[Coral-List] Subject: 82 Corals Status Review under the US Endangered Species Act (Patricia Warner)

Billy Causey billy.causey at noaa.gov
Sun Jun 10 13:23:13 EDT 2012

Oh, before the dam breaks and I get a flood of responses I have to
correct myself !!!   There are abundant strategies to manage climate
change at the regional and local scales (eg resiliency, climatologies)
but I meant we have to keep pressure on global solutions.

Jim or coral list crew .... Please post this after my previous email
and it may save us all some time in responses!

On Jun 10, 2012, at 1:11 PM, Billy Causey <billy.causey at noaa.gov> wrote:

> Dear Patricia,
> I have been reading this thread and have avoided responding to most of
> which has been the opinions of individuals, or pontifications which we
> all do too much or citations of conditions observed in the past that
> we would all love to see again.  I first visited coral reefs in
> Veracruz, Mexico in 1962 and can only dream.... as you can imagine.
> But, I wanted to correct a couple of your statements for the coral
> list.  As an employee of NOAA, a Trustee Agency, I can't comment on
> the original topic in this email thread, but suffice it to say many
> good comments have been made, even from my good friend Gene.
> Even though I am no longer the superintendent of the FKNMS, I do serve
> as the DOC/NOAA representative on Sanctuary's Water Quality Protection
> Program Steering Committee.  The EPA and State has done an excellent
> job of managing the water quality issues in the Keys and enormous
> progress has been made in water quality improvements.  We are now at
> 75% replacement of septic tanks and cess pits that you mentioned with
> advanced wastewater treatment facilities .  Monroe County just
> received 50 million $ from
> the state and we will be at 100% replacement by 2015. We are now
> starting to focus some of the attention of the FKNMS WQPP on cleaning
> up the 125 miles of canals in the Keys.
> Another  correction is that we don't really have a high population of
> people living along the 115 miles of populated Keys.  We have 72,000
> full time residents, but we do get 4 million visitors that spend 14
> million visitor-days.
> Like coral reefs around the world, the coral reefs of the Keys are
> impacted by climate change, land-based sources of pollution, habitat
> loss and destruction and overfishing.  It's impossible to separate
> these sources of stress, but they can be managed at different levels.
> Climate change has to be addressed globally, but the other 3 have
> local and regional solutions that can be implemented .... With
> expensive solutions.  When it's all over 1 Billion US dollars will
> have been spent in the Florida Keys.  It is worth it .... But who pays
> and how much is anyways at the fore-front of the discussions.  Tourism
> brings in over 2 Billion US dollars annually, but the question of who
> pays is always present.
> I will close that I always have hope and am encouraged by the health
> of the coral reefs in the Flower Garden Banks NMS. There our
> management team is still recording  coral cover > 50-60%.  Remoteness,
> stable conditions, and many other factors contribute to the health of
> the corals at FGBNMS, but those reefs are just some of the jewels
> around the Gulf that we need to make sure remain healthy.
> Cheers, Billy
> On Jun 10, 2012, at 12:07 PM, Patricia Warner <p.warner1859 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Dear Coral Listers,
>>              I am surprised that no one has much mentioned water quality
>> as one of the greatest possible factors contributing to coral reef
>> deterioration in the Florida Keys.  Poor water quality is absolutely a
>> human caused condition that can be linked, albeit sometimes diffusely, to
>> our actions or often more appropriately our inaction.  I think most people
>> can appreciate the complications of trying to manage reefs across
>> international boundaries, but it is not as easy to understand why managing
>> resources would be so difficult within the jurisdiction of a single nation.
>> This is not an easy question to answer without going into the intricacies
>> of American Government, which if I am not mistaken is probably almost as
>> poorly understood by American citizens as science is.  Nevertheless,
>> several posters have alluded to and deplored some of these issues of
>> multiple agency jurisdictions, laws with no teeth, and the paradoxical
>> balance of environmental resource management with social resource use.
>>              Without forcing everyone to read below to get to the point,
>> the Florida Keys has a long history of habitation and reef resource use
