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

Dean Jacobson atolldino at yahoo.com
Sun Jun 10 20:31:59 EDT 2012

About coral and water quality:  water quality, in my opinion, explains around 99% of coral degradation patterns (and this includes COTS outbreaks!) in the Marshall Islands.  Those going to ICRS can read my paper in the Proceedings showing a tight correlation between disease and coral-killing encrusting algae on massive coral and residences (houses with spetic systems) along the shore in the relatively sparcely populated central region of Majuro.  Others can request a pdf.  It is striking.  On very sparsely populated atolls, one cannot find disease, at all.  Of course, it is possible that atoll coral populations are unusually sensitive, lacking in resilience, compared to reefs near high islands or continents.

 From: Patricia Warner <p.warner1859 at gmail.com>
To: coral-list at coral..aoml.noaa.gov 
Sent: Saturday, June 9, 2012 12:15 PM
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Subject: 82 Corals Status Review under the US Endangered Species Act (Patricia Warner)
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



                      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).
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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