[Coral-List] Fwd: Giant barrel sponges taking over Florida's reefs!

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Tue Sep 8 14:47:19 EDT 2015

Just my two cents worth in between department duties, but I think we need
to agree on what it is about reefs that we want to "preserve". Until we
decide on that, it really doesn't matter what we call these things.

I've been reading the deniers' literature a lot lately.... including books.
Once I get beyond the angst of financially supporting their misdirected
goals, it is interesting to see how many erroneous conflations in their
writingsalso appear in the papers of folks that I consider to be "serious
scientists". Idso (one of the big boys at the Hertitage Institute... I
think recycled from the "tobacco wars") is talking about how coral-growth
rates are faster that sea-level rise, so reefs will have no problem keeping
up. That is a huge disconnect. But... the bigger problem is that I've read
this in the mainstream coral-reef literature as well. Let's just call them
all "Bob" and talk about what it is about reefs other than their rivaling
rainforests for diversity that we want to preserve (and, no I don't think
diversity is trivial).


On Fri, Sep 4, 2015 at 4:46 PM, Douglas Fenner <douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
> wrote:

> Vassil,
>     Good point.  The geological reef structure was built by primarily by
> corals, or at least the corals are important as baffling to hold it
> together.  Algae often are very important contributors and can contribute
> more calcium than corals.  They are coral reefs in the same sense as a
> similar structure lifted 20 feet out of the water 100,000 years ago is a
> coral reef.  But an uplifted reef above the water does not have a living
> coral reef ecosystem on the surface.  The same is true of reefs that are
> now dominated by algae, whether the algae is macroalgae (by which I mean
> frondose or fleshy algae) or turf (by which I mean filamentous algae) or
> coralline algae or mixtures or soft corals or other things.
>      Sometimes people talk or write about how reefs may die in coming
> decades.  The geological structures won't die, though they have many living
> things in holes in the structure, I would think.  I don't think the
> geological structures are going to disappear in a few decades, either.  I
> presume that reefs in Florida that are now sponge-dominated instead of
> being coral-dominated are not accumulating more calcium deposits, likely
> they are loosing more than gaining, bioerosion likely is greater than
> calcification (unless there are algae calcifying faster than the
> bioerosion).  But I'm not as worried about the geological structure as the
> ecosystem, in the relatively short term (decades).
>       I have sympathy for Mike Risk's view of the need for something
> besides just ecologists, studying reefs.  I tend to think that with the
> vast expansion of knowledge, individuals have to specialize.  I read
> somewhere that about 1800 papers on coral reefs are being published each
> year now and the rate is increasing fast.  No one can keep up with all of
> it, and time spent outside of your specialty means less time to gain the
> knowledge to be a competitive expert in your specialty.  So trying to be a
> generalist is pretty self-defeating.  The answer is to have teams of people
> with different specialties, because as Mike rightly points out, coral reefs
> are very complex structures with many different things that require
> different specialists to study, and many reef aspects need people in
> several different specialists to study.  We already need statisticians on
> our teams.  I agree ecologists probably need to work with geologists in
> their teams more often.  I think ecologists need to consult with
> taxonomists about identifications of their favorite organisms more often,
> and geneticists need taxonomists on their teams.
>       But I also think that the coral reef crisis is an ecological crisis,
> not really a geological crisis.  Oh, it will be in a few thousand years if
> we keep this up.  But we are loosing coral reef ecosystems even if we
> aren't loosing geological structures yet.  Both provide benefits for
> humans.  But the scientific community is pretty nimble at shifting towards
> the exciting parts of science, and a lot of people see the coral reef
> crisis as important and so makes for exciting science.  Easier to get
> funding on things important to society, so some of us shift to work on
> those things.  Not a bad thing.
>       But I think you're right, Vassil, to be accurate, in some places,
> what was a coral reef ecosystem is now a sponge-algal ecosystem on top of a
> dead coral reef.  Or something like that, I'm not sure what the best name
> is.  Likely people will continue to call them "coral reefs" because that is
> a catchy name that we are all familiar with.  There is one on the south
> side of Molokai Island in Hawaii which had a wide reef flat, a reef made of
> calcium carbonate.  The geological structure of carbonate is still there,
> but the reef flat is almost completely covered with mud that has eroded off
> of agricultural fields on land.  A few tiny corals poke up through the
> mud.  I saw similar along the east side of Lanai Island in Hawaii a couple
> decades ago.  What should we call that?  Certainly that reef flat does not
> have a coral reef ecosystem.  Mud ecosystem on top of a dead coral reef is
> more like it.
>     In truth, many of the ecosystems we call coral reef ecosystems are not
> actually dominated by corals.  Corals are an important component, but not
> dominant.  True even on many reefs with very little human influence.  Of
> course humans have caused massive losses of corals on many or most of the
> world's reefs.  Of course that's bad.
>     By the way, I LIKE sponges!  Caribbean sponges are large, colorful, and
