[Coral-List] Ocean acidification is simply a bandwagon.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg oveh at uq.edu.au
Fri Feb 10 16:16:17 EST 2012

Well said Katharina.  I was in the middle of writing a similar e-mail response to point out the misquote.  I have scrapped that effort now you have pointed out the problem so clearly.  Maybe Alina and others might also benefit from looking at the output of the recent IPCC special workshop on ocean acidification (http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/supporting-material/IPCC_IAOMBE_WorkshopReport_Japan.pdf).  This report reviews the issue carefully and objectively, trying to get an understanding of the current state of knowledge on ocean acidification and its implications. Given this, I hardly think that current research efforts are simply a short-term bandwagon effect. Given the fundamental and long-lived nature of the chemical changes that we are currently making to the world's oceans, it is an imperative that we thoroughly understand the implications and potential impacts.

Cheers, Ove

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg 
Global Change Institute
University of Queensland 

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Katharina Fabricius
Sent: Friday, 10 February 2012 10:22 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Objective Science?


Dr. Katharina Fabricius
Principal Research Scientist
Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)
Mail: AIMS, PMB 3, Townsville Q4810, Australia

Phone: +61 -7 4753 4412;  Mobile: 0428 713845;  Fax: +61 -7 4772 5852
Email: k.fabricius at aims.gov.au
From: Katharina Fabricius
Sent: Friday, 10 February 2012 11:54
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: RE: Coral-List Digest, Vol 42, Issue 7

Hi Alina cc Coral Listers,

Can I point out that your posting mis-quoted the De'ath et al (2009) study, when you said "I think that papers like the D'eath et al Science paper last year, that with NO EVIDENCE to support their statements, in their discussions invoking OA as THE cause for the decreased rate of calcification they observed".

In the De'ath paper we say (verbatim) "The causes of the decline remain unknown; however, this study suggests that increasing temperature stress and a declining saturation state of seawater aragonite may be diminishing the ability of GBR corals to deposit calcium carbonate."    Our lines or argument that both temperature and OA may be involved are spelled out in a long section in the discussion that deals with the potential alternative causes and experimental evidence.

Your posting also ignores the follow-up findings from Fabricius et al (2011): we found 30% lower than expected rates of calcification in massive Porites around three CO2 seeps and three control sites in Papua New Guinea. At the seeps, colonies likely had a lifetime of exposure to high CO2 (same temperature and same salinity as control sites). We found all sorts of changes in the coral reef community composition along the CO2 gradients, clearly showing that high CO2 can seriously alter reef communities and hence that OA is anything but a "recent band wagon". But we found only small differences in the rates of calcification in massive Porites between high and low pCO2 sites. We concluded:  "The similar and low calcification rates at the high and low pCO2 sites suggest that calcification in massive Porites is relatively insensitive to a reduction to pH up to 7.8, and that another factor (possibly temperature stress) has had a stronger effect on calcification.." [We then present evidence for the temperature stress].

Your posting also ignores the potential for regional differences in the relative effects of warming and OA, today and in the longer term: some regions have been hit by bleaching far harder than others to date. Although the Great Barrier Reef had mass bleaching events in 1998 and 2002, we fortunately lost far fewer corals to bleaching than some other regions. But yes, GBR reefs are nevertheless temperature stressed.

It's important to remember that massive Porites are by far the toughest corals in the Indo-Pacific and hence very conservative indicators for the effects of global changes on our coral reefs. Our PNG study concluded that massive Porites will be the 'winners' in a globally changing environment - but only up to a point: Porites cover and reef development completely ceased where seawater pH was <7.7, and temperature stress will continue to affect the growth and survival even of these tough taxa. Our replicated observational data at the PNG seeps suggested strongly that although Porites calcification was mostly affected by temperature stress, the abundances of all sorts of other measures of a healthy reef (including structural corals, coralline algae and coral recruit densities and diversity) gradually decline to zero as pH declines, and many of them start declining even at slightly reduced pH.

