[Coral-List] I know, geologists don't get it!

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Fri Mar 18 14:19:06 EDT 2016

Today was my last *Coral Reefs* class before spring break. We just finished
the "factual" part of the course and will return to a discussion of "can we
fix", "should we fix", "how can we fix" reefs... based on the "facts" we
have amassed rather than just our opinions. Perhaps stretch, we digressed,
toward the end into an impromptu discussion of social justice vs
environmental justice - probably a result of recent problems to which even
Oberlin is not immune.

The discussion got me thinking back to postings here on the listserve over
the past year. The more recent ones focused on "fixing" the lionfish
situation and were, by and large, predictable. But, as I considered them
further, I thought back to an early back-and-forth over Damselfish.
Thinking back to the good old days (not 7,000 years ago - just the late 70s
as I was starting my long list of what I didn't know about reefs), I
remember fisheries biologists marveling about the miracle of damsels as
"turf farmers" and the critical role they played in reef ecology. My
thoughts at the time were limited to something like, "thank goodness they
are so small" because, pound for pound, that's the meanest fish in the

Fast forward to several months back and the discussions about wiping out
these "scourges" that were contributing to the decline of *A. cervicornis*."
I won't recap the discussion except to say that, at the time, it reminded
me of "management" schemes gone awry in the northern Maine woods over the

Sorry.... the point? Walking back from class, and for whatever reason, my
mind shifted to Aldo Leopold. So.... over lunch, I pulled out his essay
"Thinking Like a Mountain" and reread it after many years. In it, he
describes killing a wolf as a young man in northern Wisconsin.... The *Cliff
Notes* version is that he and friends shot a wolf and got down the hillside
just in time to "watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes". He recalls
his long-standing perspective that "because fewer wolves meant more deer,
that no wolves meant more hunters' paradise"... and shifts to the
revelation that "neither the wolf not the mountain agreed". Thinking of
balance, he suggests that, "just as a deer lives in mortal fear of its
wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer."

I sit here thinking that we might all want to read back through some of the
earlier tales of "better times" in reefs and the careful discussions of
balance and interdependence that permeated them. Might we spend a little
more time thinking about "the howl of the wolf, long known to mountains,
but seldom perceived among men"?


Dennis Hubbard
Chair, Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
(440) 775-8346

* "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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