[Coral-List] Responding to Coral Bleaching

Andrew Ross ross.andrew at mac.com
Wed Sep 23 11:02:56 EDT 2015

Francesca and List,

To clarify a bit: my earlier note was simply spitballing options/incentives to decentralize a “cull” by making it an ongoing harvest, a self-valued element of the fishery. 
Chicken and pig-food on an atoll seems a pretty good incentive, and also a reasonable starting point for further conversation. 
As a dried and therefore somewhat storable thing, such harvest could/would occur primarily during a bloom when catch-per-effort is adequate(?).

I do also appreciate the high-emotion of the word “trophy”.. It was a poor choice, certainly, and particularly with poor Cecil so fresh in the memory.  
Unfortunately, that repugnant concept still efficiently captures a sport element that may be (distastefully) necessary to rapidly muster a self-supporting labour pool (tourists).
The vinegar direction may offer something a little different and maybe equally attractive. 


> On Sep 22, 2015, at 9:39 AM, Bill Allison <allison.billiam at gmail.com> wrote:
> re. COTS outbreaks, damsels, and the wars on COTS
> Hi Tim,
> I did this on a small scale on a number of reefs in the Maldives.
> Stegastes nigricans definitely successfully defends against COTS there (and
> elsewhere as per the literature).
> In the early 90's the only patches of live Acropora spp. after COTS
> outbreaks on some reefs of North Male Atoll were inhabited by S. nigricans.
> In lagoons these were patches of branching acropora surrounded by dead
> acropora. On rubble beds, and on jettys and breakwalls made of mined
> corals, I found live acropora of various forms only within areas inhabited
> and defended by S. nigricans.
> I observed S. nigricans attacking COTS and driving them away and when I
> placed COTS within territories they were driven away.
> During a subsequent outbreak a few years later with acropora and
> pocillopora very scarce, colonies at the periphery of S. nigricans
> territories had only branches distal to the territory centre killed.
> Areas defended by S. nigricans may function as refuges seeding subsequent
> recovery, but encouraging S. nigricans to control COTS* would, like many
> proposed actions, merely be another band-aid or worse, (like the war on...
> fill in the blank), diverting attention and resources from discovering and
> addressing fundamental causes of a complex problem.
> In the case of COTS, eutrophication and COTS predator removal are likely
> two contributing factors.
> Cheers,
> Bill
> *I know you are not proposing this Tim but there are plenty of wannabe
> warriors out there.
> On Mon, Sep 21, 2015 at 8:56 AM, Tim <tim at atolleditions.com.au> wrote:
>> Hi Austin,
>> There are around four Stegastes damselfish in the Maldives, of which two
>> species Stegastes nigricans and Stegastes lividus – both widespread
>> Indo-Pacific species – appear to be the most common.
>> I'm not sure how many species occur elsewhere, or their abundance, but if
>> I had to choose representative species to monitor across the entire
>> Indo-Pacific, it would be these two. Would you agree?
>> What about the other farmer damsels, the Plectroglyphidodon?
>> Plectroglyphidodon lacrymatus and Plectroglyphidodon dickii are two of the
>> five common Maldives, widespread Indo-Pacific species. From your
>> experience, are these as equally aggressive in attacking COTS?
>> Is there any benefit to be gained by widespread Indo-Pacific monitoring of
>> representative fish species, such as the Stegastes, as a comparative COTS
>> study before, during and after outbreaks?
>> I ask this because if controlling COTS outbreaks means involving the wider
>> community for assistance, involvement can be made more enticing by
>> providing interesting and stimulating engagement in monitoring activities..
>> I also adhere to the KISS principle, Keep it Simple Sid (as well as Keep
>> it Sexy Sid!)
>> Regards
>> Tim Godfrey
>> Atoll Editions
>> www.atolleditions.com.au
>> www.fishesofthemaldives.com
>> that are absolutely essential in the post-bleaching survival of
>>> corals
>> On 19 Sep 2015, at 18:12, Austin Bowden-Kerby wrote:
>>> Bula Dennis and others on the list,
>>> Interesting observations, many of which have good merit.  However, I find
>>> that a paralysis of will can sometimes be the result of too much side
>>> thinking and doubting.  This massive bleaching will come and then it will
>>> go very quickly, and it may not return for five years or a decade or so,
>> so
>>> study it now or perhaps lose the chance- none of us are getting any
>>> younger!
>>> The point I have tried to make is that we have an urgent situation at
>> hand
>>> that threatens coral reefs NOW.  If this were a climate change event
>>> occurring ten thousand years ago when human impacts were insignificant,
>>> coral reefs would be ecologically balanced and certainly better capable
>> of
>>> adapting.  But from what I have experienced, every reef is more or less
>>> under some sort of human-induced stress that makes adaptation to climate
>>> change much more difficult.  I am proposing a completely new strategy
>> that
>>> gives people something to actually do about bleaching over the short
>> term.
>>> I have seen that it can make a very big difference.
