[Coral-List] interesting thoughts from Tom Goreau

Greg Challenger GChallenger at polarisappliedsciences.com
Tue Sep 15 20:06:16 EDT 2015

This argument is based on completely ignoring when, how, and why they were killed, which denies the history of the coral reefs that once stood on the spot and makes it appear that the area was ALWAYS a graveyard!


I haven’t followed this conversation so forgive me if I don’t know what type of project is proposed or its' history.    Interesting comment by Mr. Goreau that a standard argument of a consultant is to ignore the history of a site, essentially focusing on the current degraded condition.  The succinct answer to that is "duh".   A permittee doesn’t mitigate for what was once present, but what is there today. The current site ecology and trends in baseline (declining or advancing) define the permit conditions, not the former glory days.   If most corals are dead and live corals are declining for pre-existing reasons, then it is true that the impacts of any project should be relatively minor regardless of the glory of the former reef.   If the site is improving and pre-existing stressors have been at least partly dealt with, then the future losses from a proposed project can be greater and should be considered in avoidance and mitigation tasks.  

The fact that a site wasn’t always a graveyard is not the consultants or their clients' problem (although data as to how it got that way can be helpful to the mitigation process).  It is highly likely Gene and many others are not oblivious to this information and are fully aware of the past glory of reefs and what caused their decline in many locations.  My heart goes out to the historic reef and we (evil) consultants wish for the reef to be there as much as anyone, but our job is to help the permittee avoid, mitigate or compensate for what is there today.   If the story is that reefs in the area in question, although once magnificent, are highly degraded and likely to continue to be degraded for other reasons that are beyond our control, it makes little sense for a consultant to be focused on the glory days of the reef in the permit application.   What exactly will that accomplish?   Does the permit applicant have to recreate the glory days?  Do they have to mitigate for the glory days?   It is an important question for society, but not the burden of the individual permit applicant as to why the reef is currently no more.  Knowing the history and reason for the decline is always in a good consultants' mind because that is where mitigation often comes from.  We don’t ignore the past glory, it just doesn’t have relevance when it comes to determining the current loss. It has relevance when looking at rationales of how we might mitigate or restore.  

If baseline is in decline for the convincing reasons presented, then the avoidance and mitigation of what is declining has less urgency unless we propose to first halt the pre-existing decline.  If we halt the pre-existing decline and anticipate the site conditions should promote natural recovery to the former glorious reef (or something better than it is now) then maybe the USACE shouldn’t permit any further activities or seek mitigation for an advancing baseline in the compensatory analyses.   It's just math that revolves around the current condition..and to a lesser extent the direction and pace of baseline change.

PS.    Gene is one of the old guys who saw all the reefs in their glory days.....likely one of the most experienced among them all.    Sadly, given the reference to the 80's being a long time ago, I too am apparently one of the "old guys".   How that could have happened is the topic of another forum or perhaps with my therapist.

Greg E. Challenger
Principal / Marine Scientist
Polaris Applied Sciences, Inc.
12525 131st Ct NE, Kirkland WA 98034
011 425-823-4841 office
011 206 369 5686 direct

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Douglas Fenner
Sent: Monday, September 14, 2015 2:49 PM
To: coral list <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Subject: [Coral-List] interesting thoughts from Tom Goreau

Tom Goreau just posted the following on "coralreef freeforall" on the Florida dredging, which seemed highly relevant to me:

"Gene Shinn makes the standard argument used by paid consultants doing environmental impact studies for the port expansions, the military, oil companies, golf courses, hotel developers, and other projects that kill corals, which is to basically say "The corals are practically all dead anyway, so killing the last ones won´t make any difference, and anyway what they are doing can´t possibly cause any harm", claimed without comparing the actual before and after condition of the corals.

This argument is based on completely ignoring when, how, and why they were killed, which denies the history of the coral reefs that once stood on the spot and makes it appear that the area was ALWAYS a graveyard!

The fact is that there WERE good coral reefs all along SE Florida, but Gene never saw them when they were alive, and therefore claims that they never existed! This is simply historically false. But only the oldest divers remember what was lost, and there are no photographic records. Many of my oldest colleagues at the University of Miami in the early 1980s still remembered them, because although they never documented the corals or the reef community, they spent a lot of time fishing for the big groupers, sharks, and other game fish that abounded in them. It´s a pity Gene never seems to have talked to those who remembered those reefs, and were extremely sad to see them destroyed in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s before any studies were ever made of them, and to realize they had vanished so completely before they were ever documented that future generations would never believe they had ever existed! This was told to me separately by people like Gil Voss, Don DeSylva, and Art Myrberg, who are now all dead, but who Gene could have talked to when he first came to Miami.

The SE Florida coral reefs were severely damaged by the following events:

1) the massive drainage of the Everglades for commercial agriculture through new canals that dumped brown peat and fresh water on top of the reefs starting in 1948, and ending only in the late 1960s when overdraining of the swamps caused sea water intrusion into the drinking water aquifer, causing the South Florida Water Managment District to block the canals and pump sewage into the Everglades so people would have fresh water to drink.
I have studied the long term growth record of corals from the area, and those that survived this period showed a massive decline in coral growth rates of around 80% or more, but probably the vast majority of the corals died at that time, long before any Florida scientists studied the corals.

2) the massive pumping of raw sewage into the canals, and then, because of the stink, into offshore outfalls. This caused massive harmful algae blooms that smothered and killed corals, and it is still continuing. The State has mandated that the sewage outfalls be closed, but has given counties 15 years to do so, and Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties are all suing the State to be allowed to continue dumping sewage in the sea because they don´t want to spend the money to treat their own crap.

3) repeated dumping of dredged sand on the beaches for tourism, starting in Miami Beach and now covering all of SE Florida. The local divers all saw this sand smother and kill the corals until essentially nothing was left.
Every now and then a hurricane moves the sand and exposes large dead coral skeletons, for example in Miami Beach, where Gene denies any reef existed.

4) repeated bleaching and disease events that have steadily wiped out the corals. I have watched this happen over the last 15 or so years to the reefs off Broward County, about to be killed by simultaneous impacts of bleaching, port dredging, sewage, and disease. Right now almost all the corals in Florida are badly bleached from high temperatures, and unless Gene´s predicted Ice Age starts tomorrow, many of them may die in the next few weeks (bleaching right now is even worse in Hawaii)."

Cheers,  Doug

Douglas Fenner
Contractor with Ocean Associates, Inc.
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

phone 1 684 622-7084

Join the International Society for Reef Studies.  Membership includes a subscription to the journal Coral Reefs, there are discounts for pdf subscriptions and developing countries.  www.fit.edu/isrs/

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website:  http://independent.academia.edu/DouglasFenner

blog: http://ocean.si.edu/blog/reefs-american-samoa-story-hope
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