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

Szmant, Alina szmanta at uncw.edu
Fri Apr 11 17:28:45 EDT 2014

There is no doubt in my mind that the number one proximate factor that has decimated Caribbean coral reefs beginning in the late 1980s and even more in 1997, 1998 and 2005 has been thermal stress.  This has led to major episodes of bleaching and outbreaks of diseases which have totally killed coral colonies (or left them with high % partial mortality) several hundred years old+++.  Susceptibility to the thermal stress and diseases has been spatially extensive even in localities with few people, no land-based sedimentation and highly oligotrophic waters.  Overfishing does not kill corals (much....I have seen high levels of Diadema graze down corals, and also some parrotfishes eat coral), but together with the Diadema die-off, post bleaching/disease affected Caribbean reefs had had little grazing to control algal colonization and overgrowth of vacated reef substrate, and thus corals will have a difficult time recolonizing the coral-depleted reefs.  Local effects such as 'land-based sources of pollution' [which BTW should not include CO2 emissions because that confuses the issues of runoff, sedimentation and nutrient additions with global energy policies, global deforestation and the impact of industrial meat agriculture which people in the Caribbean have no chance of regulating] make things worse although a number of studies have documented that reefs in more nearshore turbid waters bleach less and have more coral cover than more offshore reefs in clear waters.  The basic driver for all of these causes of coral reef decline are the number of people both near coral reefs (Caribbean islands are all over populated; Central America is over populated) and the global population.  Each human has a necessary footprint of consumption and CO2 production.  The more of us there are, the larger the collective footprint.  Want to save coral reefs?  We need to immediately reduce our numbers back to a possibly sustainable level of 3.5 billion (from 7.12 billion now walking on Earth).  Without reducing human numbers, all the well intentioned attempts to save coral reefs by local management efforts are in the end futile.  It seems that this should be obvious but I am amazed that so many people ignore this issue and keeping on thinking they can solve the problem by just preventing one more development, or one more marine protected area.  Unfortunately, for the most part marine protected areas have just as little coral as nearby areas outside the protected areas.

I would love the whole of Coral-List to take up the banner of doing something about how to get people to voluntarily have fewer children (1 to 2 max per person).  The most creative method I have learned of was used effectively in Mexico and India (two highly populated countries with high birth rates) and involved televised soap operas that created characters who changed their attitudes about vasectomies, birth control and number of children to have by becoming engaged with the TV heroes who evolved in their beliefs and behaviors over a year or so of watching the programs. (William Ryerson Chapter 20 "How do we solve the population problem?" in "Life on the Brink:  Environmentalists confront overpopulation" P. Cafaro and E. Crist editors.].  

"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." Eleanor Roosevelt

"The time is always right to do what is right"  Martin Luther King

Dr. Alina M. Szmant
Professor of Marine Biology
AAUS Scientific Diving Lifetime Achievement Awardee
Center for Marine Science
University of North Carolina Wilmington
5600 Marvin Moss Ln
Wilmington NC 28409 USA
tel:  910-962-2362  fax: 910-962-2410  cell: 910-200-3913

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Sarah Young
Sent: Friday, April 11, 2014 8:56 AM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] What do coral reef scientists perceive are the major threats to Caribbean coral reefs?

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

Thank you in advance,

Sarah Young (syoungresides at gmail.com)

Future of Reefs Project

Intro video:

"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.
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