[Coral-List] Responding to Coral Bleaching
dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Fri Sep 18 14:05:03 EDT 2015
Sorry for the long post (feel free to hit the delete button), but I've been
lurking over the recent, and sometimes heated, discussions - so I don't
know where to start (or finish). As penance, I will fall back into the
shadows for at least a month.
I have to admit a bit of trepidation with the "bounty hunter" approach to
marine conservation. I'm not weighing in on the pros and cons of specific
methods for specific species... or the need to control populations that are
truly out of control. My concern grows out of having lived long enough and
in many diverse places to view well-meaning but flawed efforts.... and to
see the evolution in our thinking over what is "good" and what is "bad"..
As a result, my first reaction is always to be wary.
Some of us remember failed attempts to maintain "the proper balance"
between elk and beavers as one modifies streams (beavers make dams) and the
other (elk) regulate the surrounding environments trough grazing. The issue
was changing stream gradient and habitat degradation due to beavers damming
the streams and hunters (in this case, wolves and *Homo stupidus*) killing
off all the elk. Because killing hunters was frowned upon for reasons I
never understood, wolves were the primary target.
Six years ago, we had a candidate for our Earth Surface Processes position
who discussed the problems with beavers modifying the biophysical system
(his PhD thesis). The primary drivers were "shown to be" loss of elk and
those damming beavers.
He just came back last year to give a talk..... and apparently the entire
situation has changed. The elk are coming back in droves after stringent
conservation efforts, but the biophysical system is not resetting. The
suggestion is that the the system had reached a "tipping point" beyond
where the fluvial system could reset.... or at least that's what they are
thinking now. The working alternative is that maybe the beavers they drove
out to stabilize the system weren't actually the problem they had
thought... and that the elk-flora connection wasn't as simple as assumed -
nor the wolves.
These working hypotheses are pretty different from the standpoint of
implementing a management plan.... maybe it's beavers... maybe it's elk....
both?..... neither?... how about those wolves????? The answer they have now
is too complicated to lay out here, but suffice it to say that it's pretty
different than what they thought less than a decade ago. So, now we have no
beavers, no wolves, a moderate increase in elk.... and no measurable
I also lived through a program in northern Maine where they systematically
went after coyotes that were apparently driving down the deer
population.... a huge source of revenue. 40 years later, there are neither
coyotes nor deer. And, where deer are abundant, we hear complaints that
"there are more deer than when Columbus landed" and that the conflict
between growing populations of deer and farmers is due to the deer side of
the equation. I don't claim to be an expert on the latter balance, but I
have read descriptions of Benedict Arnold having no problem shooting a
couple of deer a day to keep his soldiers well fed en route to Montreal.
Yet, today hunting is pretty dismal along that route. Maybe Benedict shot
straighter than the average hunter today with their semi-automatic rifles.
But, maybe not.
Same story for porcupines. In the early 1960s, we had a hefty bounty on
them, largely because of their drive to find salt.... which attracted them
to the handles of shovels, axes, etc. all valued by any good Mainer. I
could go on, but I'm sure everyone gets the pattern.
So..... lets move on to the present marine system. I'm certainly not
arguing that COTS are "great" for reefs or that invasive Lionfish are
"good" for other Caribbean fauna. However, I have read about efforts to
extirpate damselfish, in some instances characterizing them as the most
negative impact on coral reefs today. While I agree that, pound for pound,
they are the most dangerous beast on the reef, I remember a time when their
"farming" methods were heralded as somewhere between "efficient" and
"necessary for the maintainance of healthy algal turfs".
As I understand the situation, in some places they are nipping off "too
many" polyps to create algal habitat and are, therefore, perceived as a
source of local "reef decline". I was in Belize last summer with the Keck
Geology Consortium and watched a student (not mine) do a great study that
looked at where damsels did and did not "damage" substrate. It turned out
that they nipped away somewhat equally in areas of *A. cervicornis* that
were "healthy" and "not so healthy" but that negative effects were
occurring only in areas that were already degraded. If this is the case,
then killing the fish won't have much of a positive effect (they seem to
only affect corals already on their way out).... and fish biomass is going
to be lower. While this is only one example from one place, the apparent
assumption where damsels have a bounty on their heads is that substrate
loss trumps higher fish biomass, so the damsels have to go.