My point is: We certainly have enough evidence to conclude that high CO2 will affect coral reefs - OA is not a band wagon. And I don't believe we have enough field and experimental data yet to make a convincing stand whether, where and from when on temperature will hit reefs harder than OA, or vice versa. Rising temperatures and declining pH have both already started to seriously affect coral reefs, and some effects may well be synergistic. Temperature is fluctuating due to weather patterns, so temperature stress events on tropical reefs will be both acute and chronic, whereas OA is a gradually creeping change in the ocean chemistry that will be irreversible for many many hundreds of years. 

Best regards

Katharina Fabricius

De'ath G, Lough JM, Fabricius KE (2009) Declining coral calcification on the Great Barrier Reef. Science 323: 116-119 Fabricius KE, Langdon C, Uthicke S, Humphrey C, Noonan S, De'ath G, Okazaki R, Muehllehner N, Glas M, Lough JM (2011) Losers and winners in coral reefs acclimatized to elevated carbon dioxide concentrations. Nature Climate Change  1: 165-169

Dr. Katharina Fabricius
Principal Research Scientist
Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)
Mail: AIMS, PMB 3, Townsville Q4810, Australia
Phone: +61 -7 4753 4412;  Mobile: 0428 713845;  Fax: +61 -7 4772 5852
Email: k.fabricius at aims.gov.au
-----Original Message-----
Date: Thu, 9 Feb 2012 09:03:39 -0500
From: "Szmant, Alina" <szmanta at uncw.edu>
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Objective Science?
To: Bill Allison <allison.billiam at gmail.com>, GlennPatton
        <glenn at glennpatton.com>
Cc: Coral List <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
        <68ECDB295FC42D4C98B223E75A854025D9F3F8605D at uncwexmb2.dcs.uncw.edu>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="utf-8"
I have watched the coral reefs of Florida, Puerto Rico, MBRS and more recently southern Caribbean lose coral cover year after year since the 1987 major bleaching event, all due to dramatic and prolonged elevated seawater temperature events.  We have now shown that development and settlement  of two dominant coral  species (Acropora palmata and Montastraea faveolata) are seriously affected by temperatures as low as 30 degrees C, and thus spawn from the surviving adult colonies when they do reproduce, will result in fewer larvae and reduced settlement potential.  In my opinion, based on over two decades watching Caribbean corals die from elevated temperature, I think that ocean acidification (OA) is a minor player in the future health of Caribbean coral reefs.  It doesn't kill corals, just slows calcification a bit, and in some species not at all.  The levels of OA that are being used in lab experiments to demonstrate an effect on calcification are soooo next century, and by th
 en, elevated temperature will have decimated coral populations even more.   There won't be many corals left to be affected by decreased pH, and maybe the survivors will be the ones that are not affected by decreased pH.
In my opinion,  OA is just the most recent band wagon for short attention spanners who got bored of working on temperature effects.  But OA has some big names promoting its significance (good way to loosen up $$ and other currencies), and the band wagon marches on.  I think that papers like the D'eath et al Science paper last year, that with NO EVIDENCE to support their statements, in their discussions invoking OA as THE cause for the decreased rate of calcification they observed in their cores since 1990, during a decade when corals were frequently bleached and stressed by temperature (both of which cause decreased calcification), are totally irresponsible, and makes me totally doubt our current peer review system.  [I could write a whole lot more about everything that is wrong and poorly done in this paper but will stop here].  There is nothing that ticks me off more than bad science!!!
Dr. Alina M. Szmant
Professor of Marine Biology
Center for Marine Science and Dept of Biology and Marine Biology University of North Carolina Wilmington
5600 Marvin Moss Ln
Wilmington NC 28409 USA
tel:  910-962-2362  fax: 910-962-2410  cell: 910-200-3913 http://people.uncw.edu/szmanta

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