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

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Fri Sep 18 19:50:53 EDT 2015

Tom Goreau posted the following on coralreef freeforall, and I thought it
was relevant.  The comments by Tom are his own, I'm just passing them on.
Cheers, Doug

The coral list posted a second hand copy of my posting on coralreef-freefor
all, which provoked some very interesting responses that I will respond to.

These fell into three separate categories.

1) Greg Challenger says that people doing environmental impact assessments
should only look at the condition *immediately* before the project they are
assessing, and that it is irrelevant what the previous history of the site
was. This means that a developer who has destroyed a reef before calling in
an environmental assessment will be able to claim there was nothing there
to damage! I have seen this particular trick done over and over again. If
the responsibility of the Environmental Assessment is to say whatever the
developer is paying for, and no more, Challenger is right. I would
challenge him and argue that it is the scientific responsibility of any
honest environmental assessment to take account of the full history of the
site, and propose measures that ensure as close to a pristine ecosystem as

2) Precht says that there NEVER were any reefs in SE Florida, and that I am
simply lying in saying that there were. This exactly proves the point that
Gil Voss made to me many times, that all of the people who studied the
Florida Keys NEVER looked at the corals reefs of Dade, Broward, and Palm
Beach Counties, and ALL of the published literature said that corals ended
at Fowey Rocks simply because people did not go further north. Gil simply
could not believe that the excellent reefs of SE Florida, which he had
known all his life (1918-1989, his family were some of the earliest
residents of Miami, and his father was a boat captain) had been almost
entirely destroyed without any studies being made, and that those people
who believe anything they see on paper, and reject all the knowledge of
those with greater experience that was not published, would then claim that
these reefs never existed! That is exactly what Precht has done, rejecting
Voss´s very profound knowledge of these reefs as a ghostly fabrication! Don
De Sylva, in his 1963 book The Systematics and Life History of the Great
Barracuda, says that no one now remembers the once magnificent reefs that
were in front of Miami Beach. Precht quotes Tom Burns as saying corals end
at Fowey Rock, but I was Tom Burn´s thesis advisor, and his work was
confined to the Keys with no work being done in SE Florida! I respect
Gene´s long experience in the Keys, but he has not done much diving on the
reefs of Dade and Broward. Although have dived for longer than Gene, and in
perhaps 10 times more countries than he has, I claim no special knowledge
of the Keys because I avoided diving there since there were lots of
excellent researchers like Gene, Walt Jaap, Phil Dustan, and Jim Porter
working there, and I focused on places where other people did not work. The
incredible historical photos of Jerry Greenberg, who got his start with the
advice of my grandfather and father, tell the entire story of the near
total destruction of the Florida Keys reefs.

3) Brian Walker makes a very significant contribution that summarizes the
current situation of the coral reefs of SE Florida, which he shows are very
real indeed despite Precht´s claim of non-existence! But the full history
of these reefs is not included in the mapping of the recent conditions, so
those reefs that have vanished are not shown in these surveys.The story of
how Broward reefs, which were completely unknown to the scientific
community, but very well known to thousands of shore divers, came to be
documented is as follows. In conjunction with the dredge spoil dumping of
sand on beaches in SE Florida, which has been going on for nearly 5 decades
with Miami Beach reefs being the first to be killed, Broward County
commissioned a study of live coral cover in Broward waters by Nova
University. This survey of hundreds of random sites, found an average of
around 1.3% live coral cover, and no place much above that level.
Incredibly, they entirely missed the best reefs of all, around 10
kilometers of reef with 30-40% live coral cover, because that reef was in
shallow water nearer the shore than they were willing to go from their
boats! The shore divers, who all knew the reef, could not believe that the
best reef, and that most vulnerable to being killed by sand dumping, had
been ommitted from the definitive study of Broward coral. In 2001 Dan
Clark, head of Cry of the Water, a local diver´s conservation group, asked
me if I would look at his video, because every single scientific
organization and government agency refused to look at it, they simply
*knew* there
was nothing there, and were unwilling to see for themselves. Frankly I did
not expect much more than the 1-2% live coral cover reported by Nova, and
as Walter Goldberg, a distinguished Professor of Marine Biology at Florida
International University, who had dived in Broward all his life, had
described to me in the early 1980s. I was blown away to see huge areas of
staghorn coral and large ancient coral heads, many hundreds of years old,
so I went down to see for myself. The result was the first study of these
previously undocumented reefs, which you can see for yourself, with photos
of the reefs and the history of the reef as described by the oldest shore
divers (almost all lobster hunters) that we could find, at:


and you can see Mike Greenberg´s (Jerry´s son) incredible zoomable image of
the staghorn area at:


The only reason that reef survived between Port Everglades and Hillsboro
Inlet was that this was the ONLY stretch of SE Florida where they had NOT
dumped sand on the beach and killed and buried the nearshore coral reef,
but amazingly enough there now and ongoing is a multi tens of millions of
dollars plan to do just that this coming year that has been approved by
every single Federal, State, and County agency with any jurisdiction over
the marine environment!

Over the last 15 years most of this coral cover has been lost for the
reasons mentioned, but there is surprisingly high recruitment, and if
pollution were brought under control, these reefs will migrate northward
with global warming. RIGHT NOW they are heavily bleached due to high
temperature, as are the Keys, (although no one seems to have admitted that
yet) and if it does not cool immediately there will be significant
mortality, made worse by the effects of dredging and sand dumping on
beaches, and the proliferation of sewage algae and cyanobacteria due to
high temperature, not to mention the diseases to follow. Saving them will
require abating all the stresses caused by sediments, nutrients, and high
temperature. And of course, admitting that they exist and were once much
better than they are now.
Posted by: Tom Goreau <goreau at gmail.com>

On Wed, Sep 16, 2015 at 3:33 PM, Lou Fisher <sifufisher at gmail.com> wrote:

> Well said Brian. A voice of scientific reason at last.  Thanks for the
> posting.
> Lou Fisher
> -----Original Message-----
> From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [mailto:
> coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Brian Walker
> Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 10:32 AM
> To: William Precht <william.precht at gmail.com>;
> coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Fwd: interesting thoughts from Tom Goreau
> 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.
> https://www.dropbox.com/s/x7gck1y3gh5m3s4/KLUG_Thesis_FinalDraft.pdf?dl=0
> https://www.dropbox.com/s/dooyrb11vr3orsv/RM150_task2_OFRSurvey_Results_draft_v14.1.docx?dl=0
> https://www.dropbox.com/s/54aawedgwfr13tc/SEFCRI_FIA_3_Year_Summary_%20Report-FINAL%20SEP_02_2015.pdf?dl=0
> https://www.dropbox.com/s/8maf15wjg79kztp/Walker2012SEFLBiogeo.pdf?dl=0
> https://www.dropbox.com/s/8gj32vo6cj01bgx/WalkerGilliam2013MartinMapping.pdf?dl=0
> Sincerely,
> Brian
> 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
> http://www.nova.edu/ocean/overview/faculty-staff-profiles/brian_walker.html
> http://cnso.nova.edu/research/labs/walker.html
> http://ofr.marineplanner.io/
> -----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.
> Cheers,
> Bill
> --
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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