[Coral-List] Subject: Re: fish and algae - and people - and Paradigms

David Fisk davefisk at gmail.com
Thu Feb 20 23:10:13 EST 2014

Though I am drifting a little bit away from the fish-algae paradigm
discussion, I noted with interest Nicole Crane's comments on traditional
verses modern/western management. I agree that listening first and trying
to adapt science knowledge within a traditional framework is recommended,
and that a two way exchange of knowledge will contribute towards the best
possible outcome in any traditionally dominated situation. But the reality
is, all traditional coastal communities are facing the challenge of
adapting to a more western / currency based society that is eroding or
rapidly changing the traditional social fabric of these societies. The
introduction of modern tools like mono filament nets, nylon lines, metal
hooks, outboard motors, refrigeration, international connections, etc, are
doing more to turn many of the traditional ways of management into
relatively useless tools, and its happening within a single generation. No
one would deny a people any rights to these modern tools so the weight
given to 'traditional' verses other management methods needs to be
carefully applied as the reference framework for both extremes are
literally worlds apart. I maintain that traditional-subsistence people have
a great wealth of priceless information on the 'where, when, and how' of
coastal reef resources, but are relatively less informed of the 'why',
except in a few examples where the trial and error approach has coincided
with the scientific understanding of the 'why'. Perhaps this is the best
way to link the two sources of knowledge, as was shown by the nice example
described by Nicole Crane, which can be used to get the attention of
traditional societies to the worth of certain parts of science to their
resource management issues. Bearing in mind of course that neither sources
of knowledge have all the answers.

So in more traditionally based societies, listening and considering the
totality of local social-economic 'parameters' is absolutely essential
before one starts suggesting a western science paradigm like the MPA
panacea. To this end I point the finger at many NGO's and people who are
more likely to be 'project managers' by profession, ie, without backgrounds
in working coral reef science, for the basic mistake of over simplifying
things by treating current reef paradigms as all-inclusive static concepts.

Coincidentally, these are the people and organisations that seem to be
obtaining the majority of limited funding that is available for reef work
in many areas (though I acknowledge, not in all areas of the coral reef
world). I have been told by some reef NGO/Regional Organisation project
managers that, 'we don't need to have coral reef scientists on staff, if we
need advice beyond the current set of paradigms we work with, we will
contract somebody to tell us why we have a problem', to which I ask: how do
you know when you need to find out a specific question to a problem (which
by this stage it is usually too late to do anything about it)? Up to now, I
do not get any indication that suggests an understanding of the underlying
issue as to how people with this attitude may be at odds with the science
they portray to be applying. To quote Nicole Crane : 'simplification and
sensationalism is really not necessary - the whole story is really the
interesting one.' But the people who simplify and sensationalise the
conditions of reefs are using this approach to successfully obtain the
funds to continue with that approach, so the system is self perpetuating.

Here then, I see a possible connection between the 'fish-algal' discussion
and the fundamental concerns expressed by Hubbard wrt his students (and
others) being either cynical of science or are only interested in a narrow
subject focus within reef science. Maybe students and some professionals
are just adapting to the reality of where the money/jobs are? Thats not to
say its right, it just the way things have developed unfortunately, and
nothing will change until the managers with the money change their
approach. This will only happen when the business model purposely
integrates more working scientists within decision making. As well,
management will have to adopt the premise that there are many ways to
understanding and that a single unilateral approach (single discipline,
single assessment method, single focal area, etc) will not give all the
required answers. That is, just applying a sub set of simple current
paradigms will be insufficient to properly understand and manage such
complex systems as coral reefs, what is needed is the incorporation of
management systems that can deal with stochastic events and changes in reef
understanding from all points of view.

Dave Fisk

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