[Coral-List] Crazy Ideas to Save Coral Reefs

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Sat Sep 1 22:43:09 EDT 2012

    I assume we are not to take your suggestions seriously that divers
should not urinate in the water, wear sunscreen or exhale, that the purpose
was to show that things divers might try to help the reef are ridiculous.
I think we've mentioned before that although concentrations of some things
(like CO2 in breath) are high, it makes all the difference how much total
quantity we are talking about, a breath is such a small amount it won't
make any difference.  Of course, 7 billion people breathing does make a
difference, although many more trillons of trees and grass plants and other
plants also make a difference absorbing CO2.  Which leads to the point that
deforestation is a contributor to CO2 increases, and a concerned person
could avoid buying tropical hardwoods and a few other things that come from
destructive practices in tropical forests, and support sustainable forestry
practices in all forests.
     I believe Hoegh-Guldberg's was a co-author of the scientific article,
not the one in Mother Jones.
     I agree Hoegh-Guldberg is right, I think there is no chance on global
action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while the world economy is so
weak and threatened with the problems in Europe.  Further, I was just
reading an article that stated that in the US, climate change is near the
bottom of the list of priorities for voters.  So to be realistic, the only
thing that could reduce world greenhouse emissions in the near future would
be a massive economic recession (the beginning of the recent great
recession did just that for one year, but a year later the increase in
emissions was larger than usual, putting us back on the highest projections
that IPCC made or higher).  I don't suggest we try using a great depression
to reduce CO2 emissions, but shifting world economies that are already
developed towards sustainable prosperity and efficiency with reduced
ecological footprint instead of endless growth might be good for a variety
of reasons including slowing the growth of greenhouse gases.
     I find it interesting that you say that "Actually there is little we
can do regarding CO2 that would significantly change its concentration in
the air or water
in the short term."  As stated, that is, as far as I know, quite correct,
but then I don't think anyone has ever suggested otherwise.  Change the
statement slightly to read "Actually there is little we can do regarding
CO2 that would significantly change the rate it is being released in the
short term."  and if by "short term" you mean a few years or anything less,
and then it is still correct, I believe.  You can't change it in a year.
But of course this all conveniently omits what so many have been talking
about, and that is, starting on a process of reducing CO2 emissions that
over the next few decades would stop the increase in the rate of emissions
and then reduce emissions to low levels (essentially changing to an
electric economy based on renewables) and avoid having the temperature and
ocean acidification go nearly as far as they would without curbing
emissions (and thus keeping the world liveable).  That would still be a
massive undertaking that would take real time and money, though estimates
are that it would cost a lot less than most people presume, perhaps as
little as 1.2% of the economy.  I contend we throw away more stuff than
1.2%, and that the economic benefits in the future would far outweigh that
cost.  But I'm no economist.  Australia has already embarked on such a
program and estimates it will cost Australia 1.2%.
     There is also an interesting use of the word "we" in Gene's message.
As in 'there is nothing WE can do that will have an effect.'  That of
course depends on the unstated assumption of who "we" are.  If "we" are
divers, I think that is quite true.  All divers could stop emitting any
greenhouse gases and it would make very little difference.  Of course,
every other group of people with the same number of people in it can say
the same thing, "what we do makes very little difference."  And yet
everyone in the world community put together very much make all the
difference (they choose not to reduce emissions at this point, but they
could).  So everybody has the same excuse for doing nothing, and letting
the reefs be destroyed, the arctic ice all melt (so the Arctic ocean then
absorbs much more sunlight and heats up further) and all the Arctic
permafrost melt (releasing huge amounts of carbon released that in time
will likely dwarf what humans release making global warming unstoppable),
and summer heat waves like the one that killed so many in Russia and the
one that killed over 10,000 people in Europe will be common events,
droughts that greatly reduce harvests and drive world food prices way up
starving poor people, and on and on.
    It's all a great excuse for doing nothing, which appears to me to be
