[Coral-List] Thank you for the threats!

Sarah Young syoungresides at gmail.com
Mon Apr 14 12:35:31 EDT 2014

Dear Coral List,

A huge thank you to everyone who responded to my request for information on
coral expert perceptions of the major threats to coral reefs.  I should
have anticipated I was opening a can of worms!   Just in case anybody else
is interested I found these three publications the most useful, based on
date published, sample size or the number of coral reef based institutions

Brainard, R.E., Weijerman, M., Eakin, C.M., et al. (2013). “Incorporating
Climate and Ocean Change into Extinction Risk Assessments for 82 Coral
Species”. Conservation Biology, 27:6:1169-1178.* – Tiny sample but adoption
of results by wider coral community, recently published and ranked data.*

1. Ocean warming,  2. Disease,  3. Ocean acidification, 4. Reef fishing –
trophic effects, and 5. Sedimentation.

Wilkinson, C. (2008). Status of coral reefs of the world: 2008. Global
Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre,
Townsville, Australia, 296 p.* – no methods on how impacts are prioritized
(unranked), Caribbean region split into subsections with different threats,
authoritative publication.*

Coral bleaching, Excess sediment and nutrient discharges, Disease, Coastal
development and Hurricanes.

Kleypas, J.A. & Eakin, M.C. (2007). “Scientists’ perceptions of threats to
coral reefs: results of a survey of coral reef researchers”. Bulletin of
Marine Science, 80:2:419-436. *– 10 years out of date (data collected in
2004) but good purposive sample and ranked data.*

1.  Human population growth, 2. Coastal development, 3. Algal competition,
4. Overfishing, and 5. Laws and enforcement.

As you can see these publications emphasis 11 different threats.  Our
message is not very clear.

Isaac Westfield raised a good point – the scale at which you are looking at
threats makes a difference to the consensus you can achieve between
experts, you would predict the larger the scale, the greater the consensus
(or aggregation). It will be interesting to see if there is more consensus
among the general public as to what threatens reefs.

The aim of the exercise is to help prioritise proactive and effective
responses in resource limited management environments.  In those situations
it is useful to be as specific (locally appropriate) as possible about the
threats and impacts and trust that the implementation process is robust
enough to deal with differences of opinion.  By robust I mean all those
delicious principles of good governance we aim for (participation,
accountability, transparency etc.).  In the same breath we are desperately
trying to avoid simplifying threats to a list.  The last thing we want is
policy makers deciding, ‘if we tackle the top two things on this list
everything will be ok’ (assuming it is even possible to address 'climate
change' and 'human population growth').  It is challenging to portray the
links, synergies and accumulative effects multiple stressors have on
complex marine systems such as coral reefs without confusing people into

Dennis Hubbard makes another excellent point about how perceptions of
threats change given distance from impact … perceptions change along any
number of lines – the usual demographic suspects, but also value
orientation, life experiences, knowledge on a subject, interest in it, the
degree to which you believe a threat impacts your sense of autonomy etc.
There are volumes of psyc journals written about perceptions of risk and
how these link to behavioural outcomes.  I personally believe that
perceptions have a much greater influence on human behaviour than any
‘objective reality’ of a threat…. Which means that knowing what people
think is impacting coral reefs is just as important as knowing the primacy
of a particular driver.....

Thank you to Clive Wilkinson for his list of lists! Gene will be pleased to
know that at least one person mentioned African Dust! Alina Szmant – people
are not the problem – they are the solution…..

Thanks again and best wishes,


Marine social psychologist
Future of Reefs in the UK Overseas Territories
Marine Ecosystems and Governance Research Group
Newcastle University

More information about the Coral-List mailing list