There has been a long-standing argument about the value in restoring
parrotfish versus reducing emissions. A recent article in *Coral Reefs*
fairly clearly shows that a significant rebound in grazing fish in the
Florida Keys has had no measurable impact on coral cover. We saw similar
patterns in the Virgin Islands in a study that compared coral cover,
macroalgal density and grazers on two reefs 2 km apart - one in Buck Island
National Park and the other on Tague Bay, where years of data were
available from when West Indies Lab was still there.
The long and short of it was that parrotfish numbers were up significantly
in the park for obvious reasons. At the same time, urchin densities along
the Tague Bay forereef were much higher that two decades earlier and, in
some places, were close to what had been reported prior to 1983. At both
sites, macroalgae were essentially non-existant.... but, so were new
corals. The apparent issue was recruitment, but the question is how much of
this was climate change versus changing nutrient dynamics versus
warming/acidification - each having different management implications.
Whatever the explanation, both sites have higher rates of bioerosion today
than they did when grazers were scarce. Because, coral cover has remained
low in both instances, the balance between carbonate production and
bioerosion is going progressively in favor of the latter.... not due to
losses of corals, but rather due to increased bioerosion in an area that is
not recovering with respect to calcification.
>From a purely biological perspective, it might be argued that this is
positive because at least fish biomass is going up. But, this seems
contrary to the argument for aggressive damselfish hunting cited above.....
to paraphrase it as I understand it, "higher fish biomass is not a good
thing in light of all the negative impacts their nipping at corals cause".
So, at what point do we start hunting the parrotfish and urchins to reduce
the negative side of the budget equation?
I am confident that there are people on the listserve closer to some of
these examples that I am... and I will defer to their opinions. My larger
point is that, even if particular examples are off base, there have been
more than enough examples of conservation gone awry from "managing" a
population based on our perceptions of "good" and "bad" at the time. I
often wonder whether the greater hubris exists in our earlier perception
that the world is "our garden" or in our present sense that we can "fix
it". As we discuss the pros and cons of different strategies, we want to be
very careful about our assumptions that are too often based as much on our
personal values as on irrefutable data. As we look toward species that
might be more resistant to warming, we might ask whether they are
"equivalent" to what was there before (recovery vs restoration)? Certainly
there is a tremendous potential for a loss. Do the "better" corals produce
carbonate at similar rates and create skeletons that are similarly robust
to what occurred there before? Putting branching corals at sites previously
dominated by massive species is going to change the resistance of that
community to increasing wave action as storminess is on the rise. And... if
corals are broken more often, they will be moved more easily by those same
waves.In this example faster-growing corals that are more easily broken
could lead to reduced accretion. So, diversity and cover might be at odds
with reef building unless we are very clever.
Changing gears, if the solution for reef islands is "more sand", might
increased bioerosion be "better"? A total budget approach says "no", and I
agree, but I have seen the opposing view expressed here. In addition, to
the extent that bioerosion is contributing to a loss of surface rugosity,
it is lowering the potential for wave reduction. So.... should we be
killing grazers in areas where coral cover is already low so that we can
slow down large-scale reef erosion. Absurd... maybe, but...?
I am advocating for none of these alternatives, but am concerned that we
are not thinking about them and others in a systematic manner. Some of the
suggestions I have made seem as bizarre to me as they probably do to the
readers. However, what we presently know about the complex predator/prey
relationships obviously seemed equally far-fetched to the managers who took
paths we now know to be nonsense. We have backed ourselves into a corner
and dragged the reefs in with us. Perhaps we don't have the time for
rational thought, given the time lag between the creation of "knowledge"
and the implementation of solid "policy" that is based on it. I hope that
the upcoming meeting in Hawaii will give us the opportunity to have
meaningful discussions that can only occur across disciplinary boundaries.
I fear that we are each going to spend most of our time in the same session
because "it's what we do". I hope we can all discuss this further, but
you'll have to catch me as I run from the biology session to the geology
session and then over to hear all about management. There's way too much to
learn that won't be discussed in "my favorite" session.
On Thu, Sep 17, 2015 at 12:52 PM, Andrew Ross <ross.andrew at mac.com> wrote:
> Doug & Austin,
> What Austin is describing might be akin to the recreational hunting
> programmes for lionfish in the Caribbean
> “Eat it to beat it” etc.
> Problem in transferring to COT might be:
> Lionfish are a) tasty b) easy and c) invasive, thus with reduced karmic
> COTs, unfortunately
> a) hasn’t got a straightforward secondary value such as lunch and
> b) is often difficult to remove from the reef while poisoning doesn’t
> provide a “trophy”.
> c) Overpopulation &/or ecosystem damage arguments may mitigate one’s
> issues with St Peter et al.
