[Coral-List] Personal Care Product Pollution and its Threat to Coral, Reefs

Martin Moe martin_moe at yahoo.com
Sat May 14 10:07:13 EDT 2016

Very interesting post, Gene. I have one question,

The stated mission of the department  (DOC) is to "promote job creation andimproved living standards for all Americans by creating an infrastructurethat promotes economic growth, technological competitiveness, andsustainable development". 

In their mission statement, does the term “sustainabledevelopment” mean development that sustains economic growth, or; development thatsustains the health of the environment and our natural resources?

Just wondering...



    On Friday, May 13, 2016 4:21 PM, Eugene Shinn <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu> wrote:

 I agree with some of what you said, Billy. The effect of sunscreen on 
corals is a tricky subject, and I would not expect to see a paper trail 
showing that the Department of Commerce has control over the Florida 
Keys National Marine Sanctuary. However, I didn’t just make it all up 
considering the history of the program. I remember how it started, way 
back when even before NOAA had an opening for your position. My history 
starts with a visit by the deputy under Bob White, who was then director 
of a new agency called NOAA. I don’t remember his name. Some of us 
attempted to take the deputy diving on a Texas A&M boat in the Gulf of 
Mexico. However, the weather drove us back to port. He had come to 
Houston to lobby for NOAA that at the time wanted to take over offshore 
leasing from the Department of Interior. NOAA apparently needed industry 
support for its proposal. At the time, I was working in the 
Environmental Department at Head Office of Shell Oil Co. Back then, the 
presidents of all the major companies had said no to the proposal. Big 
bucks from leasing and royalty payments were flowing through Interior, 
and we all figured Commerce simply wanted a piece of the action. In 
1970, NOAA was formed under the Department of Commerce and there it 
remains today. Commerce created the Sanctuary Program in 1972 after the 
industry rejected NOAA’s proposal. The new agency soon started proposing 
sanctuaries in places Interior had already picked for their 5-year 
leasing plans. The way it worked back then was the companies would 
propose areas they would like to see available for future leasing. 
People at Interior would then make decisions and prepare what was called 
the 5-Year Plan. Nancy Foster was part of that decision process. The 
5-year period was intended to give the companies time to do seismic and 
economic surveys so they would know how much to bid during the 
competitive lease-sale bidding. The Sanctuary Program hired Nancy away 
from Interior and soon after, many of those places were proposed for 
sanctuary status. They included Flower Gardens Bank, Tanner Bank, Greys 
Reef, and Georges Bank. Both Georges Bank and Flower Gardens failed 
after much agency infighting in DC. (The Flower Gardens finally came 
into being in 1994.) I recall that the Monitor site was the first 
sanctuary. Industry had no interest in that site. However, when the 
areas mentioned above were proposed, industry assumed Commerce was using 
the Sanctuary Program to obtain a piece of the bidding money and 
production royalties. NOAA management argued that because they were the 
ocean agency they should handle offshore leasing. Bureau of Land 
Management could keep onshore. Sounded logical but there was a lot of 
head butting at high levels in DC, and in the end Interior, which had 
existed for close to 100 years, was allowed to keep offshore leasing. 
Commerce has been upset ever since, and I maintain that explains a lot 
of their actions or inactions. The industry did not want to deal with a 
new agency (NOAA) because it had taken years for them to learn how to 
deal with Interior so why start all over again with another new agency. 
(There was probably a lot more involved that I was not privy to.) Since 
those early days, NOAA’s Marine Sanctuaries Program has added dozens of 
new sanctuaries, and for the most part they have been good for the 