the point of Gene's message.
    There are a wide variety of things that individual divers can do, I
certainly can't think of all of them.  They can go to dive at MPAs like the
ones in Fiji where the villagers are employed as dive and snorkel guides
and a diver fee goes to pay for schooling for the children.  Or the shark
dives in Palau that pay something like 14% of all the country's tax revenue
and supported Palau declaring it's entire waters as a shark protection
zone, and they've also protected humphead wrasse and bumphead parrots.
They can also join expeditions from groups like Coral Cay Conservation
which work to survey reefs for designation as MPAs, working with local
groups, and which provide dive training, training in marine life
identification and survey techniques (plus 6 days a week of diving on some
great reefs) or similar groups like Blue Adventures, Greenforce, etc.  I've
done it, can't recommend it enough.  A whole series of MPAs on the east
side of Negros Island in the Philippines where I worked with a group to
survey reefs for MPAs were MPAs when I left 15 years ago, and now I am told
there are a whole series of diver resorts there that dive in the MPAs and
are booked 6 months in advance and charge $200 a night and hire workers and
benefit the local economy, and the fishermen have more fish to catch as
well.  There are a number of other divers organizations that have good
programs that help as well.  Divers can also put in a good word for MPAs
and how they would like to see big fish.  Put in a good word for reducing
sediment and nutrient runoff.  They can also support politicians who want
to do something about protecting coral reefs, and most importantly do
something as a society about greenhouse gas emissions, sediment runoff,
nutrient runoff, overfishing, overpopulation etc.  They can also do things
in their everyday lives like recycle as much as possible, drive as fuel
efficient vehicle as possible (get out of those SUV's and giant pickups,
except when other vehicles won't do the job like hauling heavy stuff in a
pickup), use public transportation when possible and support making public
transportation available.  Walk or bike more for short trips instead of
driving (getting some good exercise and getting healthier as well!).  Pay a
small amount extra to fly carbon-neutral.  Don't set the air conditioning
on flash-freeze during the summer, suggest to diver's resorts that they
check out using cold water air conditioning (with the water returned deep
below the reefs).  Don't buy things you don't need or use that fill your
garage and mini-storage (manufacturing uses a lot of energy and water).
Eat more vegetables and fruits and less meat (meat production adds a lot to
greenhouse gas production, plus vegetables and fruits are more healthy for
you, and you can feed 10 times as many people with plants than animals,
which brings world food prices down helping poor people).  Support ending
ethanol in fuel, since it takes more fuel to produce the ethanol than the
ethanol substitutes for, and uses food to fuel vehicles which drives up
world food prices and hurts poor people.  Change light bulbs to compact
fluorescents or even better LEDs, put in more insulation in the house,
replace a worn out furnace with the most efficient model available, buy the
most efficient appliances like refrigerators, stoves and washers, dry
clothes on a line if possible instead of using a drier.  Suggest that the
company turn off lights at night (huge numbers are left on in cities every
night, wasting lots of energy)  Support ending huge subsidies to fossil
fuel companies, including the cost of the military needed to keep sea lanes
open to keep oil flowing.  Without massive subsidies paid for by taxpayers,
oil and coal particularly would be much less competitive than renewable
energy and the switch to renewables would happen.  Support not developing
tar sands.  Those ideas just begin to scratch the surface of the many
things people can do, there are whole books of suggestions of things we can
do.  Many of them save you money as well!!
     So in short, there is a lot divers can do.  We can choose to be part
of the solution, instead of part of the problem (and just watch the reefs
die).  I heard someone recently say that pointing out things that people
can do that will help save reefs is something they didn't consider
advocating, they considered it just being responsible.
     I would have to disagree to some extent that most changes due to CO2
are in deep water or shallow estuaries.  First, the greatest changes due to
CO2 are in temperatures, and they are greater in the polar areas than the
tropics.  The reduction of area and thinning of the Arctic ice is an
example, plus the melting of permafrost that releases huge amounts of
methane and leads to dry vegetation catching fire and burning huge amounts
of carbon.  But I think Gene was referring to dissolved CO2 (but once again
