[Coral-List] NOAA lists 20 new corals

Eugene Shinn eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu
Fri Sep 5 12:40:28 EDT 2014

Listers, I think most of you know I was born in Key West and have been 
messing around with coral reefs down there for more than half a century. 
Many also know I have frequently railed about the Center for 
Biodiversity because of the way they jerk government agencies around, 
and because even when they lose a petition, the agencies involved end up 
paying their lawyers' fees. That's my tax money.

Many of you also know I have been photographically monitoring Keys reef 
decline since 1960 and began diving in the Keys even earlier in 1950. 
This summer, I spent 2 months down there living on my boat, making 
observations and taking photographs. The photo series now spans 53 years 
and you can follow the first 50 years of reef demise on the short video 
at http://gallery.usgs.gov/videos/334.

This summer's observations made it abundantly clear that reefs in the 
Florida Keys are totally unsustainable. That there are threatened coral 
species off the Keys is irrelevant. No form of reef management can save 
these corals at the current rate of decline. Fish and lobster are about 
the only things left to manage. With that said, here are some recent key 


1. On a weekday, I counted 50 boats at Looe Key Reef. They were tied up 2 to 4 on each mooring buoy. A large catamaran tied up to our stern and disgorged about 50 teenagers. I can only estimate the total number of people in the water at any one time had to be over 200. I wonder what the weekly total is? So what was all the excitement about? What were the divers observing? Well there was some spur topography coated with/Palythoa/, sponges, parrotfish, and schools of blue tangs, Sargent majors, and yellowtail snapper. The only live corals were semi-bleached/Montastrea/  (now called/Oribicella/) near the deeper ends of spurs. Yes, those are the ones that are now officially threatened. The irony of it all was the swimmers were having the experience of a lifetime, and charter boats were making money. It became abundantly clear that few people know the difference between a live coral reef and a dead one. All that is needed is clear water, some topography and colorful fish. The U.S. Dept. of Commerce (also known as NOAA) has finally completed its mission. Money is flowing into Monroe County, and the winter tourist season when rates go up is only a couple of months away.

2. We observed the same at Sombrero Key Reef where all the mooring buoys 
were occupied.

3. USGS researchers installing equipment at Crocker Reef where there are 
no buoys estimated 60 to 70 boats at anchor. The reef is dead.

4. We observed the same coral conditions at Grecian Rocks that we saw 
elsewhere. Grecian has been one of my photo stations for the past 53 
years. There was no live elkhorn coral that we saw.

5. Finally, we went to another photo station at Carysfort, which once 
supported the most prolific stand of elkhorn in the Keys. Phil Dustan 
was with me; he had done extensive monitoring there beginning in the 
mid-1970s. We swam his old transect lines just south of the lighthouse 
and observed not a single living elkhorn coral. The large brain coral I 
began photographing there in 1960 now has only two small patches of live 
tissue. I expect it will be totally dead this time next year.

A significant observation made by Dustan was that parrotfish were 
rapidly reducing dead coral rubble to sand. One could not put a finger 
on any place that was not a parrotfish bite mark. Roving schools of blue 
tangs were doing the same. Phil likes to say the reef is melting away; 
in actuality, it is being eaten away---likely faster than the rates at 
which live corals grow. We observed the same process at the reefs listed 
above. In a well-known area landward of the Carysfort lighthouse, large 
heads of those corals now officially listed as threatened are 95% dead 
and are being chewed away by the parrotfish. These were the same heads 
that were thriving in 1980 when they were cored to determine their 
growth rates. The paper was published in 1981 see (Hudson, J.H., 1981, 
Growth rates in /Montastraea/ /annularis/: A record of environmental 
change in Key Largo Coral Reef Marine Sanctuary, Florida: Bulletin of 
Marine Science, 31(2): 444-459). Now, someone please explain how listing 
these species is going to save them. They have already been under the 
protection of a Coral Reef Sanctuary throughout the time they were dying.

Another irony that is obvious is the booming Keys economy. Construction 
and development are moving ahead, and people new to the Keys are pouring 
in. I was told building restrictions have been relaxed in Marathon 
because centralized sewage has replaced septic tanks, cesspits, and 
shallow disposal wells. More irony! The increase in residents and 
development may be related to the groundwater research we conducted in 
the 1990s to help justify installation of centralized sewage systems. 
And, all of this booming development is dependent on a single highway to 
the mainland that during daylight hours is in many places 
bumper-to-bumper traffic. And they keep coming!

So there you are, an unsustainable situation brought on by a 
36-inch-diameter water pipe from Homestead, aerial mosquito spraying, 
and an almost 50-year hiatus in significant hurricanes. Of course there 
will be a big hurricane one day. It is not a question of if, but when! 
In conclusion, we now have some threatened corals in the Keys that no 
amount of management will save. We constantly are told that the Keys 
economy is dependent on healthy coral reefs. That is clearly a 
questionable statement. We can only hope that more resistant genotypes 
currently being seeded will help, but don't hold your breath. There will 
be even more people "doing their thing" on what we call reefs long 
before we see the benefits of live coral being grown in nurseries. 
Finally, as researchers, we know that listing any organism simply 
increases paperwork, making it more difficult to obtain permits to do 
the research needed to determine the causes of coral death. Even if it 
turns out that climate change is the primary cause, it is way too late. Gene


No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
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E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
College of Marine Science Room 221A
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
<eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
Tel 727 553-1158
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