The Keys sanctuaries came about after Pennekamp State Park was 
established in 1960 and opened in 1963. I attended the opening and 
displayed a poster of underwater photos. One of my University of Miami 
professors, Dr. Gilbert Voss, had been instrumental in pushing for 
creation of the park. He was concerned about the biota, including 
corals, but at the time there were other forces that helped create the 
park. Most divers were spear-fishermen back then. Spearfishing was a 
controversial activity, and we young divers had little money and did not 
bring big bucks to the Keys. However, we were taking a lot of fish. 
There were also spearfishing contests in the Keys sponsored by the 
Amateur Athletic Union. Affluent hook-and-line adults and charter-boat 
captains wanted spearfishing stopped. A minor war was going on between 
the two factions. Fishermen were not much concerned about corals, and 
most charter-boat captains and lobstermen could not even swim. They 
actually looked down on anyone who got in the water. At that time, 
corals were healthy and not of much concern to the fishing community. A 
Supreme Court decision in 1976 limited State jurisdiction to 3 miles off 
the East Coast. That action made spearfishing in clear water out beyond 
Pennekamp waters legal. Anglers and lobster fishermen were not happy. It 
was not long before an arrangement was made between the State and NOAA 
that allowed the Marine Sanctuary to take over the area seaward of 
Pennekamp State Park. The NOAA Key Largo Marine Sanctuary was born. I 
was on the boat representing the USGS when Bob White and John Pennekamp 
signed the document.

The Key Largo Marine Sanctuary became well advertised in magazines and 
billboards, and soon tourist divers began to flood into Key Largo. 
Billboards featured the Christ Statue, which had been installed before 
creation of the Sanctuary. Businesses in the lower Keys saw dollars 
stopping in Key Largo and decided they needed a Sanctuary in the lower 
Keys. The Sanctuary Program then proposed Looe Key Reef as an 
appropriate site. I can’t prove the Department of Commerce was behind 
that. I’ll let the readers decide. Most Keys residents, being an 
independent lot, did not like the idea and became very critical of the 
proposal. After the first public hearing in Key West, some NOAA 
representatives feared for their safety. I remember statements to the 
effect they would not come back. There were signs up and down the Keys 
that said, “Just say no to NOAA.” Some of the old faded signs can still 
be seen. I also remember a Sanctuary representative from DC telling me 
they had adopted the rubber-band approach. He was referring to using a 
tight rubber band to castrate bulls. “It takes time and is painless but 
eventually they just fall off.” And so it was to be.

NOAA did come back, but the next hearing was in Miami at the University 
of Miami Marine Laboratory. Nancy Foster was in charge of that hearing. 
I well recall that a tropical fish collector testified against making 
Looe Key a sanctuary. I also admit that I too along with Dr. Robert 
Ginsburg and Harold Hudson also testified against it. Our concern was 
that the area was too small to be effective and could be affected by 
toxic material flowing in from outside the area. In fact, nearly 
everyone attending the hearing testified against creating Looe Key 
Sanctuary. We all knew it was about attracting dollars to the Lower 
Keys. However, with support from a powerful letter from the Tropical 
Audubon Society (it claimed to represent 30,000 people), the proposal 
was pushed through. Many of us thought that was a sneaky tactic because 
few of those members lived in the Keys. I was reminded of the rubber 
band. As history shows that was the last Executive Order signed by 
President Carter in 1981 the night before he left office.

As I recall, the first Manager of the Looe Key Sanctuary was fired when 
he was caught spearfishing within its boundaries. So sanctuary 
management hired that tropical fish collector to run the sanctuary 
because he knew the area so well. (He was actually hired by the State of 
Florida using pass-through funds from the Feds.) The rest is history. 
But we won’t get into that. I think it should be remembered that 14 
oil-test wells had already been drilled off the Florida Keys, and Keys 
folks were beginning to hate oil companies because the price of gasoline 
was rising. One had to drive a car and burn gas to get to the lower Keys 
and Key West. Creating a sanctuary they thought might stop future 
drilling. They were right! Later events often made me wonder what a 
sanctuary could accomplish.

Although spearfishing was banned in the two sanctuaries, line fishing 
and lobster trapping were allowed. Anchor damage and boat groundings 
became a highly visible issue. The damage was something easy to see and 
was relatively easy to stop by fining perpetrators. I remember that in 
those days corals were healthy and coral diseases had not yet appeared. 
You could break coral with anchors and it would grow right back, just as 
it did after hurricanes that affected hundreds of square miles. 
Hurricane Donna in 1960 happened when corals were healthy, and I studied 
its effects. Our published paper showed that the coral grew right back. 
With the rapid recovery after Donna and later Betsy in 1965, I began to 
wonder what the sanctuaries might accomplish with corals. I well 
remember taking geologists on educational field trips and telling them 
they were in a sanctuary and collecting was not allowed. They would ask 
about all those lobster traps. I had to explain that it was not a ‘total 
sanctuary’ and at the same time tell them they could not take a sample 
bag of reef sand. The Keys economy had to be maintained. When diseases 
began decimating the corals in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the issue 
was pretty much ignored for several years. I recall pointing out that 
disease was by far the biggest unappreciated threat to corals in a /Sea 
Frontiers/ article in 1989. At the time, I figured there was little 
concern because it was something the sanctuary could do little about, 
and no one was studying coral disease anyway.

