[Coral-List] Fwd: interesting thoughts from Tom Goreau

Brian Walker walkerb at nova.edu
Wed Sep 16 10:31:32 EDT 2015

Hi All,

There is no doubt that the reef tract and its communities change from the Dry Tortugas through Southeast Florida, however it is not as cut and dry as one might think from reading the old literature. Yes, Fowey was the most northern constructional reef in the Keys with a crest of Acropora palmata reaching the surface, but there is not a wall at Fowey Rocks. We should not consider the old literature as infallible. They did not have many of the tools and resources at their fingertips that we have today, especially with regard to regional remote sensing and mapping data. It is more appropriate to think of the changes along our coast as a gradient in larger sections. Biscayne is different from Broward-Miami, which is different from South Palm Beach and so on.

We are learning new things about our SE Florida coast all the time. I urge whomever is interested in the communities and the changes along the Florida Reef Tract to check out the reports and papers below that are now being prepared for publication. Let the data speak for themselves. 

Low coral cover, yes...low coral density, yes...lower coral richness, yes...coral reef community, yes...many old important and sensitive reef organisms, yes...high resource use, yes...high fishing pressure, yes...impacted fish populations, yes...totally destroyed by man, no (not yet)... 

Although the baselines have probably declined over the past century, proper management of this system is still imperative to its fate. We should learn from past mistakes, even if it requires substantial changes in the present procedures. 








Brian K. Walker, Ph.D.
Research Scientist

GIS and Spatial Ecology Lab
Nova Southeastern University
Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography
8000 N. Ocean Drive, Dania Beach, FL 33004


-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of William Precht
Sent: Tuesday, September 15, 2015 6:50 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Fwd: interesting thoughts from Tom Goreau

The comments by Tom Goreau in Doug Fenner's post are so far off the mark that one should not have to respond - but in the defense of Gene Shinn let me make a few points.

Gene is not a paid consultant for any of the purported "black hats" Tom mentions.  Gene is a retired Civil Servant that spent years as one of our country's premier coral reef scientists (for the USGS).  My reading of Gene's original post -- He was standing up for science, not emotional rhetoric or hype. Gene doesn't have a dog in the fight.

As for Gene's knowledge of the resource in question -- Gene was one of the first to dive and snorkel the reefs and hardbottom communities of south Florida.  He grew up in the Key West, was a University of Miami undergraduate student (having graduated from there in the late 1950's).  He was surrounded by all those Univ. Miami professors who have recently passed that Tom mentions.  Gene was on the US National spearfishing team - honing most of his skills in south Florida.  Gene also worked in Shell Oil's carbonate research lab headed by Bob Ginsburg in Coral Gables in the 1960's. In 1966 he received a best paper award from the Journal of Paleontology for growth rates of* Acropora cervicornis*.  Following on, Gene headed up the USGS lab at Fisher Island for some 15 years in the 1970's and 1980's. For three decades- from the late 1950's through around
1990 Gene probably spent as much time underwater as anyone in south Florida. So to say Gene doesn't know the local history of corals and/or reefs in the area or just wasn't around to see them (or wasn't paying
attention) is not just an insult but a disingenuous lie.

Second, for Tom Goreau to say that reefs off Miami were there in the recent past (pre-1960's) but have been destroyed recently by man is also contrary to the published record.

Much of the original work that systematically described the geology and the organisms found in and around the coral reefs of the Florida Keys was reported in a series of publications by T. Wayland Vaughan (1909, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1914a, 1914b, 1914c, 1914d, 1915a, 1915b, 1916, 1918, 1919).
These papers, almost without exception, noted that Fowey Rocks (south of
Miami) was the northern terminus of the reef growth. Vaughan specifically commented that: (1) the main reef building coral species of *Acropora
palmata* and *Orbicella annularis* were essentially absent from areas north of Fowey Rocks due to cold water limitations; (2) Fowey Rocks was the northernmost limit of constructional bank reefs that built their structures to sea level; and (3) while there are some living reef corals in the vicinity of and to the north of Fowey Rocks, there was no thriving reef.

Here is just one excerpt from one of those papers - Vaughan (1916) PNAS

"Dr. H. F. Moore of the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries has communicated to me temperature records made at lighthouses along the Florida reef.
These show that vigorous reefs will endure a temperature as low as 18.15° C., the minimum at Carysfort light between 1879 and 1899; but at Fowey Rock, where the minimum drops to 15.6°C. although there are some corals, there is no thriving reef. The species found at the north end of the reef line are those which Dr. Mayer's experiments showed capable of withstanding the lowest temperature. The temperature records for the reef line indicate 18.15°C. as the minimum temperature which a reef will survive-this is 1.85°C. lower than the figure given by Dana."

