[Coral-List] #oceanoptimism, sort of

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Fri Jan 6 15:43:40 EST 2017

     I agree.  These days I like to say something like "coral reef
ecosystems as we know them will cease to exist if we don't act decisively
and soon."  Some corals will likely survive, but how consoling is it if
reefs go from 40% coral cover to 5% or 20% to 1% coral cover (and
macroalgae and turf go up to 80%)??  Even if no species were to go extinct,
that doesn't strike me as a coral reef ecosystem, it strikes me as an algae
bed.  Or some places may be dominated by soft corals, gorgonians or
corallimorphs, or something else.  I'd say the canary in the mine is the
coral reef ecosystem, and we had better continue to sound the alarm as loud
and clear as we can and get effective international action on the root
causes, while at the same time doing everything we can to try to reduce all
other threats.  But we'd better get international action on the root causes
(greenhouse gases including CO2), or we're just re-arranging the deck
chairs on the Titanic.
      If you have a patient that has Ebola, and also has a scratch on the
finger, what should you treat??  I argue that you had better treat the
Ebola, because if you don't, they will soon be dead.  It's fine if you have
time to treat the scratch on the finger, but you would not be wise to take
any time away from treating the Ebola to treat the finger.  Worth
disinfecting the finger, if you don't they could get an infected finger and
it could get more serious.  But first and foremost get the Ebola treatment
started in a way that could save the patient's life.  The bottom line is if
you don't treat the Ebola and treat it vigorously, you will loose the
patient and anything else would have been a waste of time if you loose the
patient.  I think that's pretty much what we're faced with on coral reef
ecosystems.  Maybe a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much.  With
something like diver damage or sunscreens, I don't think it is an
exaggeration at all.  If the goal is to save world coral reef ecosystems,
then working on those is a waste of time if we don't solve the CO2 problem
(the 800 pound gorilla in the corner of the room).  If the goal is to save
a small, high-value coral reef that is particularly threatened by them,
then working on them is well worth it, if we work on the big threats too
(but only if we do).
     My 2 cents worth.
     Cheers,  Doug

On Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 10:01 AM, Steve Mussman <sealab at earthlink.net> wrote:

> Dear John,
> It is certainly challenging to describe the threats to coral reefs in such
> a way that presents just the right balance between hope and despair.
> Interestingly, from my perspective, I worry more about the effects of an
> overly optimistic approach. There seems to me to be too many either
> ignoring the issue completely or making claims that would lead one to
> believe that we can engineer our way out of this mess. I think most would
> agree that some corals will survive, but what solace is there in
> considering that those reefs with which we are most intimately involved
> (the shallow reefs you referred to) are the most likely to succumb?       I
> would reverse your question and ask what incentive do people have to act on
> climate change if we feed their hunger for the good news by focusing on the
> fact that (some) corals are likely to survive or at least make a comeback
> over geological time?      Where we agree is on the point that we have a
> responsibility to share what we know and I know o
>  f no responsible individuals peddling the rather simplistic idea that the
> extinction of all coral reefs is imminent.   What I would ask is, is it
> really so wrong or deceitful to suggest that if we don't act now to address
> climate change (and other stressors) the coral reef ecosystems that we have
> just begun to explore and understand are likely to continue to slip away?
> Regards,
> Steve
> Sent from my iPad
> > On Jan 4, 2017, at 9:55 PM, John Hocevar <jhocevar at greenpeace.org>
> wrote:
> >
> > 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
> > sanctuaries.
> >
> > 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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Douglas Fenner
Contractor for NOAA NMFS, and consultant
"have regulator, will travel"
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

phone 1 684 622-7084

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