[Coral-List] #oceanoptimism, sort of

John Hocevar jhocevar at greenpeace.org
Wed Jan 4 21:55:04 EST 2017

Colleagues -

I studied coral reef ecology in the early 90s, back when our biggest 
concerns were Diadema die-offs and black or white band disease. More 
recently, this community has struggled to keep up with its own 
predictions of the demise of coral reef ecosystems on a global scale. We 
have argued a bit over which are the most important or most preventable 
threats, but most agree that climate change is the knockout blow to a 
victim softened up by a right-left-right combination of high nutrient 
runoff, depletion of herbivores, etc.

There is no question that we, the people best suited to know for sure, 
are watching a disaster unfold.

And still, I can't help but think that as important as it is for us to 
speak out clearly and loudly about what is killing the most diverse 
ecosystems on earth, it is both a scientific and strategic mistake for 
us to refer to the imminent extinction of coral reefs. Perhaps 
everything will be so apocalyptic by the time we stop spewing carbon 
emissions that even deep reefs will die off, but I don't think that is 
supported by data or analysis. Am I wrong?

Deeper reefs are clearly doing better than shallow reefs. That seems 
unlikely to change. We are going to lose some shallow species, perhaps a 
great number of them. But deeper reefs are refugia for many coral and 
reef associated species, and they will be able to repopulate shallower 
waters once temperatures stabilize and start dropping again - 
particularly if we reduce other threats by creating networks of marine 

If scientists tell people reefs are going to disappear by 
2100/2065/2050/2035, what incentive does that give anyone to act? If we 
are sure that is true, ok, I suppose it is still our responsibility to 
say so. But as far as I know, it is NOT something we can say is true. As 
soul crushing as the death of shallow corals is, we need to be clear in 
communicating about what we know.

Coral reefs are going to survive. How many species, and how quickly they 
recover, is up to us. This is not some disingenuous dream to peddle to 
people eager for good news, it is what we are seeing and have a 
responsibility to share.

Happy New Year!

John H

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