And then there was mosquito spraying. In the beginning, the pesticide 
was mixed with diesel oil and sprayed from old DC-3 airplanes. Did the 
sanctuary get on top of that one? I remember bringing up that issue at 
every sanctuary meeting I attended. It was ignored even though everyone 
knew it was killing butterflies along with the mosquitoes. The toxicity 
of those sprays needed to be tested against corals but the sanctuary 
ignored it. I can’t prove there was a directive from Commerce to avoid 
the issue, but I strongly suspect the sanctuary would have been in 
trouble if they had funded studies to investigate spray toxicity to 
corals and other marine life. What if such studies showed it was toxic? 
What a stink that would raise! Without the spray, mosquitoes would be 
unbearable as they were when I was a child. At the same time, the 
National Park Service did not avoid the issue and still does not allow 
mosquito spraying on their lands. Spray planes were not allowed to spray 
over the Florida Keys Marine Laboratory because they already knew it 
killed fish in open tanks. Again this is ancient history.

So now there is reasonable suspicion that sunscreen may be a problem for 
corals. A recent National Park publication advises that sunscreen not be 
used while swimming in coral reef areas. Did NOAA propose any studies to 
determine which brands were toxic and which were not? Surely we know 
what would happen if the sanctuary tried to ban sunscreen. You don’t 
think DOC would come under pressure from the manufacturers and Keys 
businesses? They would come down on the sanctuary like a ton of bricks.

I must say I’m grateful that I did get some Sanctuary funding (and 
permits) to do needed geologic mapping and coring in the past. It was 
supremely logical that NOAA needed to know more about what they were 
managing. It also created goodwill with my agency that was offering to 
do the work. At the time, it was not realized that the coring and 
mapping research we did might show that Keys reefs had gone through 
periods of decline long before the sanctuary was created. I don’t mean 
in our lifetime but during geologic time, well before fast food came to 
the Keys. The results of our work raised many questions. Why had there 
been so little coral growth along the main reef line during the past 
6,000 years? Coring and seismic profiling even showed there had been 
less than 6 inches of reef growth where the NOAA underwater habitat was 
located. C-14 age dating showed that area had been under water for at 
least 6,000 years. In fact, the study showed there has been little 
growth over most of the outer-reef tract during the past 6,000 years. 
That has all been published in numerous journal articles and in a USGS 
Professional Paper. I seriously doubt that work would have been funded 
if what it discovered could have been predicted. And remember, the 
diseases and bleaching still had not struck the Keys. I could go on and 
on and also point out what others have said. “The demise of corals 
happened under the Sanctuary’s watch.” I will not say that because I am 
aware that it was clearly an event that could not have been managed. The 
issue of sewage might have been addressed sooner, but most of us knew 
the same demise of corals was happening simultaneously throughout the 
Caribbean. Besides, constructing centralized sewerage systems is a 
profitable business.

So back to the original issue, which was, does the DOC have control over 
the Sanctuary Program? Of course there is no readily available paper 
trail. Also, no sane person bites the hand that feeds him. Let’s just 
say one can rightly remain suspicious. If you go to the DOC website, 
here is what it says. Gene

“The *United States Department of Commerce* (*DOC*) is the Cabinet 
of the United States government 
with promoting economic growth 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_growth>. The mission of the 
department is to "promote job creation and improved living standards for 
all Americans by creating an infrastructure that promotes economic 
growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development". 
Among its tasks are gathering economic and demographic data for business 
and government decision-making, and helping to set industrial standards. 
The Department of Commerce headquarters is the Herbert C. Hoover 
Building <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_C._Hoover_Building>in 
Washington, D.C.”


No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
College of Marine Science Room 221A
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
<eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
Tel 727 553-1158
---------------------------------- -----------------------------------

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