>>> Most of the adaptive potential of coral species to beaching rests with
>> the
>>> bleaching resistant coral colonies, but adaptation is for the most part
>>> (based on my own experience), being prevented by over-abundance of coral
>>> predators on reefs, which so often kill most of the surviving corals.
>> This
>>> is a testable hypothesis that could be an important part of the salvation
>>> of coral reefs.  Predator removal during and after bleaching also gives
>>> conservationists and activists something to do to fight back, rather than
>>> sitting on their butts and becoming depressed because there is nothing
>> they
>>> can do.  People desperately need hope at this time, otherwise they may
>> just
>>> give up on coral reefs.
>>> I am simply suggesting that for those who live near coral reefs, that
>> they
>>> might focus on what happens subsequently to a massive die off of
>>> susceptible corals, knowing that the surviving resilient corals must
>>> survive in order for the coral reefs to adapt to the new stressors.
>>> Wherever 80-95% of the corals end up dead, high background numbers of
>>> and snails etc. seem to prevail nearly everywhere, and these predators
>> have
>>> the potential to kill everything (palatable) that survives the bleaching.
>>> Ironically for Pacific reefs, in my experience, it is the Stegastes
>>> damselfish that are absolutely essential in the post-bleaching survival
>> of
>>> corals- on many reefs their territories are the ONLY place where any
>>> Acropora or Pocillopora will escape the COTS.  They actively attack the
>>> COTS and drive them away, as if the COTS were invading sea urchins trying
>>> to steal their algae.  Another easily tested hypothesis, although there
>> is
>>> an older paper documenting this behavior from Pacific Panama.
>>> In the Caribbean, I have found that snails and fire worms rarely kill an
>>> entire colony, and when they do it may take weeks for them to finish the
>>> job.  However, in the Pacific, a single COTS will kill a fist-sized or
>>> plate-sized piece of coral every day/night, and will normally kill entire
>>> colonies before moving on. They can also form fronts and kill every
>>> coral that is tasty to them.  It is fairly safe to postulate that if we
>>> remove a thousand COTS, that we have saved roughly 300,000 corals per
>> year
>>> for several years.  Therefore, COTS removal can be very effective as
>> even a
>>> one-off intervention to help deal with this emergency.  We have an
>>> opportunity to protect and nurture pockets of reef and to encourage
>>> accelerated recovery. The development of resilience to future bleaching
>>> events will then occur, as these pockets of health end up becoming filled
>>> with thermally adapted corals.  Of course the bigger picture issues must
>> be
>>> dealt with as well, but this approach can reinforce and support MPAs,
>>> because without corals MPAs function poorly.
>>> Whether COTS removal is an effective long-term strategy under normal
>>> conditions was not my point of discussion.  We sometimes do it for
>>> community involvement as much as to save corals.  Of course no-take MPAs
>>> and nutrient control are better long-term solutions that address the root
>>> causes of predator over-abundance, but you have to have a strategy to get
>>> fishing community support, and this type of activity builds support
>>> while offering a very real short-term solution to increase coral cover
>> and
>>> fish habitat, as Janis and Brooks and many others will testify.
>>> Again, my original point is that we have an opportunity to act NOW, and
>> so
>>> I shared a new idea that has potential to motivate communities, NGOs, and
>>> hopefully scientists, and that helps give the surviving corals a future
>> and
>>> the people involved more hope.   The key element of the strategy is to
>> keep
>>> the precious corals that survive alive even after the bleaching abates,
>> and
>>> by whatever means that are at our disposal. This will include predator
>>> removal and the collection and propagation of corals that thrive in spite
>>> of hot water and post-stress disease.
>>> Shouldn't we protect these survivors like we would precious gold and
>>> diamonds?  We put our precious cash and heirlooms into secure banks, and
>> so
>>> why not create secure "gene bank nurseries" for cultivating resilient
>>> corals (temperature, disease, etc.).  This is exactly what we have done
>> in
>>> Belize and the Dominican Republic, and we are then using second
>> generation
>>> fragments trimmed from the nurseries, to restore coral cover to rather
>>> sizable patches within no-take MPAs where the Acropora corals have not
>>> returned in spite of other types of management.
>>> We did all of this in spite of opposition from certain of you within the
>>> coral reef research community, who went so far as to publish a formal
>>> position paper that dismissed our efforts, based on incorrect assumptions
>>> about what we were actually doing.  Of course the opposition made it very
>>> difficult to access funding.  I hope that our ultimate success has now
>> made
>>> it clear that certainly there is room for every approach.
>>> Austin
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