[Coral-List] 50 reefs initiative

John Artim john.artim at smail.astate.edu
Mon Feb 27 12:58:57 EST 2017

I, too, am an (extremely) early-career coral reef ecologist. I think 
Alexander Fordyce has done a superb job of framing the issue. I would 
like to add that the "50 Reefs" proposal is a "bet-the-farm" initiative. 
As such I would expect an extremely high bar for the evidence required 
to support "50 Reefs" as an exclusive approach. It seems to me, judging 
just by the Twitter traffic among coral reef folks this past weekend, 
that as a community we are no where near the 95% level of agreement we 
would need to feel comfortable with this as an exclusive strategy to 
preserve coral reefs.

Implicit in "50 Reefs" is the assumption that we know enough about the 
functioning of coral reef communities that we can accurately choose the 
10% of reefs that we can nurse through the difficult transition ahead. 
At ICRS this past summer Nancy Knowlton made the point that as a 
research community we have invested little in understanding the 
community roles of small cryptic invertebrates. Peter Mumby made the 
point that most research has taken place on either pristine or 
highly-degraded reef. Until we have identified key invertebrate 
functional groups and have indices of reef community function reflecting 
them, I suspect our understanding of what is a functioning but degraded 
coral reef community is deficient. When one is proposing to choose 
winners and losers—that is, whose coral reefs are worth continued effort 
to save—this becomes of more than just academic interest.

We also have to consider that if we as a community of researchers are 
going to support "50 reefs", we need a very good story concerning what 
happens to the other stakeholders worldwide who are in some way tied to 
coral reef communities. This includes many indigenous peoples who rely 
on coral reefs for subsistence fishing and gleaning. Even if you would 
argue that we have enough knowledge of coral reef community function to 
choose which are the 10% of reefs we will save, there are many other 
stakeholders that have a right to be a part of the discussion before 
that decision can be finalized. I think it's premature to write off the 
other 90% when so many people are dependent on these reefs. In fact, we 
are but one stakeholder on this issue and though we should take 
positions on policy issues like this one, we should not advocate 
decision processes that fail to give other stakeholders adequate time to 

Finally, I would like to point out that some of what would become the 
90% reefs are the focus of current study today and rightly so. 
Undoubtedly as we attempt to address Peter Mumby's questions concerning 
reefs in intermediate states we may discover that some, perhaps even all 
of those reefs may not be savable. But for now, we are getting valuable 
insights into community function from these sites. Does that imply some 
sort of transition period is needed? Or is the situation so dire that we 
really do have no choice but to shift all resources and effort towards 
the 10% of reefs we can save?

So, as a neophyte coral reef ecologist, I believe that the "50 Reefs" 
initiative is an important proposal that underscores just how desperate 
a situation humanity has gotten itself into. At the same time, I really 
don't think our state-of-knowledge is such that we can take a single 
approach to researching and conserving this vital ecosystem. While 
vigorous pursuit of "50 Reefs" may well be our best way forward, I don't 
see enough evidence to support it as the exclusive way forward. But I 
readily admit that when it comes to coral reefs, I am more ignorance 
than I am enlightenment and have not had enough time with the specifics 
of the "50 Reefs" proposal. I look forward to all of the responses on 
this critical topic.

-John Artim

On 2/27/17 11:00 AM, coral-list-request at coral.aoml.noaa.gov wrote:
> Subject: [Coral-List] 50 reefs initiative
> To:coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> Message-ID:
> 	<CAN_vqssoMcz3L77zchWwCq=UJaJ=3uqpEkw-R=sG-EDZ3sMu=w at mail.gmail.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8
> Hey everyone,
> I'm in the infancy of my science career and so susceptible to being pulled
> in several directions by well argued and opposing opinions. Thanks to the
> coral-list admin, Jim, for encouraging us amateurs to speak up!
> Just wanted to try and start a conversation about the recently launched 50
> reefs initiative, that aims to preserve at least 10% of the world's coral
> reefs for future generations. My hope is that your collective wealth of
> opinions makes for some good brain food!
> Some of my thoughts: I think it shows realism given the long term trend of
> non-stop reef decline. I also think that those surviving reefs hold the key
> to understanding how we can positively intervene with minimal ecological
> impact outside of our goal (e.g. Through assisted evolution, translocation,
> ecological engineering). It's good to see large, private companies backing
> global conservation goals; they're a powerful entity and one that, if
> guided by solid science, have the potential to exert considerable
> influence. I would hesitate to say that governments, rather than individual
> companies, have more to answer for when it comes to the inaction around
> global reef conservation.
> BUT, it seems rather pessimistic and I fear sets a goal that leaves ample
> room for complacency when in fact we need urgency. Coral reefs have always
> surprised us in the past, from rapid recovery and evolution to the mere
> existence of corals in the toasty waters of the Arabian Sea. I think that
> the most pristine can be identified and research channeled towards them;
> but let's do it with a view of learning lessons that we can use to save
> those less fortunate to hold the status of pristine.
> Whenever I hear about triaging, I am reminded of the story of the Mauritius
> Kestrel and the valiant effort of Carl Jones who brought the species back
> from the brink of extinction, one breeding pair to over fifty in the space
> of twenty years. Of course one is a species, the other is an ecosystem. But
> optimism need not be lost just yet!
> Looking forward to hearing all your thoughts,
> Cheers
> Alexander Fordyce


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