[Coral-List] Florida's barrier reef seen doomed by 2000

Eugene Shinn eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu
Wed Jul 15 11:30:39 EDT 2015

Dear Listers, A friend recently sent me this old newspaper clipping from 
the Washington Post dated 1991, which I retyped to fit coral-list 
format/requirements. Many of you older researchers will remember when 
this story first made news.Sadly not much has changed. This story caught 
my attention because I am in the midst of taking my annual underwater 
photographs, which now make it a 54-year time-series documenting the 
demise of Florida Keys coral reefs in the areas I have studied. We can 
only hope that the present replanting projects will turn this decline 
around while most of us are still living. The scientists mentioned in 
the article are retired but still with us. This will likely bring back 
mixed emotions for them as it did for me. Gene

*Florida’s Barrier Reef Seen Doomed by 2000*

/Some Scientists Dispute Finding of Study./

Washington Post 12/29/91

KEY WEST, Florida, A five-year study on the Florida Keys coral reef 
comes to an alarming and controversial conclusion: The continent’s only 
living barrier reef could be doomed by 2000.

The 203-mile-long reef, imperiled by water pollution and mysterious 
marine diseases, is dying at a faster pace than it was five years ago, 
according to the study unveiled Friday at a meeting of the American 
Society of Zoologist in Atlanta.

In 1986, University of Georgia marine researcher James Porter concluded 
the reef was dying at the rate of 4 percent a year. His new study finds 
that parts of the reef are dying at the rate of 10 percent a year. “At 
that speed, the reef could be irreversibly endangered by the end of the 

John Ogden, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, a 
research consortium that cooperated in the new study, said the data were 

“There is a precipitous decline in rocky corals,” he said. ”It’s 
something we’ve been studying. “To say something’s going to be dead in 
10 years, that’s going pretty far out on a limb.” Said Walter Jaap, one 
of Florida’s top reef researcher. He has been studying the reef since 
the early 1970s with the Marine Research Institute, part of the state 
Dept. of Natural Resources.

While some part’s die off, he said others parts thrive and still others 
stay the same.

The new study’s five research statiscians sampled an are of the reef 
about the size of two tennis courts, Jaap said that was too small an 
area to judge the fate of the entire reef, which stretches from Biscayne 
Bay to the Dry Tortugas. Also, he said “reefs grow and die on cycles 
that take thousands of years so a five-year study is inadequate.”

Jaap said he feared dire predictions would be counter conductive.

“If we yell wolf too many times and there’s no wolf at the door,” he 
said “then the public loses faith in the scientific community and the 
willingness to support research.”

And there is controversy over two remaining questions: Are humans 
causing the coral reef decline? And can that decline be the result of 
global warming? Which may lie at the root of greatly increased bleaching 
of shallow-water coral in recent years.

The fate of the reef will figure prominently in how growth is restricted 
in the Keys.

“We have a suspicion that there are too many people living in the 
Florida Keys,” Ogden said, “This may be a signal to the state and 
federal governments…This is a test for Florida’s growth management laws.”


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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