> their biology is very different and interesting.  Where I'm at in the
> Pacific, sponges are small, uncommon, and cryptic.  Nothing like the
> glorious sponges of the Caribbean.  They are not completely incompatible
> with corals.  Cozumel used to have good coral on top of the reefs, and
> fabulous sponge communities on overhangs.  Spectacular.  Wonderful part of
> the ecosystem.
>      Cheers,  Doug
> On Wed, Sep 2, 2015 at 12:19 AM, Vassil Zlatarski <vzlatarski at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > Well, Joseph, in such case the usage of “coral reefs” should be precised,
> > for example, "coral-limestone reefs" or “dead-coral reefs” or
> > “not-living-coral reefs” or in other appropriate way.
> >
> > Best,
> >
> > Vassil
> >
> > Vassil Zlatarski
> > D.Sc. (Biology), Ph.D. (Geology)
> > ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> > From: Pawlik, Joseph <pawlikj at uncw.edu>
> > Date: Wed, Sep 2, 2015 at 5:31 AM
> > Subject: RE: [Coral-List] Giant barrel sponges taking over Florida's
> reefs!
> > To: Vassil Zlatarski <vzlatarski at gmail.com>
> >
> >
> > Agreed, Vassil,
> >
> > But the reef was built by coral (it's limestone) -- they just aren't
> > building it anymore!
> >
> >
> > **************************************************************
> > Joseph R. Pawlik, Professor
> > Department of Biology and Marine Biology
> > UNCW Center for Marine Science
> > 5600 Marvin K Moss Lane
> > Wilmington, NC  28409   USA
> > pawlikj at uncw.edu; Office:(910)962-2377; Cell:(910)232-3579
> > Website: http://people.uncw.edu/pawlikj/index.html<
> > https://mail.uncw.edu/owa/UrlBlockedError.aspx>
> > PDFs: http://people.uncw.edu/pawlikj/pubs2.html<
> > https://mail.uncw.edu/owa/UrlBlockedError.aspx>
> > **************************************************************
> >
> > ________________________________
> > From: Vassil Zlatarski [vzlatarski at gmail.com]
> > Sent: Wednesday, September 02, 2015 4:25 AM
> > To: Coral-List Subscribers; Pawlik, Joseph
> > Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Giant barrel sponges taking over Florida's
> reefs!
> >
> > Dear Coral-Listers,
> >
> > Prof. Pawlik offered interesting paper “Population dynamics of giant
> barrel
> > sponges on Florida coral reefs” and video adding to the growing evidence
> > that reef-building corals are declining and sponges are becoming the
> > dominant inhabitants of modern Caribbean benthic communities.  For the
> > fortunate researchers of coral reefs 4-5 decades ago is strange the usage
> > of “coral reefs” for the documented now-existing situation.  Is it not in
> > reality a case of “sponge gardens”?
> >
> > Cheers,
> >
> > Vassil
> >
> > Vassil N. Zlatarski
> > D.Sc. (Biology), Ph.D. (Geology)
> >
> > On Tue, Sep 1, 2015 at 10:45 AM, Pawlik, Joseph <pawlikj at uncw.edu
> <mailto:
> > pawlikj at uncw.edu>> wrote:
> > Greetings, Colleagues,
> >
> > In a 12-year study just published in the Journal of Experimental Marine
> > Biology and Ecology, we report that populations of giant barrel sponges
> > have increased by 122% since 2000 on Conch Reef, off the coast of Key
> > Largo, Florida. This adds to the growing evidence that sponges are
> becoming
> > the dominant inhabitants of modern Caribbean reefs.  The article can be
> > downloaded for free:
> >
> > http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1RcjD51aUK0hE
> >
> > Giant barrel sponges (Xestospongia muta) are found throughout the
> > Caribbean, and commonly grow to the size of an oil drum or larger. Called
> > the "redwoods of the reef," these sponges can live to be hundreds, even
> > thousands of years old, based on earlier growth studies conducted by the
> > same first author, Dr. Steven McMurray.
> > A video tour of the plots on Conch Reef can be seen here:
> > https://youtu.be/qdjhm7ojGJk
> > You can see how large these sponges get in this video from the Bahamas:
> > https://youtu.be/8WaWVuGE-LM
> >
> > Not only are the numbers of giant barrel sponges increasing, so is their
> > volume, with a 39% increase since 2000. On average, each square meter of
> > Conch Reef now has about 2 liters of barrel sponge tissue on its surface,
> > more than any other organism on the reef.  And the giant barrel sponge is
> > only one of many species of sponges that populate Caribbean coral reefs..
> >
> > Much of the increase in the numbers of giant barrel sponges was due to
> > recruitment - the successful establishment of baby sponges. On some
> plots,
> > the increase in the smallest-sized barrel sponges was over 600% for the
> > period 2000-2012. And while the survival of larger barrel sponges was
> > stable for the first half of this period, it increased during the second
> > half, perhaps because of the absence of hurricanes over that time period.
> > When hurricanes pass over reefs, large sponges can be damaged and
> > dislodged, often resulting in mortality.
> >
> > Regards,
> >
> > **************************************************************
> > Joseph R. Pawlik, Professor,
> > Dept. of Biology and Marine Biology
> > UNCW Center for Marine Science
> > 5600 Marvin K Moss Lane
> > Wilmington, NC  28409
> > Office:(910)962-2377<tel:%28910%29962-2377>; Cell:(910)232-3579
> > <tel:%28910%29232-3579>
> > Website: http://people.uncw.edu/pawlikj/index.html
> > PDFs: http://people.uncw.edu/pawlikj/pubs2.html
> > Video Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/skndiver011
> > **************************************************************
> >
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> --
> Douglas Fenner
> Contractor with Ocean Associates, Inc.
> PO Box 7390
> Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA
> phone 1 684 622-7084
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Dennis Hubbard
Chair, Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
(440) 775-8346

* "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*
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