> So, how do we make COT hunting “sexy” to bring in the recreational?
> b) Trophy:
> Methods that remove the animal from the water for a photo or
> competitive-count expose the diver to stings and tend to be relatively
> Air-inflating methods might start to get around that.
> a) Food/use:
> A soup or roe-based sushi?
> Chicken feed?
> Do they at least make a decent garden fertilizer?
> c) Karma:
> May be a paid "voluntourism” activity,
> though this often gets its own complications, particularly as key areas
> get hunted-out and less efficient for the hunter/operator.
> With collection (trophy & Facebook photos) would be better, but such
> volunteers may be amenable to poisoning.
> Thinking out loud,
> Andrew Ross Ph.D.
> Seascape Caribbean
> > On Sep 16, 2015, at 5:19 PM, Douglas Fenner <
> douglasfennertassi at gmail.com> wrote:
> > I think this is a GREAT idea!!
> > When there are millions of crown-of-thorns starfish, trying to control
> > them has not worked. However, in a situation like that you describe,
> > are not so many. Maybe we were all scared off by the impossibility of
> > controlling millions of them. But when there are modest numbers, we
> > can make a difference. In American Samoa, we had the beginnings of an
> > outbreak in the last few years. People got concerned, and started
> > them. National Parks is devoting significant effort to lead the way in
> > controlling them, and so far it is working brilliantly. Like cancer, if
> > you catch an outbreak early enough, you may be able to control it.
> > We're all super frustrated that all we can do is sit by and watch
> > bleaching kill coral. But this is something we can do, which can make a
> > real difference.
> > Your observations remind me of the paper by Nancy Knowlton, Judy Lang
> > and Brian Keller on the Acropora in Jamaica after Hurricane Allen broke
> > much coral, killing it, in 1980. The Acropora started to come back over
> > the next 3 years, but then the Coraliophila snails ate the smaller amount
> > remaining, just as you describe. After that, the reef there has stayed
> > stuck in a low-coral, high-algae phase for decades.
> > Killing crown-of-thorns is very practical, and every kill saves
> > coral. Crown-of-Thorns as a species will survive, you can't get the last
> > ones, but you can return them to close to their natural, very-low
> > that are present between outbreaks.
> > Further, the best empirical support for the cause of outbreaks is
> > nutrients that fuel phytoplankton that feeds starfish larvae, increasing
> > larval survival. If humans add to the nutrients, then part of the cause
> > outbreaks may be human impacts. Removing the starfish is helping
> restore a
> > natural ecosystem. Plus save more of the temperature-tolerant corals
> > survived, we need all of those we can get!
> > So, splendid idea!! I understand that injection kits are currently
> > the most efficient way to kill them. Managers rarely get to benefit the
> > reef directly, this is one of the few instances. In the long run, if an
> > area is impacted by human-produced nutrient runoff, then reducing that
> > nutrient runoff may reduce crown-of-thorns outbreak frequency and benefit
> > the reef that way. The ability of the coral community to recover from
> > bleaching mortality is resilience, so removing crown-of-thorns is
> > increasing reef resilience. Good thing to do.
> > Cheers, Doug
> > Knowlton N, Lang JC, Keller BD (1990) Case study of natural population
> > collapse: post-hurricane predation on Jamaican staghorn corals.
> > Smithsonian Contributions in Marine Science, 31: 1-25
> > Birkeland C (1982) Terrestrial runoff as a cause of outbreaks of
> > planci*. Marine Biology 69: 175-185.
> > Birkeland, C. 1989. The Faustian traits of the crown-of-thorns
> > American Scientist 77: 154-163.
> > Brodie, J., Fabricius, K., De'ath, G., Okaji, K. 2005. Are increased
> > nutrient inputs responsible for more outbreaks of crown-of-thorns
> > starfish? An appraisal of the evidence. Marine Pollution Bulletin 51:
> > 266-278.
> > On Wed, Sep 16, 2015 at 8:23 AM, Austin Bowden-Kerby <
> abowdenkerby at gmail.com
> >> wrote:
> >> Dear Friends,
> >> The reports of massive bleaching developing in both the Pacific and
> >> Caribbean are quite concerning to us all. Is there nothing we can do
> >> stand by and passively watch? I propose an alternative approach.