>> with high numbers of residents and tourists on a relatively limited reef
>> area.  The sewage “treatment” used in the area is primarily septic tanks or
>> even more primitive cesspits that are mostly not up to modern standards and
>> built upon quite permeable land with high water tables and seasonal
>> rainfall.  I do not think you need to be a hydrologist or microbiologist to
>> guess that most of the sewage is not treated much at all.  Clearly,
>> designating the reef area and coastal waters as a marine sanctuary has no
>> effect on this water quality situation, and most of the efforts to make
>> these types of infrastructural changes have necessarily come from the local
>> county government (not State or Federal action).  But, in the end all of
>> this comes down to money (what else), and most residents, Monroe County
>> government, and even the State of Florida do not have excess money sitting
>> around to overhaul the sewage system in the Florida Keys amongst other
>> pressing matters.
>> So, what can the ESA do for corals and coral reefs in the Florida Coastal
>> waters?  Well, unlike some of the other environmental laws that have failed
>> to adequately protect coral reefs and ecosystems generally, the ESA is a
>> law with some teeth that has a history of successfully protecting species
>> (and habitats) as others have already detailed.  The fact that it has not
>> so far prevented the already in progress decline of Acropora species since
>> the two were listed in 2006 is not surprising given the extent of the
>> problem and the way our government is designed to work.  However, the
>> provision of the ESA which may have the greatest impact on Florida reefs
>> will be the potential designation of ‘critical habitat’ for the listed
>> corals.  The Act defines ‘critical habitat’ as “the specific areas within
>> the geographical area occupied by the species,…on which are found those
>> physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation of the
>> species and (II) which may require special management considerations or
>> protection…” (16 U.S.C. §1532(5)(A)(i)).  There is no doubt that the
>> “requirements” of corals may be “complex,” nevertheless achieving a
>> ‘critical habitat’ designation is essential to protecting Florida reefs
>> under the ESA.   The ESA remains one of the cornerstones of U.S.
>> environmental law, often forcing action where other laws fail (EAD, 2007).
>>                     Several years ago I compiled an amateur’s report with
>> extensive research on the state of Florida Keys reefs and the legal
>> framework designed to protect it, and I found it a useful context to
>> compare the situation in the Keys to another famous reef in Australia (i..e
>> the GBR).  I have included some of my work below for those interested.  I
>> expect the population numbers are now only greater, and the environmental
>> situation is generally worse, but my apologies for any information or
>> references that may be out of date.  Please email me directly if you would
>> like a full copy of the report or bibliography of literature and statutes
>> cited.
>> Cheers,
>> Patricia
>>                     In 2007, the population of Florida was approximately
>> 18 million in an area 139,670 km2 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007).  The total
>> land area of Queensland, Australia is 1,726,950 km2 with a population of
>> 4.1 million (density 2.4/ km2; OESR, 2007).  The residential population
>> density in the actual Florida Keys island tract was estimated to be about 210
>> people per km2, and this does not include tourist visits that numbered an
>> additional 3.8 million persons in 2010 (Monroe County Chamber of Commerce).
>> Furthermore, the average distance to the outer reef from the Keys islands
>> is less than 10 km, compared to an 80 km average for the outer reef of the
>> GBR.  Clearly, the Florida Reef Tract (FRT) differs greatly from the GBR in
>> terms of human impact, with a highly accessible reef within close proximity
>> to densely populated islands.  Moreover, the unique hydrogeology of the
>> area combined with a historical usage of on-site sewage treatment systems (*
>> i.e.* household septic tanks and cesspits), has had a demonstrably negative
>> influence on the quality of water surrounding the reef environment (Lipp et
>> al. 2002; Darden, 2001; Kruczynski, 1999; Halley et al. 1997; Lapointe and
>> Matzie, 1996; Paul et al. 1995).  In fact, scientists have found a direct
>> link between the lethal ‘white pox’ coral disease and a human fecal
>> enterobacterium found in the Keys’ waters (Patterson et al. 2002).
>> In South Florida, the already complex issue of water quality is further
>> complicated by another unique Florida ecosystem, the Everglades.  Briefly,
