[Coral-List] Forecasting and reef management

John McManus jmcmanus at rsmas.miami.edu
Mon Feb 13 14:08:38 EST 2012

Interesting and good questions.

One thing to keep in mind is that the average coral reef is large.
Moderate-sized fringing reefs are often around 1 sq km, which is a million
sq m (try surfing around SE Asia on Google Earth). Any concept of protecting
or replacing something that big raises lots of problems with scale. For
instance, you can often scale up building one structure to building a few
hundred at a predictable cost. However, one immediately starts running out
of materials locally when scaling to thousands or millions, and suddenly
enormous costs appear for things like international shipping, assembly space
on land, and large barges and cranes.   Similar issues arise with any kind
of planting, inoculation, etc. concept. 

Some coral patches the size of a house in floor area are often called
'reefs' informally. Some of those are of unusually high economic (and
occasionally ecological) value. For example, a place like Ft. Lauderdale in
Florida has a relatively low number of corals (compared to, say, a similar
stretch of coastal Antigua), which provide economic returns in the millions
to billions of dollars annually. The more southern patches of corals may be
very important to the ones slightly further north. Thus, every coral has
unusually high economic value and often very high ecological value. It may
be thus not only tractable (in terms of sizes of patches)  but also
economically justifiable to put significant resources into doing whatever
one could to keep them going. Similarly, some coral patches near resorts
might make coral-by-coral or coral patch treatments of some kind possible.
However, unless we get to where doing a little work leads to a large area of
impact, we are not in a position to effectively deal with climate-specific
difficulties. However, we can improve coastal management on a global scale
(fishery regulations, reductions of nutrients and sediments from watershed,
MPAs etc.) to avoid exacerbating the climate problems, and to ensure that
reefs subject to injury of any kind have the highest possible chances of
resistance, resilience, and appropriate adaptation, in terms of changes of
composition, adaptive development and genetics. Note that the answer in
these cases rarely involves simply tightening down on enforcement (which
often works against the goal), but rather involves legal revision and
enforcement in conjunction with participatory management, and its attendant
community organizing, alternative livelihood generation, improvements to
quality of life, education, periodic monitoring and analysis, and adaptive

That having been said, we still need to know a whole lot more about how
climate change will actually impact coral reefs and the people that are part
of their ecologies, because difficult decisions will soon be upon us.


John W. McManus, PhD
Director, National Center for Coral Reef Research (NCORE)
Professor, Marine Biology and Fisheries
Coral Reef Ecology and Management Lab (CREM Lab)
Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS)
University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, 33149
jmcmanus at rsmas.miami.edu      http://ncore.rsmas.miami.edu/
Phone: 305-421-4814   

"Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often
   than an exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made
     --John Tukey, Statistician, National Medal of Science and IEEE Medal of

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Thomas Webler
Sent: Sunday, February 12, 2012 8:13 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Forecasting and reef management

I joined this listserve some time ago, when I became engaged in a project to
experiment with reducing the vulnerability of reefs in Puerto Rico to
ecotourism by changing people's behavior.  It's been very instructive for me
to read the list. This is my first posting.

I'm writing because I didn't see anyone yet remark on the two articles in
the December issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
(BAMS), by Claire Spillman and others.  Basically the articles call for more
accurate tools to forecast key climate change-related threats to
reefs: storm surge, thermal stress, acidification and sea level rise (SLR).
 The articles suggest that these forecasts might be useful to someone,
presumably reef managers.

What I wanted to know from the listserve is this...  Are there non-trivial
management actions that are known to be (1) preventative for harm,  (2) help
promote coping during the stressor, or (3) aid recovery after an event?
Mention is made in the article of implementing temporary MPAs to remove
additional stresses (from fishing and tourism), which reportedly aids
recovery from bleaching.  Is this a fact or a conjecture?  Mention is also
made of sunshades.  Have these been attempted and demonstrated successful at
alleviating thermal stress?  Are there other management actions?

Here's the reference for the first of the two articles if you are interested
in reading them.  (The second deals explicitly with acidification).

Spillman, C.,Heron, S., Jury, M., and Anthony, K.. 2011. Climate change and
carbon threats to coral reefs: National meteorological and ocean services as
sentinels.  BAMS. 92(12):1581--1586.

Thomas Webler
Research Fellow
Social & Environmental Research Institute Suite 404
278 Main Street
Greenfield MA 01370 USA
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