[Coral-List] Shifting baselines

Michael Risk riskmj at mcmaster.ca
Tue Sep 17 13:13:02 EDT 2013

Hi Gene, colleagues…

Hmm, time passes when you are having fun. I also remember that colloquium, which now was 20 years ago. Some comments:

I would go even further than Gene, and say that anyone who calls themselves an "ecologist" without the necessary background in geology is advertising falsely. (Yes, there are schools out there at which you can get a PhD in "Ecology" without ever having taken a geology course-my old school, McMaster, being one of them.)

Re the Shifting Baseline and perceptions: that colloquium is an excellent example. It had its high points, such as the time a prominent coral taxonomist ranked "sampling and disturbance by scientists" as one of the major threats to reefs. (I couldn't make this stuff up.) It had its low points: I will never forget proposing we adopt "triage" for reefs, a process by which you divide them into three groups. Group 1 are those that will probably carry on with no direct intervention-central Pacific, perhaps. Group 2 are those that need intervention if they are to survive. Group 3 are those that will inevitably die no matter what we scientists can do. The unavoidable conclusion is that we should put all our resources into Type 2, and leave Type 3 because whatever we do will be wasted effort.

I suggested that the Florida Reef Tract be classified as a Type 3, and immediately got into a heated discussion with Bob Ginsburg, who asserted that there was plenty of reef left and that I was full of it.

In the past decade, coral cover on those reefs has gone from 45% to 4%, despite millions of dollars spent on monitoring. The stresses have not gone away. I rest my case.

That meeting also featured some presentations that foreshadowed what we see today. Bell and Tomascik presented data showing that reefs in the Caribbean and on the GBR were under stress from land-based runoff. Tomascik, in one of the few scientific presentations deserving of the adjective "poignant", quoted Umbgrove from >100 years ago, about the stunning coral gardens off Jakarta-and then showed us that entire coral islands had disappeared, from land-based sources. We showed impacts of sewage on several reefs, and proposed means of monitoring-etc etc.

I don't think it's a shifting baseline as much as lack of institutional memory. We are slow learners. We really had all we needed to know for intelligent management more than 20 years ago.


On 2013-09-17, at 10:34 AM, Eugene Shinn wrote:

> Yes listers, I read Reef Reminiscences. It was very good but all the 
> authors were biologists. No geologists! Manyany of you know that reef 
> studies started with geologists. I guess it is just sour grapes. As for 
> the question of listing and changing species names lawyers will relish 
> the problem and fix it with your tax money. That is what listing is all 
> about. And Dennis, I was at the "Coral Reef Love In" that geologist Bob 
> Ginsburg put together (seems like yesterday). I remember asking the 
> question, "had we listed /Diadema/ when it started dying in 1983 would 
> there be more today?" Umm 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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Michael Risk
riskmj at mcmaster.ca

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