>> the Everglades are an extensively interconnected hydrogeological and
>> ecological system which naturally would cover most of the Florida
>> peninsula, starting in the freshwater subterranean springs north of Lake
>> Okeechobee and including the FRT to the furthest distal point (Fig. 3;
>> Craig, 2006; Lodge, 2005; Browder and Ogden, 2000).  However, with the
>> development of South Florida and agriculture in the late nineteenth and
>> first half of the twentieth centuries, the once expansive system has been
>> largely drained and truncated to a pale imitation of the once vibrant
>> ecosystem, replete with agriculturally induced water quality issues of its
>> own immediate concern (Craig, 2006; Lodge, 2005; Sklar et al. 2005).
>> Currently,
>> the effects of Everglades’ agricultural pollution to the FRT are comparably
>> minor, due to the drastically reduced water flow and past Keys’
>> construction projects limiting the extent to which water moves east from
>> Florida Bay to the Atlantic Ocean (Browder and Ogden, 2000; Lapointe and
>> Matzie, 1996).  Of course, local sewage influences currently have a much
>> greater effect on the health of corals. (Lipp, 2002; Patterson, 2002;
>> Lapointe and Clark, 1992)  However, the Everglades restoration efforts
>> include re-establishing more natural and thus greater flow to the area,
>> which could effectively increase both the overall nutrient loading of the
>> water and generally increase the strength of flow eastward to have a
>> synergistically greater impact on the FRT (Craig, 2006; Shinn et al. 2002;
>> Lapointe and Matzie, 1996).  Thus, when we look more closely at the
>> specific situation in Florida, the condition of the reef becomes even more
>> complicated, now including laws and mandates which may often contradict one
>> another for the benefit of either the Everglades or the reefs (Davidson,
>> 2006).             *                *
>> Even without considering the intricacies of the Everglades, the Florida
>> Keys water quality situation involves a complex history of overlapping
>> State, County, and city jurisdictions.  The State has many laws, including
>> a section of the Constitution itself, designed to prioritize and protect
>> the State’s natural environment, and water quality specifically (Art. II §
>> 7(a) Fla. Const.).  These include a statute analogous to the federal CWA,
>> which delegates nonpoint pollution management to local entities (FLA. STAT.
>> §§ 373.451-4595), regulations of septic tank systems (FLA. STAT. §
>> 381.0065) and various classifications for State waters with corresponding
>> water quality criteria (FLA. STAT. § 403.061; Darden, 2001).  Perhaps most
>> significant to the FRT situation, the State’s land-planning agency, the
>> Department of Community Affairs (DCA), designated the Keys as an Area of
>> Critical State Concern in 1979 (FLA. STAT. § 380. 0552(3)).  This
>> designation retains for the DCA and State, all final development approvals,
>> and requires land planning to adhere to State guidelines (FLA. STAT. §
>> 380.05; Darden, 2001).  In Monroe County (Florida Keys), this ultimate
>> State authority over land-use has proved relevant to the County development
>> plans under the direction of the peer-reviewed and DCA commissioned Florida
>> Keys Carrying Capacity Study completed in 2002 (URS Corp. 2002).
>> Accordingly, the Monroe County Commission has implemented a growth limit
>> ordinance (227 residential permits per year; Monroe Co., Fla. Code, ch.
>> 9.5, art. IV, div. 1.5, §9.5 – 122(2007)), as well as management plans to
>> replace and improve current wastewater treatment facilities in partnership
>> with the State created Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (Grosso, 2003; URS
>> Corp. 2002; Darden, 2001).  If effective, these two initiatives have the
>> potential to dramatically improve the quality of coastal waters influencing
>> the health of the FRT.  However, while the growth restrictions may be
>> relatively easy to execute, and demographic statistics actually indicate a
>> recent decline in population, the wastewater treatment remains a more
>> difficult problem (Fig. 4; U.S. Census Bureau, 2007).  Cost is the single
>> greatest issue preventing a comprehensive overhaul of the Florida Keys
>> wastewater treatment system (Darden, 2001).  These projects require many
>> millions of dollars, which neither the County nor the citizens can
>> independently afford.  Moreover, State or federal funding requires complex
>> budgeting processes and prioritization from non-local stakeholders, whose
>> constituencies contain many diverse needs.
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