[Coral-List] The GBR is in trouble, but not dead

Esther Peters estherpeters at verizon.net
Sun Mar 26 14:11:18 EDT 2017

As Chris points out, we have terms that are "well grounded in the 
literature" so the press has picked up on those, as Ellen noted, and 
Gene stated that often there may be a lack of a better term. But peer 
review is only as good as the peer reviewers. And maybe we need new 
terms, language does change after all, or just look up their definitions.

Doug's comment reminds me of the situation with "ecosystem health" 
(including "coral reef health"). When people started using this term (I 
think in the 1970s), several scientists (notably Glenn Suter) noted that 
an "ecosystem" cannot have "health." The definition of "health" is "the 
state of an organism when it is functioning optimally, not showing signs 
of disease or abnormality." The definition of "disease" is "the state of 
an organism when it is not functioning optimally, having an impairment 
that affects the vital functions, organs, or systems, which may be due 
to a biotic or abiotic factor." Thus, only organisms can be healthy.

A further concern was that ecosystems can become altered and exist in 
other stable states. An ecosystem responds to changes in biological, 
chemical, geological, and physical conditions along a continuum. An 
organism also responds as it is exposed to different conditions, but 
exposure to too much or too little outside the range of a parameter to 
which it is adapted can lead to its death, it will no longer exist. Some 
say that an ecosystem changing from what was present is also its death 
(hence the "GBR is dying"), but it will continue to exist, just not as 
the same previously stable state we had recognized.

A lot of arguments have been proffered for and against using the term 
"ecosystem health," including that it is a term the public can 
understand and ease of communication is important, and so a lot of work 
has gone into development of ecosystem health indicators, assessments, 
functions, processes, services, and management. What is really happening 
is that the organisms in the ecosystem are no longer healthy (now 
diseased) because changes in the physical, chemical, geological, or 
biological conditions to which they are now being exposed are outside 
the range to which they were adapted (e.g., higher seawater 
temperatures, toxicants, substrate collapse, loss of food resources). So 
we need to understand what ecosystem conditions (collectively) will 
support the optimal functioning of the organisms we find (or want to 
find) there. I advocate using the terms "ecosystem condition" or 
"ecosystem integrity."

In any case, as we have been seeing, conditions on so many reefs are 
changing in ways that are adversely affecting the health and survival of 
the corals and other reef organisms. If it is not safe for them, it is 
not safe for humans. That is the problem.

Esther Peters

George Mason University

Fairfax, Virginia

On 3/24/2017 8:15 PM, Douglas Fenner wrote:
> And that takes me back to my point, that reefs (Calcium buildups) are not
> alive.  Can a piece of basalt or granite be "senile"?  A better analogy
> than granite would be a stalactite.  As water carrying super saturated
> CaCO3 percolates down though cracks in rocks above a cave, it runs in tiny
> trickles down the sides of stalactites and CaCO3 precipitates on it and
> adds to the formation.  So the stalactite gets larger and people may say it
> "grows."  But it is not alive, "grows" is only an analogy.  Water stops in
> drought, stalactite no longer gets larger.  Is it "senile"?  Did it just
> "die"?  If new water comes that is pure rainwater, it will start to
> dissolve the stalactite, which will get smaller.  Is it "dying"?  No.  You
> can't die if you're not alive.  You can't be "senile" unless you are
> alive.  Rocks aren't senile, they don't die.  Living organisms die,
> inanimate objects don't.  Can granite get up and dance?  Reproduce?  I
> don't think so, and these terms are misleading, especially to those who
> don't realize the difference.
>      Cheers,  Doug
> On Thu, Mar 23, 2017 at 2:30 AM, Chris Perry <chris.t.perry at gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> Hi, I rarely dip my toe into this forum, but just to add that I think many
>> reef geomorphologists quite like the term senile to describe such
>> situations of reefs ceasing to accrete (or senescent is favoured by some -
>> and has been suggested to me by some reviewers). It is, however, also worth
>> saying that this term was actually first (as far as I know) used back in
>> the early 1980's by David Hopley in his classic book on the GBR - this in
>> the context of describing the evolutionary states of GBR reefs ... so it is
>> a term now well grounded in the literature.
>> Cheers
>> Chris
>> Geography,
>> Amory Building,
>> University of Exeter ,
>> Exeter, EX4 4RJ
>> Message: 1
>> Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:51:38 -0400
>> From: Eugene Shinn <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
>> Subject: [Coral-List] he GBR is in trouble, but not dead
>> To: "coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov" <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
>> Message-ID: <ec30b25d-bb3f-2803-c2bc-616e206e92b8 at mail.usf.edu>
>> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8; format=flowed
>> Ellen Prager points out a significant problem when dealing with the
>> press.If you are not careful you can easily get burned by an over
>> zealous environmental writer and headline writer. She rightly makes the
>> point that headlines for a story are often written by specialist other
>> than the writer who wrote the story. The headline is written to grab the
>> attention of the reader. Remember they are also in the business of
>> selling newspapers and as the reader knows, readership is suffering and
>> newspapers are going out of business almost daily. Some years ago I was
>> badly burned by some lurid headlines. At that time writers received
>> extra cash if the Associated Press picks up their story and passes it on
>> to other newspapers.Each paper that picked up my story about the effect
>> of sewage nutrients on coral reefs created ever more eye-catching
>> headlines. ?Sewage killing reefs scientist says.? The results were
>> unhappy calls from dive shop owners in the keys whose dive trips were
>> being cancelled because clients did not want to dive in poop. It was
>> most embarrassing.
>> Reef researchers have for years wrestled with how to define reefs.
>> Biologists and geologists see reefs differently and the average reader
>> can become confused by terms like bioherm, biostrome, or even live rock.
>> Remember when that big tanker grounded on ?Bligh Reef? in Cook inlet
>> Alaska? So-called Bligh reef is simply a submerged mountaintop. It is
>> not a reef but the confusion affected people in the Florida Keys who did
>> not know the difference. Even sandbars have been called reefs. In fact
>> anything that a ship can ground on is often called a reef. It?s just
>> maritime lore.
>> We discuss this problem in detail in our upcoming book, ?Geology of the
>> Florida Keys,? coauthored by Barbara Lidz. In the book we invented a
>> term for dead or almost dead reefs originally used by Lidz in her
>> extensive USGS review of Florida Keys Geology,
>> <http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/2007/1751> For lack of a better term we called
>> reefs no longer growing ?senile reefs.? We can?t predict what a news
>> writer might do with that term but we could not think of anything better
>> at the time. As many readers know, Florida reefs are indeed suffering
>> senility. Hopefully most will recover their former vitality. It will be
>> interesting to see what a news writer might do with those terms, or for
>> that matter, readers of the coral-list. Lets see, ?Reefs in the keys
>> can?t think straight? or ?they forget who they are.? Gene
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