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

Billy Causey billy.causey at noaa.gov
Mon Feb 13 12:08:25 EST 2012

Drew, Ove, Katharina, John and Alina,
First of all .... a belated Happy New Year to each of you!

What an incredibly entertaining and enlightening exchange you all have
generated for all of us on the Coral List.  You are all on my list of
global coral reef heroes .... along with a few microbiologists..... and I
wanted to respond.

Alina ... you began with a very clear and well-articulated history of coral
decline as it has been "all due to dramatic and prolonged elevated seawater
temperature events."  I couldn't agree with you more, except in the Florida
Keys where we first began observing the impacts of elevated seasurface
temperatures in the late 1970's when vast numbers of Xestospongia died off
in areas where they were exposed to warm Florida Bay waters. And again in
1980 when we had 6 weeks of slick-calm, doldrum water conditions and 10's
of thousands of reef fish died over a month timeframe.  And our first
massive coral bleaching event in 1983, that occured between Looe Key and
Western Dry Rocks off Key West, in an area that once again was exposed to
elevated water temperatures.  And let's not forget that Panama was
experiencing record high water temperatures in November and December of
1982, before the die-off of the Diadema was observed by Harias Lessios in
January 1983.

Could it be that the combination of elevated seasurface temperatures,
increased microbial activity and perhaps conditions exacerbated by
increased nutrients in coastal waters set the stage early on for what we
are now experiencing on coral reefs around the world...... with about 12
years of delay in the Indo-West Pacific?  You have all heard me say this in
the past.

My intention with this posting on the Coral List is to point out that I am
concerned with the level of debate about Ocean Acidification.  The science
is in front of us and it is "real" and is happening in hot spots around the
globe.  My concern is that when the coral reefs were turning stark white
(bleaching) from elevated temperatures, we still witnessed an impossible
scientific debate about the "cause of coral decline" ....with some never
admitting that elevated sea surface temperatures played a role.  This
debate gave decision-makers a reason to not make decisions and the public
was largely split on whether or not climate change was real .... all the
while occurring at a time when we could point to bleached reefs and predict
coral diseases would be occurring on the stressed corals right behind the
coral bleaching events.

Ocean Acidification will not be as visible as hectares of bleached coral
reefs.  We will not be able to see it coming like we can when reefs turn
stark white.  It will be more insidious in it's approach and impact.  It
will be difficult to motivate the dive industry, fishermen or other
waterfront communities until it is on top of us.  Marinelife will be
responding to lower pH long before we can visually observe what is
happening.  We will not have the luxury of a long scientific debate as we
have had with climate change/coral bleaching etc.  Even though OA and
climate change are related .... how can we ever convince the lay-public
that the oceans they know are changing dramatically.

I am seriously concerned about the impacts of Ocean Acidification and am
beginning to anecdotally think that we may have experienced some of it in
the two semi-enclosed basins of the Wider Caribbean (Caribbean Sea and the
Gulf of Mexico) already.  OA scientists have pointed out that OA can occur
in hot spots, especially where large amounts of dissolved organic carbon
enters the sea.  Just perhaps, the semi-enclosed Wider Caribbean may have
responded to climate change 12 years before the Pacific reefs due to their
exposure to elevated seasurface temperatures and runoff from vast numbers
of tributaries.

Now ... I have thrown some concerns out for the Coral List ... and a few
ideas.  Perhaps this email thread can lead to other questions being asked
and greater research and scientific findings.  But in the meantime, why not
target the reduction of greenhouse gases?  It's not only applying the
precautionary principal ....but it is common sense.

Cheers, billy

On Fri, Feb 10, 2012 at 5:19 PM, Drew Harvell <cdh5 at cornell.edu> wrote:

> Hey Alina, Katharina, Ove and list,  I thought this was a good exchange. I
> didn't agree with Alina for the reasons Katharina beautifully articulated,
> but I did appreciate her getting a very clear view stated. And I do respect
> that view, given that she has had her hand in OA work and the caliber of
> her work. And I sometimes also agree with the frustration about OA-- that
> we are so overwhelmed with the immediacy of the huge temperature impacts on
> coral reefs, that for some tropical oceans, OA lags a bit as the top
> priority. But of course, increasing OA is  the very unpleasant reason that
> we cannot expect corals to simply expand their ranges over a 50-100 year
> range in response to high temperature stress, because just as they get
> settled in rising OA will catch up with them.
> The other problem is that there are parts of the oceans where OA is a
> priority issue NOW. I work part of the year in the US pacific northwest
> (San Juan Islands, Washington)-- a region where seriously low PH water is
> already upwelling and causing significant impacts for oysters, as an
> example. Some oyster hatcheries have needed to completely treat their water
> for low PH and there have been field mortality events of settling oyster.
>  We may also find these corrosive waters are affecting fertilization
> success and larval development of many critters, although that is hard to
> pinpoint in the field.
> Best, Drew
> Drew Harvell
> Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future
> Cornell University
> On Feb 10, 2012, at 4:16 PM, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg wrote:
> > 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?
> >
> >
> >
> > Katharina
> >
> > -----------------------------------------
> > 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 presen
>  t
> > 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
> >
> > References:
> > 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>
> > Message-ID:
> >        <
> 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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> Drew Harvell
> Professor
> 321 Corson Hall
> Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
> Cornell University
> Ithaca, NY 14853
> Telephone:  (607) 254-4274
> Email:  cdh5 at cornell.edu
> Web:  http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/harvell/harvell.html
> Associate Director for Environment,
> Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future
> 216 Rice Hall, Telephone: (607) 255-0091
> http://sustainablefuture.cornell.edu
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Billy D. Causey, Ph.D.
Regional Director
Southeast Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Region
NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
33 East Quay Road
Key West, Florida 33040

Office:  305 809 4670 (ex 234)
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Will Our Grandchildren Remember Us For What We Conserved and Protected or
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