[Coral-List] The GBR has died (again).

Michael Newkirk michaeljnewkirk at gmail.com
Mon Mar 20 12:23:42 EDT 2017

Hi All!

Great posts, Doug and Hal! I've thought for some time now that today's
science is amazing in terms of some of the approaches and techniques being
implemented. However, if the same effort that is put into developing new
instruments, techniques, and methods of data collection is put into
revamping the ways in which science is communicated, then we might see some
real change in terms of lifting the profile of science in the minds of the
general public and the less informed. Unfortunately, I don't think more
"discoveries" alone, even impactful ones, will do it, not in today's world.

I have seen some interesting stuff (in terms of communication) on the Coral
List, with Jan Kuenzl's work coming to mind. I


Michael Newkirk.

On Fri, Mar 17, 2017 at 1:19 PM, Douglas Fenner <
douglasfennertassi at gmail.com> wrote:

>     Excellent post!  I cringe every time someone says that "the reef is
> dead."  It is a very common expression.  And it leads to significant
> logical difficulties when someone says "the reef just died" one year and
> then sometime later says "the reef just died" again.  Unless reefs are the
> only living things proven to be able to reincarnate themselves.
>      I tried to make the point earlier that our use of the term "reef" or
> "coral reef" is not specific enough.  There is a geological structure that
> was never alive in the first place, made of calcium carbonate.  Like a
> mountain or a canyon, a rock structure that is not alive.  The second is
> the ecosystem, made of many living things, corals being one of the most
> iconic.  Those living things can die, while the geological structure, the
> rocks, can't.  We speak of a forest, or grasslands, that are on top of
> mountains, or plains, we don't use one word for both.  If you say the
> mountain is now dead, it makes no sense.  It always was dead, and it didn't
> just die now, never was alive.  A forest is a living ecosystem, so it is
> capable of dying.  So I argued that we need two separate expressions,
> something like "coral reef ecosystem" and "reef geological structure."
>  (it's not important exactly what the words are, what is important that
> they distinguish the two things clearly.  And yes, we realize that they are
> inextricably woven together and dependent on each other.  But we
> distinguish a person sitting on a chair from the chair, we don't say the
> chair just died.)  But I clearly didn't convince many people.  You have
> said it better, I hope people now understand the problem.
>      I completely agree that a "coral reef ecosystem" is a wonderfully
> complex ecosystem.  Instead of saying "the reef is now dead" we need to say
> something like "X% of the corals are now dead on this reef."  And if I
> remember Terry was quoted as saying that at one point in the articles.
>      Our science isn't bad, but I think we need to lift our game in the way
> we talk about what's happening to our reefs, and be more specific and
> technically correct in what we say.  Why do we still insist on being so
> sloppy and lazy about our language to refer to "reefs" and to "reefs
> dying"??  Do we have to drop all scientific accuracy talking to the press
> and each other?  We're fully capable of doing much better.  Our science is
> way, way ahead of the way we talk, we need to catch up.
>      Anyhow, thanks for writing these things in a very clear way, and a
> different way than I wrote about them, Hal!  I couldn't agree more.
>      Cheers,  Doug
> On Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 3:45 AM, Lescinsky, Halard <
> hlescinsky at otterbein.edu
> > wrote:
> > The Great Barrier Reef died again.  It said so in the headline on Page 2
> of
> > my local paper in an article originating from the NY Times ("Large
> sections
> > of the Great Barrier Reef are now dead").  But unlike the GBR’s previous
> > death (the Outside/Facebook announcement) last fall, this time the
> > journalism was responsible.  It quotes Terry Hughes as saying “literally
> > two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead”.
> >
> > I have great respect for Terry as a scientist and as a leading
> > international point person for coral reefs, but as in the GBR’s previous
> > obituary, I question the wisdom of such a pronouncement, and indeed what
> it
> > even means.  Is there an agreed upon definition of what a “dead reef”
> > constitutes?  For example, is there a maximum live coral cover required
> > (ie:
> >  A reef is dead if its live coral cover is below x%) or is there some
> other
> > metric to consider?
> >
> > I see several main problems with defining a dead reef.  The first is that
> > reefs aren’t alive in the first place- they are an area or an ecosystem.
> > We
> > are unlikely to say that a mountain or a canyon or a swamp is “dead”-
> these
> > are places with many physical and biological attributes.  Death is a word
> > most often associated with organisms, and dead organisms are dead
> > forever.  Reef
> > “reincarnation” would not be expected by the public, even though we all
> > know that reefs are structured, even in the best of times, by disturbance
> > and resilience.
> >
> > The second is that there are lots of organisms that live on a reef and I
> > have had students enjoy the thriving life on a reef that has no live
> coral
> > cover- but lots of fish and urchins and the like.  Is the community dead
> if
> > the corals are dead?  Third, reefs have a variety of zones, and while
> most
> > monitoring is at shallow depths (10m) that may bleach intensely, deeper
> > zones (including the now well-known mesophotic areas) are little impacted
> > by bleaching.  If the top of a reef is “dead” is that enough to pronounce
> > the entire reef dead?
> > It could be that any announcement that puts reefs in the news is good
> > because it raises awareness, but there is a reason that most conservation
> > organizations choose positive rather than gloomy imagery and messages
> when
> > raising awareness (and $$).  Negative stories shut people down, and the
> > danger of crying wolf further threatens to deafen the public’s ears..
>  I’d
> > vote for not declaring reefs dead, but if we do, let’s at least agree on
> an
> > objective definition.
> >
> > Hal Lescinsky, Otterbein University
> > _______________________________________________
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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
> Join the International Society for Reef Studies.  Membership includes a
> subscription to the journal Coral Reefs, and there are discounts for pdf
> subscriptions and developing countries.  Coral Reefs is the only journal
> that is ALL coral reef articles, and it has amazingly LOW prices compared
> to other journals.  Check it out!  www.fit.edu/isrs/
> "Belief in climate change is optional, participation is not."- Jim Beever..
>   "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts."-
> Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
> Study: Stopping global warming only way to save coral reefs.
> https://www.yahoo.com/news/study-stopping-global-warming-
> only-way-save-coral-180833431.html
> US Republican idea for tax on carbon makes climate sense
> http://www.nature.com/news/us-republican-idea-for-tax-on-
> carbon-makes-climate-sense-1.21477?WT.ec_id=NATURE-
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> Last year was- again- the hottest year on record.
> http://www.sciencemag.org/news/sifter/last-year-was-again-hottest-record
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