[Coral-List] SPAM R2: Re: Parrotfishes and coral reef health

Peter Sale sale at uwindsor.ca
Fri Feb 17 23:52:03 EST 2017

Your question is valid, but it hides an unfortunate reality:  Somehow we've all been complicit in building a perspective which teaches that environmental management is actually easy to do, and that if we do not already know the (simple) steps to take to solve the (simple) problems, those steps will be easily found with a little more research.  Ecology is not as simple as physics, and while I am sure nearly every ecologist knows this, we have never really shaken off the impression that we are just people who happen to like nature, rather than real scientists.  Managers ask for simple, doable solutions while ecologists try to offer such solutions by hiding the complexities most of them know are lurking.

To reef management -- there are some tried and true rule of thumb approaches always worth implementing.  To wit: most reefs except those impossibly remote ones are being exploited, and most are being over-exploited.  So 1) seek to cut fishing pressure, 2) seek to eliminate fishing methods that destroy habitat and other species, 3) seek to ensure that existing fishing rules are obeyed, and protected sites are actually protected.  Many reefs are also polluted, or suffering from sedimentation due to inappropriate coastal construction activities.  So 4) seek to build community consensus concerning the value of reefs, and the damage that pollution does to them, 5) seek to reduce pollution, 6) seek community consensus to strengthen legal systems to control coastal construction.  Reefs are being seriously damaged by our global CO2 emissions.  So 7) seek to raise awareness of the value of reefs - economic, intrinsic, cultural - and how CO2 emissions affect them, 8) seek to build consensus on the pressing need to curtail CO2 emissions for reefs, for people, and for our planet.  Mostly the reef manager's tasks involve managing human behavior and attitudes, while monitoring the state of the reef to see if it is improving or continuing to degrade.

I'm sure we could add additional items to this list, and some of those might be more important in a particular locality than some of the 8 I've listed..  Producing an impossibly long list is not helpful.  Frankly, if every MPA in a reef region were actually managed in accordance with the regulations set up for it, and with high compliance, I believe that alone would be an excellent first step forward to improve the resilience of reef systems.  We do not need the new reef science, not yet done, to do a far better job of managing coral reefs than we generally have been doing, although, in the long run we will have to do more than this.

None of the above is intended to suggest that the majority of reef managers are not doing the best they know how.  Reef managers have an incredibly difficult task, and usually suffer totally inadequate levels of support - finance, personnel, equipment.  The reef science community can help in many ways, including by helping articulate the need for resources to make management possible.

Peter Sale
University of Windsor

-----Original Message-----
From: Julian [mailto:julian at reefcheck.org.my] 
Sent: Friday, February 17, 2017 10:29 PM
To: Peter Sale <sale at uwindsor.ca>; tmcclanahan at wcs.org; coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov; 'Dennis Hubbard' <dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu>; 'Les Kaufman' <lesk at bu.edu>; jlang at riposi.net
Subject: RE: SPAM R2: Re: [Coral-List] Parrotfishes and coral reef health

Dear Peter and others
This is truly an interesting discussion. But, forgive me for being simplistic, what are reef managers supposed to do while you are finding out the correct answer to this "non-binary" issue? Any suggestions would be welcome.

Julian Hyde
General Manager
Reef Check Malaysia
+60 3 2161 5948
Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rcmalaysia


-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Peter Sale
Sent: Saturday, 18 February, 2017 12:22 AM
To: tmcclanahan at wcs.org; coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov; Dennis Hubbard; Les Kaufman (lesk at bu.edu); jlang at riposi.net
Subject: SPAM R2: Re: [Coral-List] Parrotfishes and coral reef health

Kudos to Tim McClanahan, in particular, for quietly reintroducing a touch of realism into this discussion.  Coral reef decline is proceeding around the world, but seems to me to be particularly severe in the Caribbean.  (Perhaps that is because of the relatively small number of primary reef builders in that system, some of which have been savagely hit by disease.)  The decline is caused by many concurrent stressors (Judy Lang's post hit most of them in one sentence).  The relative importance of these stressors varies from place to place, and from time to time.  The long-term trajectory looks very bleak.

I doubt any of you disagree with my first paragraph.  But if we reef scientists, and particularly the reef ecologists amongst us, cannot remember that this is a case of simultaneous, possibly synergistic, stressors acting in different ways on different species when we discuss what is happening, how can we expect other people to comprehend the magnitude of the problem?
To spend lines and lines of text on coral-list debating whether or not parrotfish grazing is to blame (as if one factor will be the leading cause of decline across time and space) cheapens the discussion and reduces any chance of articulating clearly what is needed to gain some improvement.  We can all do better.

And please, let us stop reducing the concept of herbivory, by parrotfishes, sea urchins or anybody else, to a simple binary interaction between the grazer and the macroalgae, with the corals waiting patiently on the outcome.
What utter nonsense.  It's been well documented in numerous marine environments that algae of different species respond differently to grazing pressure.  Most macroalgae escape most of the herbivore guild through growth, so that the suite of herbivores that might keep a bare site free of anything other than a fine algal turf is quite incapable of returning a lush stand of macroalgae to that fine turf state.  Different species of macroalgae are differentially palatable to different species of herbivore, are differentially impacted by pollution, by nutrients, by storms.  I could go on.  Even understanding the algal-herbivore interaction requires much more subtle ecological insights than are evident when all parrotfishes and all algae are considered interch  angeable.  If we do not improve the way in which we talk about the loss of living coral on our coral reefs, we diminish the chance of really understanding what is happening, or potentially discovering effective management actions.  We are all capable of elevating the level of discourse.  If the world is destined to lose most of its coral reefs this century, I'd like to think that at minimum, we had at least learned what was happening, and could articulate what would have been needed to prevent that eventual demise.  We cannot learn from our mistakes without understanding clearly what has happened, and the eventual demise of coral reefs, if it does happen, needs to become a teachable moment.

Peter Sale
University of Windsor

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