[Coral-List] Trading reef destruction for progress

Michael Risk riskmj at mcmaster.ca
Tue Mar 10 10:26:10 EDT 2015

Hi Phil.

I read your posting with interest, and not a little schadenfreude. I understand your anger. It prompted me to relate an example from another part of the world, and to direct readers of this list to a perhaps-unrelated news item:http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/03/10/u-s-republican-senators-write-to-iranian-leaders-in-attempt-to-undermine-nuclear-talks/

A few years ago, I was asked to mediate in an environmental dispute in the Persian Gulf. The government of Iran had negotiated a multi billion dollar loan from the EU to develop offshore resources in the PARS gas field. The gas would come ashore at Assaluyeh.

The terms of the loan required protection of the environment, and the EU performed an initial EIA which included a map of the marine resources in the region. A site visit by a German consulting firm a few years down the road discovered that several pipelines had been constructed over existing coral reefs. There appeared to be extensive ongoing damage to the corals.

The proverbial hit the fan, and funds were frozen.

The Iranian point of view was quite reasonable: the initial EIA had simply not detected the presence of large reef tracts close to shore (pause a moment to absorb that), and the pipelines were constructed based on that document. The EU point of view was equally reasonable-damage was being done.

I visited the site in August, trying to make sense of it all. I might mention that, during that visit, the air temperature was 45° C and the water was 35.

It was immediately apparent that the damage was overwhelmingly due to sediment stress, coming largely from dredging activities. I tend not to trust SPM values obtained from optical density techniques, because of calibration issues imposed by different sediments: I also think there is enormous value in being able to retain a sample of the specific sediment that is inducing the stress.

Therefore, I proposed a system by which a guy in a boat goes out at first light every day, takes a water sample, and immediately filters that for direct SPM determination. If those values exceed 10 mg/L, all dredging activity stops until the water clears again. All sides of the dispute bought into this resolution, and as far as I know that guy still goes out every day.

I had opportunity sometime later to chat with the Iranian Minister of the Environment. I asked him why his government had spent so much money to save a small number of corals. (At the time, we were discussing a project to relocate Acropora away from a harbour development.) He said to me, "the Koran tells us that these are all God's creatures, and it is our responsibility to take care of them.”


On Mar 8, 2015, at 10:52 AM, Phil Dustan <dustanp at cofc.edu> wrote:

> This in Sunday's NY Times concerning the dredging fiasco off Miami.
> http://nyti.ms/18rofPD
> ​It really is not a surprise seeing how the economy and "progress" always
> trump conservation​. What is a surprise is that it finally got some
> national press. The premier government agencies overseeing this economic
> development project  (NOAA and the Army Corps) can't  chalk this one up to
> global warming or climate change. Anyone who has a basic understanding of
> reefs and their ecology could have predicted this would happen......
> What is so sad to me is the way our government agencies get away with
> duping the nation into the allowing economic progress to overwhelm our
> natural infrastructure over and over and over.........
>  Pete Seeger asked "where have all the flowers gone" and the same question
> can be asked about  reefs..............and forests, and marshlands, and
> someday humans?
>  In a time when people become outraged about email servers and sexual
> preferences maybe, just maybe there could be a little more outrage and
> action to cease and desist the destruction of our home Biosphere.
> Warm wishes to the people who allowed these permitting decisions,
>    Maybe their wisdom won't shine on Fort Lauderdale quite as brightly?
>       And maybe, hopefully, just maybe, the community of  coral reef
> science community will begin to speak out with more unity, conviction, and
> political pressure.
>         Phil
> -- 
> Phillip Dustan
> Department of Biology
> College of Charleston
> Charleston SC  20401
> Charleston SC
> 843 953 8086 (voice)
> 843-224-3321 (m)
> *"When one tugs at a single thing in nature *
> *he finds it attached to the rest of the world."*
> *   John Muir*
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Michael Risk
riskmj at mcmaster.ca

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