> >> In Fiji, the massive bleaching event of 2000 killed 90% or more of the
> >> corals on some of our Southern Reefs. The few surviving unbleached
> >> provided hope that the reefs could adapt over time, however
> >> *Acanthaster *(COTS)
> >> subsequently killed most of these surviving corals on many of these
> >> The probable explanation is simple: before the bleaching, COTS were in
> >> state of low relative abundance, but once most of the corals were gone,
> >> their relative abundance with respect to the corals became extremely
> >> and thus deadly for the surviving bleaching resistant corals,
> >> their favored prey *Acropora* and *Pocillopora*. In the Dominican
> >> Republic, we saw a similar post-bleaching scenario in 2005, but with
> >> *Coraliophila* snails and *Hermodice* fire worms as the predators.
> >> Might this be the ideal time to mobilize community groups to conduct
> >> COTS removal programs in the Pacific- at least for reefs with high
> >> recreational value? The alternative is for concerned people to stand
> >> and watch in horror, as their precious reefs die of causes that (for the
> >> most part) they are powerless to control. If COTS removal were done
> in a
> >> systematic manner, control reefs (without COTS removal) could be
> >> established for comparative purposes to get an indication of the
> >> effectiveness of COTS removal as a proactive climate change adaptation
> >> strategy for bleaching stressed reefs.
> >> A single COTS can kill a fist-sized coral every day, and that
> translates to
> >> massive amounts of corals consumed. Every coral that survives this
> >> major bleaching event represents a genetic treasure
> >> vital for the future survival of coral reefs on the planet. Now is the
> >> time to act, to ensure that these corals survive the post-bleaching
> >> predator plagues that can be expected nearly everywhere.
> >> I recently submitted a proposal to USAID PACCAM that was turned down, to
> >> assist Kiribati with their bleaching emergency. The proposed strategy
> >> involved three components: 1. Protecting surviving (bleaching
> >> corals through a systematic coral predator removal program carried out
> >> specific reef patches, 2. Collection of small fragments of surviving,
> >> non-bleached (heat-adapted) corals and establishment within coral
> >> secure from predation, and 3. At one year and beyond the nursery corals
> >> trimmed to produce second-generation, bleaching resistant corals for
> >> out-planting into selected reef patches.
> >> Where possible, the bleaching resistant corals are planted into no-take
> >> Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), to take advantage of the greater
> >> balance and lower abundance of coral predators there. Communities
> should be
> >> very much a part of this process, and should be engaged and mobilized.
> >> result will be increased human resources involved in nurturing pockets
> >> exceptional coral reef health that are composed of bleaching resistant
> >> corals that have a higher probability of surviving into the future.
> >> All the best,
> >> Austin
> >> Austin Bowden-Kerby, PhD
> >> Corals for Conservation
> >> P.O. Box 649 Samabula
> >> Fiji Islands
> >> abowdenkerby at gmail.com
> >> Facebook: Corals for Conservation
> >> On Thu, Sep 17, 2015 at 6:14 AM, Austin Bowden-Kerby <
> >> abowdenkerby at gmail.com
> >>> wrote:
> >>> Sorry, Gmail won't let me change the subject heading.
> >>> Responding to Coral Bleaching
> >>> Dear Friends,
> >>> The reports of massive bleaching developing in both the Pacific and
> >>> Caribbean are quite concerning to us all. Is there nothing we can do
> >> but
> >>> stand by and passively watch? I propose and alternative approach.
> >>> In Fiji, the massive bleaching event of 2000 killed 90% or more of the
> >>> corals on some of our Southern Reefs. The few surviving unbleached
> >>> provided hope that the reefs could adapt over time, however
> >>> *Acanthaster *(COTS) subsequently killed most of these surviving
> >>> corals on many of these reefs. The probable explanation is simple:
> >> before
> >>> the bleaching, COTS were in a state of low relative abundance, but once
> >>> most of the corals were gone, their relative abundance became extremely
> >>> high and thus deadly for the surviving bleaching resistant corals,
> >>> particularly their favored prey *Acropora* and *Pocillopora*. In the
> >>> Dominican Republic, we saw a similar post-bleaching scenario in 2005,
> >>> with *Coraliophila* snails and *Hermodice* fire worms as the predators.
> >>> Might this be the ideal time to mobilize community groups to conduct
> >> major
> >>> COTS removal programs in the Pacific- at least for reefs with high
> >>> recreational value? The alternative is for concerned people to stand
> >>> and watch in horror, as their precious reefs die of causes that (for
> >>> most part) they are powerless to control. If COTS removal were done
> >> a
> >>> systematic manner, control reefs (without COTS removal) could be
> >>> established for comparative purposes.
