[Coral-List] What is a coral reef and about "geological reef"?

Eugene Shinn eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu
Thu Nov 3 16:19:07 EDT 2016

I guess the question of what is a reef will never end. In my early days 
when I was an avid speafisherman keeping fish markets and retaurants 
supplied with  fresh fish  (and raising a young family) I, and all the 
other avid spearfishermen I knew, were spearing most of the big meat 
fish (grouper/snapper/hogfish) in places I now recognize as exposed long 
dead Pleistocene coral reefs. That's where the big fish were. We for the 
most part stayed away from the beautiful live reef areas because they 
were populated mainly by parrot fish and small tropicals. I still call 
those dead areas coral reefs even though I now know that they are 
technically what we now call "hard ground communities."  I agree with 
Dennis..Its just convenient and safer to Just call those areas reefs and 
not worry about the details.
      Later in life when I worked for Shell Research I learned that many 
ancient subsurface features had long been called reefs because it was 
easier to promote the drilling of an oil well if you called those 
feature a reefs. I recall that one of our frequent contributors to the 
coral-list once ran a small independent oil exploration company called, 
"Reef Resources" Gene

On 11/3/16 3:38 PM, Pedro M Alcolado wrote:
> Dear all,
> Maybe I am wrong, but I was thinking to calll "coral reefs" to those
> ones that still bear live coral cover, even if they have lost or are
> still losing its coral cover due to recent deletereous events related

> wiht climate events or human driven  impacts, and would call
> "geological coral reefs" or "ancient coral reefs" to those gelogical
> structures that do not bear significant coral development in in the
> recent times (remnant dead reef structures). It is clear that it would
> be difficult to separate these categories in some instances.
> My very best wishes,
> Pedro
> On 11/2/16, Vassil Zlatarski <vzlatarski at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Dear colleagues,
>> Hope the end of the exchange concerning "geological reef" and a text from
>> coming book referring "What is a coral reef" are of interest.
>> Cheers,
>> Vassil
>> 8:23 PM (15 hours ago)
>> to Eugene, me
>> Indeed, that has been my view until recently.  Problem is, people,
>> including me, commonly refer to "reefs" or "coral reefs" and make
>> statements like "reefs are all going to (or not going to) die in a few
>> decades."  Or "coral reefs will disappear (or not) by 2100".  Reading or
>> hearing those, they do not tell you whether the author is saying that the
>> coral reef ecosystem will die or disappear, or whether the carbonate
>> buildup will die or disappear.  Yet obviously, the carbonate buildup, which
>> is what a reef is, will not die or disappear in our lifetimes.  It was
>> never alive in the first place, and it won't disappear any time soon.  The
>> corals could, and the coral reef ecosystem, could die.  But the way we use
>> the terms, we have to guess which one the author meant, and many people
>> haven't been making the distinction, and I think they are very different
>> systems, with very different time courses and processes.  Related, yes,
>> dependent on each other, yes, intermingled (life in holes), for sure.  But
>> you can easily have one without the other.  Fossil reefs on land, and
>> carbonate caps on guyotes have cabonate buildups originally produced by
>> coral reef ecosystems, but no living reef building corals. "Coral
>> communities" on terrestrial rocks, have live corals and many other
>> organisms, but not carbonate buildups.  They are usually associated, but
>> they are separable.  I think we need to distinguish them.  I probably
>> shouldn't have written "geological reefs", maybe coral-ecossytem-produced
>> carbonate buildups would be better, maybe there is another term.  But
>> "reef" or "coral reef" is commonly used for either or both, and I think we
>> need to distinguish them.   Cheers,  Doug
>> On Tue, Nov 1, 2016 at 9:08 AM, Eugene Shinn <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
>> wrote:
>>> Thanks, Yes I forgot worm reefs. Over the years there have been sessions
>>> at national geological meeting having to do with "What is a reef" Nothing
>>> ever got resolved So I finally decided I would not worry about it very
>>> much.
>>> On 11/1/16 2:27 PM, Douglas Fenner wrote:
>>> I like it!  Clear.  I'd just add that the ecological community that
>>> produces the reef is a distinct thing from the reef itself.  The
>>> ecological
>>> community can die, but the reef can't.  The reef can exist whether it is
>>> in
>>> the water or out.  Ah, you forgot one kind of reef, "worm reefs."  Also,
>>> there is the question of deep coral reefs.  They are clearly bioherms, but
>>> deep coral reefs never get near to the surface.  So by the navigator
>>> tradition they are not reefs, though they are coral reefs for sure, just
>>> not zooxanthellate coral reefs, rather they are azooxanthellate coral
>>> reefs.
>>>       I remember that there was an article published on defining coral
>>> reefs several decades ago, but have been unable to find it.
>>>      Cheers, Doug
>>> On Tue, Nov 1, 2016 at 7:08 AM, Eugene Shinn <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
>>> wrote:
>>>> Doug, I just finished the final touches on a requested book I am doing
>>>> with Barbara Lidz for the University Press of Florida. We include in
>>>> chapt
>>>> 4 a discussion of what a reef is and is not. The  title of the book is
>>>> "Geology of the Florida Keys: A Natural Laboratory" Below is our section
>>>> on
>>>> that subject. Best Wishes, Gene
>>>> Before proceeding, we should ask an age-old question, “What is a reef?”
>>>> More specifically, “What is a coral reef?” This seemingly simple question
>>>> lacks easy answers. Answers remain fuzzy and divided and are confused by
>>>> maritime history and lore. The traditional sailor’s term for reefs
>>>> includes
>>>> any topographic feature upon which a vessel may become grounded. Because
>>>> of
>>>> this vagueness, areas such as submerged rocks or mountaintops can be
>>>> called
>>>> reefs. For example, “Bligh Reef,” on which the 274-m (900-ft) EXXON
>>>> *Valdez* oil tanker grounded on March 25, 1989, is simply a submerged
>>>> mountaintop—not a true reef. Sand bars have also been called reefs. For
>>>> the
>>>> purposes of geology, a more precise definition has long been debated, yet
>>>> a
>>>> precise one remains elusive. Geologists lean toward organically created
>>>> topography, often called bioherms in geologic literature. The key
>>>> distinction hinges on whether a topographic feature is created by growth
>>>> of
>>>> an organism rather than a non-living object. Thus, there are oyster
>>>> reefs,
>>>> sponge reefs, bryozoan reefs, stromatolite reefs, algal reefs, rudistid
>>>> reefs, and so forth. A sand pile is not a reef. In the Florida Keys, we
>>>> are
>>>> concerned mainly with reefs built by corals. On the other hand, there are
>>>> a
>>>> few cases where mud banks capped by branching corals have been called
>>>> reefs.
>>>> --
>>>> 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>
>>>> <eugeneshinn at mail.usf..edu>
>>>> Tel 727 553-1158
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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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