Following the classic works of Vaughan, the next publication to discuss the northern limit of reef growth in Florida can be found in the writings of F.G. Walton Smith, founder of the Marine Laboratory at the University of Miami (now the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science).  Smith
(1948) in his classic book "Atlantic Reef Corals" detailed the distribution of modern reefs in Florida that extend from Miami in the north, to the Dry Tortugas in the south and west. He stated “The reefs do not extend north of Fowey Rocks for two reasons: the drop in temperature as one travels north, and a southward drift of siliceous sands which kill or restrict coral growth by silting action.”  BTW - this 1948 description of southward moving sands was written well more than two decades prior to the first beach nourishment project Tom mentions.

Gil Voss also regularly noted in his papers and books that Fowey Rocks south of Miami was the northern limit of reef growth. The following passage is an excerpt from a 1955 paper by Voss and Voss in BMS on the ecology of Soldier Key.

"Thus Soldier Key is an isolated island bordered on the east by

waters with an average depth of about 20 feet extending to Fowey

Rocks, 3 miles distant, which marks the drop off into the deep

waters of the Florida Current. Fowey Rocks also marks the northernmost

extension of the Florida Barrier Reef."

Around the same time, University of Miami geologist Robert N. Ginsburg published his now classic manuscript on the environmental relationships of carbonate sediments from south Florida.  Ginsburg (1956) identified Fowey Rocks as the northern terminus of the Florida Reef Tract (see his Figure 4) citing lower winter temperatures as the cause.  However, according to Ginsburg (also discussed in Glynn 1973), the northernmost outpost of flourishing reefs in historical times was to the south of Fowey Rocks at Carysfort Reef off Key Largo. Ginsburg (1956) specifically noted that “the most numerous flourishing reefs which reach near the low-water mark are found south of Carysfort Reef.  From Pacific Reef to Fowey Rocks the outer reef consists of elongate rocky shoals with a relatively small amount of living coral.”

Later in the 1980’s a series of papers were published describing the conditions favorable for coral reef development in south Florida.  One of these was a spectacular community profile report published by Walt Jaap
(1984) in which he noted that “The region of maximum coral reef development is restricted to south and west of Cape Florida (Fowey Rocks)…”  In specifically addressing the area from Palm Beach to Miami (Cape Florida), he stated “elements of the tropical coral reef biota become increasingly important in a north-to-south gradient; however, the building of three-dimensional reef structures does not occur.  This area is characterized as an octocoral-dominated hardground community.”

Similarly, Burns (1985) identified the reef system of Florida to extend from the Dry Tortugas to Fowey Rocks.  He noted that the reefs in Biscayne National Park – those that live just south of their latitudinal extent – have low coral diversity, cover, and abundance due to sub-optimum conditions for reef-building corals.  In addition, Porter (1987) noted that from north to south on the east coast of Florida, Fowey Rocks is the location of the “first appearance of all the (coral) species in shallow water. Reef development by these species begins slightly farther south, in Biscayne National Park, at 25o25’ N latitude.”

I believe Gene was making the point about low coral cover in the region, not as an excuse for development, but to put an earlier post in context as it is on this template that various infrastructure projects, for better or worse, are being performed.

Sometimes it helps to actually read the literature instead of just making stuff up or calling on the ghost's of researchers past.



On Mon, Sep 14, 2015 at 5:49 PM, Douglas Fenner < douglasfennertassi at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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/
> "Belief in climate change is optional, participation is not."- Jim Beever..
>   "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own 
> facts."- Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
> Energy policy: push renewables to spur carbon pricing.  (the world 
> subsidizes fossil fuels a half Trillion dollars a year!)
> http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v525/n7567/full/nature14876.html?
> WT.ec_id=NATURE-20150904&spMailingID=49465812&spUserID=MjA1NTA3MjA0OQS
> 2&spJobID=760401953&spReportId=NzYwNDAxOTUzS0
> Worst-case scenario: if we burn all remaining fossil fuels, Antarctica 
> would melt entirely, raise sea level 200 feet.
> http://www.newsweek.com/worst-case-scenario-if-we-burn-all-remaining-f
> ossil-fuels-antarctica-would-371280
> 5 trillion tons of ice lost since 2002.  (that's trillion with a "T".
> Check the steady loss in the graphs.)
> http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2015/09/03/ice_loss_greenland
> _and_antarctica_lost_5_trillion_tons_since_1992.html
> website:  http://independent.academia.edu/DouglasFenner
> blog: http://ocean.si.edu/blog/reefs-american-samoa-story-hope
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