[Coral-List] Causes of reef decline

Peter Sale sale at uwindsor.ca
Sat Feb 18 17:18:24 EST 2017

Right on, Mark.
I had a disillusioning experience in Jamaica about four years ago.  (Or it would have been disillusioning, if I was less jaded than I was by then.)  

They wanted us to guide a revision to the management plans for three MPAs including Montego Bay, the oldest in the country.  Apart from discovering (not unusual) that the agency wanted us to write a document to place on their shelf, rather than do any of the mentoring and guiding they had asked for initially, I had the joy of listening to managers explain the total lack of enforcement of fishing restrictions in two no-take zones as due to 1) a repeated claim by the fishing co-ops that they had to have the sites' borders buoyed so the fishers would know where they were, 2) shortage of funds for buoys, and 3) very effective nighttime removal by persons unknown of any buoys that were put out.  This had been going on for years while all parties assured one another than they wanted to get the regulations into force.  

I suggested it was time to tell the fishers that the sites would not be buoyed because of evident logistic difficulties, and that it was the fishers' responsibility to know where they were out on the water.  That suggestion did not go over well with the agency, and so far as I know was never put to the fishers.  Meanwhile higher levels of government were pretending that giving responsibility for management to tiny non-profits, keeping their budgets way too small, and getting grants to bring in the odd consultant for another report was an effective way to manage Jamaica's MPAs.

Building political will to actually do something useful in environmental management remains a challenge there and in many other nations round the world.

Peter Sale
University of Windsor

-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Tupper [mailto:Mark.Tupper at utt.edu.tt] 
Sent: Saturday, February 18, 2017 3:20 PM
To: Billy Causey - NOAA Federal <billy.causey at noaa.gov>
Cc: Peter Sale <sale at uwindsor.ca>; Dennis Hubbard <dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu>; coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov; Les Kaufman (lesk at bu.edu) <lesk at bu.edu>; tmcclanahan at wcs.org
Subject: Causes of reef decline

Billy, I'll add another cause of reef decline: lack of political will within upper levels of government to do any of the things that Peter just suggested we should seek to do. For example, In 2013, the Fisheries Divisions of Trinidad and Tobago developed a reef fisheries management plan that addressed most of the items on Peter's list. Four years later it is still collecting dust with the Legislative Branch. Worse yet, the Tobago House of Assembly has failed to act on multiple reef management plans for Northeastern Tobago - the first such plans dating back to 1983. As a result of the government's failure to act on the recommendations of project after project, the local community suffers from stakeholder fatigue and is leery of any further reef management planning. How do we build the political will within governments to act on what ecologists and managers tell them?

> On Feb 18, 2017, at 2:43 PM, Billy Causey - NOAA Federal <billy.causey at noaa.gov> wrote:
> Peter,
> You, Judy and Tim, and a few others, have been right on track. I have 
> been following this thread and communication and find some 
> explanations way off the mark.
> In my estimation, coral decline continues to be the synergy between 
> the impacts of climate change, land-based sources if pollution, 
> habitat loss and degradation and overfishing.  Considering that 
> overfishing affects the food chain and removal of important reef 
> species such as the grazers.  And, I don't have time to start on the 
> problems of fish traps and how they can remove important reef species 
> that make up a robust reef fish community.
> Personally, I have added a fifth cause of reef community decline and 
> in the Wider Caribbean that is Lionfish.
> Keep the good messages pouring in Peter, Judy and Tim and others.
> Billy
> Sent from my iPhone
>> On Feb 17, 2017, at 5:25 PM, Peter Sale <sale at uwindsor.ca> wrote:
>> 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 inte
> rch
>> 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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