> >>> A single COTS can kill a fist-sized coral every day, and that
> >>> to massive amounts of corals consumed. Every coral that survives this
> >>> massive bleaching event represents a genetic treasure vital for the
> >> future
> >>> survival of coral reefs on the planet. Now I the time to act, to
> >>> that these corals survive the post-bleaching predator plagues that can
> >>> expected nearly everywhere.
> >>> I recently submitted a proposal to USAID PACCAM that was turned down,
> >>> assist Kiribati with their bleaching emergency. The proposed strategy
> >>> involves three components: 1. Protecting surviving (bleaching
> >>> corals through a systematic coral predator removal program carried out
> >>> specific reef patches, 2. Collection of small fragments of surviving,
> >>> non-bleached (heat-adapted) corals and establishment within coral
> >> nurseries
> >>> secure from predation, and 3. At one year and beyond the nursery corals
> >>> are trimmed to produce second-generation, bleaching resistant corals
> >>> out-planting into selected reef patches. Where possible, the corals are
> >>> planted into no-take Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), to take advantage
> >>> the greater ecological balance and lower abundance of coral predators
> >>> there. Communities should be very much a part of this process,
> >>> and should be engaged and mobilized. The result will be increased human
> >>> resources involved in nurturing pockets of exceptional coral reef
> >>> composed of corals that are bleaching resistant and that have a higher
> >>> probability of surviving into the future.
> >>> All the best,
> >>> Austin
> >>> Austin Bowden-Kerby, PhD
> >>> Corals for Conservation
> >>> P.O. Box 649 Samabula
> >>> Fiji Islands
> >>> abowdenkerby at gmail.com
> >>> Facebook: Corals for Conservation
> >>>> Message: 3
> >>>> Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2015 06:10:56 -0400
> >>>> From: Shelly-Ann Cox <scox at cimh.edu.bb>
> >>>> Subject: [Coral-List] September Issue of the Caribbean Coral Reef
> >>>> Watch Bulletin Available!
> >>>> To: coralwatch at cimh.edu.bb
> >>>> Message-ID: <bc9ce0f518b1baf2af640c84d7756c25 at cimh.edu.bb>
> >>>> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8; format=flowed
> >>>> Dear Colleagues,
> >>>> We're pleased to announce the release of the latest issue of the Coral
> >>>> Reef Watch Bulletin.
> >>>> Notable observations include:
> >>>> - A strong El Ni?o has developed.
> >>>> - Alert level 1 issued for Central Bahamas and Northwest Cuba.
> >>>> warnings issued for Belize, Turks and Caicos Islands and all the
> >>>> in the Greater and Lesser Antilles.
> >>>> - Reports of paling and disease outbreaks have begun in Florida.
> >>>> bleaching signs observed in Mona Island, Puerto Rico.
> >>>> Read the full issue: http://bit.ly/CRW_Sept_Issue4
> >>>> Best wishes,
> >>>> Shelly-Ann
> >>>> --
> >>>> Shelly-Ann Cox
> >>>> Research Associate
> >>>> The Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH)
> >>>> Address: Husbands, St. James, Barbados
> >>>> Tel: 1(246)425-1362/3
> >>>> Fax: 1(246)424-4733
> >>>> Skype ID: shellyanncox
> >> --
> >> Austin Bowden-Kerby, PhD
> >> Corals for Conservation
> >> P.O. Box 4649 Samabula, Fiji Islands
> >> https://www.facebook.com/C4Conservation
> >> http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p009j6wb
> >> Sustainable Environmental Livelihoods Farm
> >> Km 20 Sigatoka Valley Road, Fiji Islands
> >> (679) 938-6437
> >> https://www.facebook.com/teiteifarmstay
> >> _______________________________________________
> >> Coral-List mailing list
> >> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> >> http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list
> > --
> > 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
> > "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own
> > Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
> > Energy policy: push renewables to spur carbon pricing. (the world
> > subsidizes fossil fuels a half Trillion dollars a year!)
> > Worst-case scenario: if we burn all remaining fossil fuels, Antarctica
> > would melt entirely, raise sea level 200 feet.
> > 5 trillion tons of ice lost since 2002. (that's trillion with a "T".
> > Check the steady loss in the graphs.)
> > website: http://independent.academia.edu/DouglasFenner
> > blog: http://ocean.si.edu/blog/reefs-american-samoa-story-hope
> > _______________________________________________
> > Coral-List mailing list
> > Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> > http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list
> Coral-List mailing list
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Chair, Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
* "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*
Benjamin Stein: "*Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream*"
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