[Coral-List] Thoughts on coral decline and the future.

Steve Mussman sealab at earthlink.net
Sat May 13 13:24:31 EDT 2017

Dear Michael and all,
I don't even wonder anymore if my grandchild will ever see reefs like I did (at least throughout the Caribbean), but then again I never got to see the reefs as Hans Haas did off Bonaire in the 1930s. My point being is that from my perspective it makes no sense to get agitated over points with respect to which specific stressor initiated the decline. It seems to me that even the most fervent scientific combatants agree on some basic principles going forward. Who among you doesn't recognize the detrimental impacts on coral reefs of over-population, land-based pollutants (poor water quality), over-fishing and warming oceans due to climate change? Yes, and you can add plastic debris, lionfish, sunscreen and African dust too!  I would even go as far as to say that most believe that GHGs are at this point most likely to provide the ultimate death blow. You said it yourself, "We need to figure out what our responses should be, and perhaps for the first time speak with one voice". We can't possibly do that if we continue to polarize this scientific discipline with contentious personal indictments. There seems to be viable strategies available if only we could bring ourselves to focus on our concurrences rather than points of dissension. The appearance of discord within the scientific community only serves to prolong the ordeal. We need to get a message out there with decisiveness and clarity. We are destroying our marine ecosystems; these are the contributing factors; if we care, we can do something about it; time is running out. 

Sent from my iPad

Sent from my iPad

Sent from my iPad
> On May 12, 2017, at 7:51 PM, Risk, Michael <riskmj at mcmaster.ca> wrote:
> Hello Thomas.
> Thank  you  for your response. I have no answers, just a basketfull of
> concerns. I wonder if my grandchildren (3, so far) will ever see anything
> like the reefs that I have seen.
> I would question your assertion that global changes have already outstripped
> land-based stresses. Yes, we hear depressing stories of bleaching. Right
> now,  we  do  not know what the pace of recovery will be. We know that
> nutrients slow that recovery (Wooldridge and Done-great to see Terry still
> trucking along). Michael Schleyer, a good friend of mine and a top scientist
> working in difficult conditions, recently emailed me (Mike, hope quoting you
> is OK-too late now!) “I have had the good fortune of visiting remote reefs
> such as the Chagos, Glorieuses and Europa and, while they have all been
> whacked by bleaching, their recovery has been remarkable.” I would also
> direct  you  to his excellent new paper, Porter and Schleyer 2017 (DOI
> 10.1007/s00338-016-1531-z.)  This  describes another set of reefs on a
> downward trajectory off the coast of South Africa-but in this case, the
> water temperature went down, not up. Mike tells me he had an awful time
> getting  this  accepted,  which  given  the mindset of many coral reef
> biologists, I do not doubt for a second.
> Another paper that had a difficult delivery is Tomascik et al. 1996 (Coral
> Reefs 15: 169). Briefly: a lava flow entered a bay in the Banda Islands, in
> eastern Indonesia, with much hissing and boiling. The locals now call that
> Hot Water Bay (Air Panas). Five years later, the lava flow had greater than
> 60% coral cover, with tabulate corals almost a meter in diameter. Tom and
> his co-authors (Rob van Woesick and Tom’s wife, Anmarie Mah) had a heckuva
> time with this one, because there was great resistance to the idea that
> corals could grow so quickly in such a seriously overfished environment. The
> answer, of course, is that the water is dead clean, wonderfully clear-close
> to the best diving of my life.
> Before anyone tries to tell me of widespread death of Indo Pacific reefs
> from global change, I would like to be reassured that they had read Tom
> Tomascik’s work, and Evan Edinger’s, and had spent some time diving the
> beautiful (not) reefs next to Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta… You get the
> picture.
> Re dust: I am sure Gene can respond much better than I can. I think he has
> an  excellent  point,  and  I don’t for the life of me see why so many
> biologists  refuse to consider it. You are correct, it “works” for the
> Caribbean.  Previous Caribbean reefs must have faced input of dust and
> survived, but-the Sahara is growing, which means the rate of dust production
> is going up. And of course there are truly enormous dust storms that come
> off the Arabian Plate over into the Gulf.
> In short, no matter who “wins” this race, we won’t like the outcome.
> Continuing on this depressing vein: the sea level rise we are seeing now is
> almost at the limits of upward reef accumulation (read Dennis Hubbard’s
> stuff). This rate is basically the calm before the storm. Greenland has yet
> to destabilize, although there is meltwater running underneath the ice. Much
> of  the  land  ice  in  Antarctica continues to shrink, but not as yet
> catastrophically. The lesson of the past is that, during meltwater-driven
> transgressions, rises in sea level can be rapid and episodic. Remember that
> Nature paper my wife wrote (urk, 20 years ago) showing that the Gulf Stream
> started to shut down in less than 4 years. (My wife is no longer in science.
> She told me "there are a lot of nasty people there, and that may include
> you.")
> We really are entering into the unknown, and you are correct: the recent
> Syrian refugee problem will look like a flea bite. We need to do the best we
> can: set examples in our personal life, and be politically active. And hope.
> Mike
> On May 12, 2017, at 12:18 PM, [1]thomas at seamarc.com wrote:
> Dear Michael,
> Thanks for your effort in summing this up.
> I read: "There  is a large body of research supporting the contention that
> land-based stress dominated until late in the 20^th century, but global
> warming is gaining quickly in a race we would rather not watch." The lessons
> from coral reefs other than the Caribbean is that global has unfortunately
> already overtaken the land based stresses. Just like I suppose that the land
> based stresses would have overtaken the effects of the dust at some stage,
> making it a lesser concern.
> Regarding the dust, maybe Gene can tell us has significant the year 83 in
> geological terms. If ever such events have happened in the past, I guess the
> reefs would have recovered before 83. Why wouldn't the reef have recovered
> by now? If such events are more frequent than before, explaining a
> continuous decline, are we not talking about an early sign of climate
> change? We also need to mention that this is mostly a Caribbean problem as
> the dust transport mentioned represents 70 % of the dust movement over the
> earth.
> You also write: "Human populations will be displaced, perhaps suddenly, by
> unpredictable rises in sea level. The time may come when society as a whole
> may not have the resources to save coral reefs, because people come first"..
> I am under the impression that the sea level rise is predicted, and even
> measured. The question however is, looking at the current situation, by how
> many times do we have to multiply the amount of Syrian refugees for the
> situation to become unbearable?
> Regards,
> Thomas
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