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

Jason Krumholz jkrumholz at gso.uri.edu
Fri Feb 10 17:39:13 EST 2012

I think there's valid arguments that were made in the initial post, and
perhaps it would be well suited to separate them from the criticism of the
specific published work, which its authors have defended well:

1) OA is a bandwagon research trend.  On the one hand, Yes, OA does get a
lot of research dollars.  On the other hand, it's a pretty broad reaching
and serious potential problem.  Similarly to climate change, it's unlikely
that the scientific community will be able to elicit large scale response
(which would be very expensive) without an overwhelming body of evidence.
Thus, if we want to be able to do anything about it before it is too late,
it is necessary to understand the potential impacts.  This requires research

2) (and perhaps a more compelling point of discussion) OA is dwarfed in
importance by other issues in the Caribbean.  This is almost certainly true
on the short term in many areas. Certainly the combined pressures of
pollution, sedimentation, fishing, diving, land use change and other human
activities on these reefs likely poses a greater short term threat than OA.
On the one hand, one could argue (and the original poster does) that if we
don't deal with these issues, there will be no corals left for acidification
to harm.  On the other hand, of course, is the argument that if we can't
start getting a handle on acidification BEFORE it becomes a major problem
(and it's going to take decades to slow or reverse), the whole argument is

While I disagree with the author's position on the De'ath et al. paper, I
would caution against 'throwing out the baby with the bathwater'. There's
plenty of room for discussion on the relative importance of different
stressors in different regions.

The solution of course, is that 'more research funding is needed'.  Perhaps
rather than all scientists couching this obligatory phrase somewhere deep in
the discussions of their manuscripts, we should adopt a convention to use it
as the first sentence of the abstract of all coral related publications.
For example: "More research is needed, but we report here the results of a
study on the impact of grazing on Acropora growth rates..."   


-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Ove
Sent: Friday, February 10, 2012 4:16 PM
To: Katharina Fabricius; coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Ocean acidification is simply a bandwagon.

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
..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
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
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

The information contained within this transmission is for the use of the
intended recipient only and may contain confidential and/or legally
privileged material and/or material the subject of copyright and/or personal
information and/or sensitive information that is subject to the Privacy Act
1988. Any review, re-transmission, disclosure, dissemination or other use
of, or taking of any action in reliance upon, this information by persons or
entities other than the intended recipient is prohibited. If you have
received this email in error please notify the AIMS Privacy Officer on (07)
4753 4444 and delete all copies of this transmission together with any

Coral-List mailing list
Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Coral-List mailing list
Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

More information about the Coral-List mailing list