[Coral-List] What do coral reef scientists perceive are the major threats to Caribbean coral reefs?

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Fri Apr 11 12:51:24 EDT 2014

Hi Sarah:

I think what you are describing is a widespread phenomenon that reflects a
fundamental gap between our perceptions as scientists and those of the
public. A colleague here has been working to understand the landscape of
public opinion versus scientific assertions   as they relate to hydraulic
fracturing (aka "fracking"). The bottom line (supported by rather elegant
social-science statistics) is that perceptions varied depending on a) the
distance from the impact and b) the "disciplines" of the respondents.

By way of background, the "poster child" for the evils of fracking in the
US has been Dimock, PA. As it relates to your observations, people close to
Dimock (and, by extension, other places within the "fracking bullseye")
focused almost exclusively on socio-economic issues whereas those more
distant argued from an environmental perspective. Related, but a bit more
removed from your observations, opinions tended to be more bimodal (and
conflicting) the closer you get to ground zero. So, in towns where fracking
is occurring on a large scale,  supporters focus on jobs, economic
stimulation and the like while opponents focus on quality of life,
disruption of tradition and a loss of individual rights (to make local
decisions).... and opinions lean more toward the positive economic
elements. Further away (and in the case of northern Pennsylvania, this
could be as close as southern New York state where a moratorium has been
set on fracking and home rule is protected by the site constitution),
opinions are generally more consistent and focus on the environment.

So, what does this tell us about the situation with coral reefs? Obviously,
identifying distance from the problem is tougher for reefs (or
reef-specific problems) than it is for well-defined fracking sites.
However, we might expect a similarly bimodal set of opinions for
small-island states that will perhaps be the most strikingly impacted. Like
in northern PA, there will be a tension between those embracing the
positive economic impacts versus those who see their way of life
threatened. Recent events in Majuro come to mind here, with "economics"
trumping "traditional values". On top of this, perceptions of how badly
"tradition" is being ignored depends on whether the changes are initiated
by locally elected officials versus and external source of control.

As scientists, we are largely farther removed with respect to both distance
and personal impact. As a result, we bemoan the "loss of reefs" almost like
friends and family who have passed on. We are more united in seeing the
issues as "scientific" or "environmental" and can  comfortably argue over
the primacy of particular drivers and the priorities assigned to mitigating
them in various triage scenarios.

The bottom line is that our perspectives, priorities and stakes are very
different than those of the individuals who will be most impacted and are
by and large the least responsible. At the same time, bureaucrats have an
entirely different set of priorities regardless of where their opinions are
aligned.... often according to voter blocks.

The "fracking" survey I mentioned above really opened my eyes to how all of
this will contribute to different and sometimes conflicting perceptions of
the nature of the problems and, therefore, the proposed solutions. I have
mentioned in previous posts my concerns over the pendulum swinging from
"science without policy" to "policy without science" and back again. As
scientists, we need to increasingly move away from the papers that we write
for the other 20 people who do what we do and more toward thinking about
broader socio-economic implications of our findings. This may be tougher in
quantum physics, but should be pretty easy for reef scientists. On the
other side, policy makers need to learn to be as critical of the basic
scientific "truths" on which their policy is built. This is exceedingly
difficult at a lefty college like Oberlin, so I can only imagine how tough
it will be across the physical and intellectual landscape that encompasses
reefs. I fear that, as a Society, ISRS is getting farther from this
intersection rather than bringing the different "disciplines" together in
meaningful ways. Wherever we fit in the spectrum of
scienctist-manager-bureaucrat-politician, we had better wake up to the
realities of what Sarah's research suggests - it's real and we need to
realize that neither "scientific truth" nor "management reality" will get
us where we need to be.


On Fri, Apr 11, 2014 at 8:55 AM, Sarah Young <syoungresides at gmail.com>wrote:

> Dear Coral List,
> I have been an active reader of coral list for the last 15 years and this
> is my first post!  Fingers crossed you can help....
> Newcastle University in conjunction with UK overseas territory government
> departments have amassed a large dataset on *perceived* impacts and threats
> to Caribbean coral reefs.  These range from sun cream to anchor damage.  We
> are testing the hypothesis that people will be more supportive of
> management initiatives seen to be addressing threats they view as
> important, leading to reduced implementation and enforcement costs.
> Notably absent from the majority of interview responses were any mention of
> coral bleaching, ocean acidification, climate change or overfishing.  So we
> would like to compare our perception data to (preferably) a ranked list of
> scientific expert derived threats to Caribbean coral reefs, but failing
> that a list of the top 10 / top 20 threats to coral reefs.
> There is a lot of information on the web but I am looking for something
> with a robust method - a journal article would be great, or perhaps a
> survey with a decent sample size, conducted within the last 5 years......
> Can anyone help?
> If people are interested I can post links to the reports when they are
> complete.
> Thank you in advance,
> Sarah Young (syoungresides at gmail.com)
> Future of Reefs Project
> Intro video:
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8ZNSIUDwZ5Q
> --
> "Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an
> inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day." E.B.
> White
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Dennis Hubbard
Chair, 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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