[Coral-List] Aquarius Reef Base Loses Funding

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Sat Sep 15 19:55:31 EDT 2012

      I have to completely agree with Silvia Earle on the question of
humans vs machines.  We need to understand the reefs, and machines can't do
that.  Machines can gather data where humans can't, and they can do all
sorts of wonderful things.  They are tools.  But data are worthless unless
there is someone who can figure out how to understand what they mean.  And
nature is far more complicated than any of our machines can record, or any
of our ideas about nature.  The eye is probably still the most valuable
single research and monitoring tool for coral reefs.  I think in
monitoring, having eyes on the reef that know when something is different
and what to look for, is as important as gathering the data for the huge
database and the fancy statistical tests.  We need to look around and keep
our eyes open and look outside the transects, not just record numbers in
our transects.  I also recommend a paper by Charles Birkeland on the
importance of natural history for understanding what is going on in an
ecosystem, I'll put the reference below, it is probably online, check
Google Scholar.
     My guess is that at $3 million a year, they would have to run a lot of
projects through Aquarius to make it as cost effective as just plain old
diving.  NOAA has also greatly curtailed its research submarine programs,
but then they are very expensive, about $25,000 a day for a ship with
subs.  Money doesn't grow on trees, and an agency often has to make
difficult choices between the many things they would like to fund.  I
suspect many more difficult choices are coming for NOAA in the near future,
hope I'm wrong.
     Cheers,  Doug

Birkeland, C. Important roles of natural history in ecology. Galaxea JCRS
2009, 11, 59–66.

On Sat, Sep 15, 2012 at 8:20 AM, Gino Sabatini <ginosabatini at yahoo.com>wrote:

> -from Sea Technology (Sept 2012) news section:
> Aquarius Reef Base Loses Funding. The federal government has eliminated
> funding for NOAA’s Undersea Research Program,
> which includes the Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only undersea research
> station. The last federally funded mission to Aquarius,
> its 117th, occurred in July. Funding for the undersea research program
> fell from $7.4 million in fscal year 2011 to $3.98
> million in fscal 2012, before being cut altogether in fscal year 2013,
> while NOAA has asked for a $163 million increase to
> more than $2 billion to fund its weather satellite program in 2013, The
> Washington Post reported. Aquarius, operated by the
> University of North Carolina Wilmington, which will no longer host it
> after December, is adjacent to deep coral reefs in the
> Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary at a depth of 63 feet. The 81-ton
> structure houses six bunks, a shower and toilet, and
> computers with wireless telemetry. It has been used as a base for
> saturation-diving research expeditions and for simulation
> training for astronauts. Sylvia Earle, who co-led Aquarius’ last mission,
> said people should not be canceled out completely
> from ocean feldwork in favor of technology. “You can’t surprise a
> machine,” she told NPR, “but you certainly can surprise a
> human being, and a human being can react with a body of knowledge. That’s
> the joy of exploration.. If you knew what you
> were going to fnd, you wouldn’t have to go.. But it’s the unexpected you
> have to prepare for, which is what humans do.” A
> continuing resolution is planned to be introduced in the U.S. Congress to
> possibly fund Aquarius for six months at $100,000
> per month. The Aquarius Foundation, an independent group in Key Largo,
> Florida, is trying to raise money to fund the lab’s $3
> million annual budget. A fundraiser on www.indiegogo.com/SaveARBseeks to
> raise $100,000 by November 16.
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