not being specific).  My understanding is that the largest amount of CO2 in
the atmosphere that dissolves in the ocean does so in the polar waters,
where the cold water is able to dissolve much more CO2 than in the
tropics.  Further, the most important spot is in Antarctic waters where
water is produced that is both colder and more saline and which sinks to
form a layer of deep water in all the world's oceans.  That takes the most
CO2 out of the atmosphere.  The decrease in pH is probably greatest in
polar waters and deep sea water, certainly calcium carbonate saturation is
least in cold water (where there are no coral reefs).  That is surely what
Gene is referring to and we agree on that.  As for the effects of the
dissolved CO2, it may affect many things, including tropical corals and
shell-forming organisms all over the earth.
     On the point on corals in deep water below the compensation zone, I
agree with Gene.  But I point out that almost all those species of coral
are tiny, and none (none! zero) of them produce solid geological
constructions of calcium carbonate, let alone protect shorelines.  (A few
species build constructions called deep reefs, but they are made of thin
branches and don't form a solid construction.  Yes, coral reefs have a lot
of sand in them, and are commonly riddled with holes, but they are a lot
more solid than the deep constructions which are more like a staghorn
thicket.)  If you don't care about whether the geological structures we
call coral reefs protect shorelines and provide people many billions of
dollars of ecosystem services a year, then tiny deepwater corals which add
to one end of their skeleton while the other end dissolves will do fine.
Fine if entire countries wash away? (Maldives, Marshall Is., Tuvalu,
Kiribati, etc, but that's OK because they are tiny third world countries?
Tough luck?)  Oh, that's OK, sea level rise caused by global warming is
going to drown them anyhow?  Not sure divers will find those deepwater
corals exciting, and tourism is another ecosystem service that reefs
provide people with that is worth more tens of billions of dollars a year.
How will reef fish do swimming around deepwater corals that are about 3 cm
tall, scattered on sediment (that's what most deep water corals are)?  Will
there be enough reef fish to attract divers?  Will reef fish catches
continue at present levels?  Reef fish need rugosity, complexity, holes to
hide in, deep corals don't provide that.  How many tens of millions of
people along the tropical shorelines depend on reef fish to feed their
families, and if they don't catch food that day their family has nothing to
eat that night?  Try living along the coast in Indonesia or the Philippines
and you'll see what I mean.  Indonesia has 230 million people, the world's
fourth largest population country, and the Philippines has over 92 million,
and a large part of both countries' populations are heavily dependent on
reef fish for their protein and to sell to buy the staple, rice.  Survival,
in other words.  Not to mention the tiny detail that you can't grow deep
corals along tropical shorelines, the water is way way too hot even without
global warming (deep corals live in water just above freezing).
    The dive industry is a natural constituency for coral reefs, but they
don't seem to have been very vocal or as active as they could be.  I think
they could make a difference.  So could all of us.  The problems are all
solvable, but not if we don't even try.

   Cheers,  Doug

On Fri, Aug 31, 2012 at 8:47 AM, Eugene Shinn <eshinn at marine.usf.edu> wrote:

> Dear  Jessica, In answer to your question, what can a diver do, you
> might suggest that they do not urinate in the water, do not wear
> sunscreen, and do not exhale,(exhaled breath contains between 30,000
> and 40,000 ppm CO2). Actually there is little we can do regarding CO2
> that would significantly change its concentration in the air or water
> in the short term.  Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is correct when he said in
> Mother Jones Magazine, "It's unwise to assume we will be able to
> stabilize atmospheric CO2 at levels necessary to reduce or prevent
> ongoing damage to marine ecosystems." Most changes due to CO2  are in
> deep water or in shallow estuaries, not in coral reef areas. Deep
> water corals below the compensation zone have always dwelt with
> higher levels of CO2. Gene
> --
> No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
> ------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
> E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
> University of South Florida
> College of Marine Science Room 221A
> 140 Seventh Avenue South
> St. Petersburg, FL 33701
> <eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
> Tel 727 553-1158----------------------------------
> -----------------------------------
> _______________________________________________
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