[Coral-List] Alert Diver Article on proposed coral listing

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Tue May 14 12:22:24 EDT 2013

I think the postings about acidification are the start of an interesting
and meaningful discussion - and one that I hope will contimue. I have heard
numerous arguments for various factors being the focus of our efforts, they
all seem well intended and make a case for the need to focus on the "most
important" problems to reach the "best solutions". However, we should all
be mindful that this is not new. Having said this, the weak of heart might
be well served by hitting the delete button and moving on to the next

Building on the ideas about "shifting baselines, I start with some history.
While some can speak with greater authority about reef science in the 60s,
I will start a decade later. Similar discussions to ours were common,
albeit in the absence of listserves, email and other forms of
stream-of-consciousness discussion.  All were well argued..... all were
clearly supported by data that showed a particular factor to be "most
important" above all others.... and all were subsequently shown to be
myopic by later events. In the 70s and 80s, we argued over the supremacy of
top-down versus bottom-up issues, each side arguing the short-sightedness
of others. Coral reef meetings focused on scientific ideas --- and
management, like monitoring today, was something that everyone wanted to
have done.... but by someone else. NSF money was still relatively plentiful
and "real scientists", at least in the US, looked down on those of us who
worked with park managers and the like. Small marine labs like Discovery
Bay, West Indies lab, Lizard Island, Bellaires and a handful of other
"outposts" were the homes to researchers who often fell outside the
mainstream of science in the "big institutions" because all they could do
was watch the reef and record spatial and temporal variability. No big
instruments, no supercomputers, just eyes that could see the variability
that existed and could absorb the scorn of those with larger research
budgets. Monitoring was on the rise and we all had "the best" protocol that
everyone else should adopt. Rugosity was a dirty word... but was whispered
in lower circles. The precipitous declines on the 1980s were still in the

While we already derided one another over the serious deficiencies in our
respective views, we generally shared the opinion that the causes of the
problems we were seeing were on this side of the horizon. As a result, the
"remediative" focus was largely on management and regulation. Coastal zone
management became integrated coastal zone management. Connectivity was not
really in the picture in a meaningful way and adaptability was not on the
radar screen. Smaller meetings popped up to argue over monitoring methods
and whether we wanted to discriminate 2% change... or 3%.... or 4%???? Some
of us still fondly remember the acronyms for the Coral Reef Assessment
Program and NOAA's Undersea Research Program Office (was NURPO a new Purina
product or the missing Marx Brother?).

Then climate change exploded on the scene and we added "side-in" effects.
Following earlier patterns, we argued over whether local management might
provide resilience for reefs exposed to rising temperatures or bleaching
was the trump card that hit even the healthiest of reefs, making local
management and regulatory schemes irrelevant. Diseases were added to
bleaching and, like the tendency to name great blues singers by combining a
personal affliction, a fruit and an American president, we chose a color
and a really scary descriptor for disease names..... until we ran out of
options and had to start adding roman numerals.

As before, each camp argued eloquently over the supremacy of their set of
controls, even accusing detractors of scientific dishonesty.... wow, was
that fun!!!! Reef meetings were increasingly dominated by monitoring and
management sessions and the relationship between science and policy was
rapidly changing. Small marine labs were well along in being either being
marginalized or disappearing.... and were being replaced by large
"coral-reef centers". "Old fogies", reminiscent of the "good old days"
still tried to keep these outposts relevant, but position papers
proliferated and the small labs became increasingly marginalized. It's
tough to put a date on this phenomenon, but one day I woke up and "it was

So..... here we are, arguing between which outgrowth of side-in stress
holds supremacy. Is it bleaching? ENSO or similar cycles? Changing
meridional overturn? disease? or now..... acidification? You don't see
those papers on connectivity as much any more. Corals became lab rates and
we wrestle with how to combine huge volumes of observational data into
statistically manageable volumes. At the center is the problem of how to
take disparate information gathered by different people with different
objectives... different methods.. and different biases....... and create
something from which we can divine some critical truths.... or create some
remote method to describe change using the "best" survey methods. The
interesting thing is that at the center of all this is that pesky
observational information that lost popularity decades earlier.

The bottom line is perhaps that advocates of all these myriad perspectives
are right. Maybe we need to stop arguing over what is most important and
think a little more about underlying principles and ways that we can hedge
our bets.... or what it is that we are actually trying to go back to.
Certainly, we need to think about what we want the new, "better", or
"fixed" reefs to look like. Is 360 our target? Is scrapping it just
"selling out" or "giving up"? While we argue about the best target, be it a
CO2 level and Ph value or a percent cover, have we forgotten that the
precipitous decline in reef cover occurred when CO2 was well below 340? I
have no idea what Ph was, but corals were moving out of town faster than
they had in the Cretaceous when those pesky clams took over the prime
neighborhoods..... as temperature rose..... while CO2 (and presumably Ph)
were shifting toward the benign.

And.... the really big question.... what do we do? We have endless climate
initiatives, international agreements are signed.... and CO2 continues to
rise. Great Britain is the darling of climate mitigation as their emissions
decline.... and world emissions continue to climb. However, much of
Britain's "success" stems from de-industrialization that has little to do
with emissions targets - it's just good business. However, their new
service-oriented sector still needs raw materials in the form of glass,
concrete, steel.... and all those solar panels and wind turbine.
Ironically, the source is overwhelmingly China, where these agents of
emissions decline are built from.... yep - coal. So.... Great Britain's
measured emissions go down, they look oh so good, but global emissions
continue to rise because they are "outsourcing" their carbon to coal-based
economies that, for whatever reasons, fail to make it into the
calculations. The US, and even my beloved college (which is somehow among
the top 5 progressive climate schools in the US) march in similar step. My
but, aren't we good folks???? But, the emissions we measure and those we
are responsible for are vastly dissimilar, and we continue to be patently
dishonest about all of this (our 10 acres of solar panels are "made of
coal" too).

We take solace in the precipitous decline in the availability of oil and
gas in the near future. The problem is "oil shale", which is projected to
rise from it's present 23% share in fuel sources to 49% by 2035, according
to the EIA. This would be higher (and will be) if we could get more rigs
companies to commit to places like Poland. And, this ignores all that coal
in developing countries and the tar sands in Canada - something we wouldn't
have touched 15 years ago. Sorry folks, but fossil fuels are still readily
abundant in quantities that will cook us all four times over before
emissions levels flatten unless we make a conscious effort to change - so
we can't fall back on that one bit of comfort.

I'm not sure where I'm headed with this, but we might want to ask some
questions about what we're trying to do before we start arguing over
exhaust, bovine flatulence or myriad other causes. The answer to this
problem is likely to be "all of the above". Sorry, it's the end of a long


On Mon, May 13, 2013 at 12:29 PM, Eugene Shinn <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>wrote:

> "Buffering acid in car exhaust won't change anything"...The high level
> CO2 (.004%) in the atmosphere/ocean will remain for 50 to 100 years. We
> will run out of fossil fuel by then anyway. 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
> <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
> Tel 727 553-1158
> ---------------------------------- -----------------------------------
> _______________________________________________
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> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
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Dennis Hubbard
Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
(440) 775-8346

* "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*
 Benjamin Stein: "*Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream*"

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