[Coral-List] Biologists, geologists, and systems thinking tradition in coral reef science

Kaufman, Leslie S lesk at bu.edu
Tue Sep 24 17:11:22 EDT 2013

To echo Alina's email copied below, most of the reef biologists in our couple of elder generations were trained as "honorary geologists", some of us even growing up in geology or earth science departments and earning wonderfully stratigraphic degrees.  Not only that, but our geology colleagues were at least as good honorary biologists as we were at whacking rocks- because our mentors saw to it that this would be so.  We can complain that this fine tradition has ebbed, and that the ranks of carbonate geologists may be a bit thin on the ground in some places, but we can also resurrect and rebuild the interdisciplinary perspective in our own teaching and mentoring.  I (or my pinch hitter, Nathan Stewart) teach a course in the BU Marine Program called "Coral Reef Dynamics: Shallow Reefs, Deep Time" that tows this line, not out of nostalgia, but out of common sense and necessity.  All of my cohort do likewise.  As living reefs wain, the utility of the holistic approach will be self-evident.  Just as we dream of our shattered society pulling together in some utopian scenario of sanity and sustainability, so can we dream of the bits and pieces that make up a vibrant coral reef one day reassembling themselves into something that looks like the world as we knew it as students.  The up side for the reefs, is we know it can happen because we've seen it ourselves, or read of it in rare testimonials like the one we've been celebrating here.  Society lacks any so certain a history, and has never yet built quite such a structure...but we can work at it.


From: "Szmant, Alina" <szmanta at uncw.edu<mailto:szmanta at uncw.edu>>
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] reef geology and today's reefs
To: Michael Risk <riskmj at univmail.cis.mcmaster.ca<mailto:riskmj at univmail.cis.mcmaster.ca>>
Cc: "Coral List \(coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov\)"
<coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov<mailto:coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>>
<68ECDB295FC42D4C98B223E75A854025DA7332112E at uncwexmb2.dcs.uncw.edu<mailto:68ECDB295FC42D4C98B223E75A854025DA7332112E at uncwexmb2.dcs.uncw.edu>>
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Hello Mike:

FYI, about 1/4 of the semester long coral reef ecology course I used to teach was about the geological history and processes of reef formation (starting with Pre-Cambrian stromatolites, etc), processes of reef growth (using Hallock-Muller and Hubbard chapters, and other sources, including the Adey 1976 paper you have now discredited), and emphasizing the critical role of sea level change, tectonic activity, bioerosion, etc on reef morphology.  So I do get it.

However, the reefs we saw when we were young would not have looked like they did then (1960s and 70s) if the rates of mortality we have witnessed since the 1980s had been in effect the previous 1000 years (or even the 50 years before the 30 years).  No doubt something major has shifted in the factors that affect coral reef viability since the 1980s, and in my opinion, that is global warming induced bleaching and consequent disease outbreaks, and coral mortality from both these sources.  Bleaching and disease outbreaks occur far away from human habitation and sewage outfalls.  Sewage, sediments, even overfishing which is more pervasive than eutrophication, can make things worse but are not the primary cause of coral mortality.  And global warming is a direct consequence of each and every one of us, too many humans doing all the varied things we do.  Yes meteorites and changes in volcanism have had major impacts on all marine fauna including corals in the past, but that doesn't
 obviate that we are today's equivalent to a large meteor impact or cataclysmic change in Earth tectonics.

(b.t.w.  Bob Ginsburg long ago bestowed upon me the title of 'honorary geologist' because he recognized that I recognized the importance of geological processes to coral reef ecology).

Further, for anyone who is still reading this far into the message, back during the 3 Hs meeting in Miami in 1994, I brought up the oxymoron of sustainable development as a solution to helping coral reefs survive, and also that it was the issue of human population growth that was the ultimate factor for reef decline.  I got silence and scoffs for my efforts...

Les Kaufman
Professor of Biology
Boston University Marine Program
Marine Conservation Fellow
Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Ecosystem Science and Economics
Conservation International
lesk at bu.edu<mailto:lesk at bu.edu>

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