the use of science in what is, unfortunately, an imperfect (yet
> > > legally-mandated) government process. There is no "out" once the U.S.
> > > Endangered Species Act (ESA) ball gets rolling. The best and most
> useful
> > > way to express your concerns about the proposal is through practical,
> > > thoughtful, and applicable commentary on the methods used to develop
> the
> > > proposed rule. These types of comments HAVE changed the outcome of a
> > > proposed rule in the final rulemaking. As a former federal employee
> that
> > > had the pleasure(?) of reading and cataloging EVERY. SINGLE. COMMENT
> that
> > > came in on a proposed species listing (and critical habitat) rule, I
> saw
> > > firsthand how those comments impacted a final rule.
> > >
> > > I grant you that the ESA is not perfect; however, it is a powerful law
> > and
> > > I believe it forces us to confront some uncomfortable concepts. I
> wonder
> > > where we might be in the U.S. without the ESA and the questions it
> forces
> > > us to attempt to answer as citizens and as scientists. It definitely
> > points
> > > out that no discipline operates in a vacuum and every discipline can
> > > default to tunnel vision. That, perhaps, is the most humbling fact of
> all
> > > -- no one person or school of thought has a perfect understanding of
> our
> > > surrounding environment and the changes we observe over time. Further,
> > this
> > > fact is not an acceptable excuse for inaction. We simply must do the
> best
> > > we can within the confines of the situation by working together and
> > > acknowledging our inherent limitations.
> > >
> > > Happy Holidays to you all,
> > > Sarah Garvin
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