[Coral-List] Are reef ecologists capable of building the complex science needed?

Peter Sale sale at uwindsor.ca
Sun Oct 29 23:48:27 EDT 2017

I've been silent for a couple of months, growing increasingly concerned that humanity is heading for a big failure on climate change.  I've watched US politics (it's just across the border and hard to avoid) suck up all the oxygen in the media, and with Paris climate agreement now 'old news', the sense that we are making real progress on this front is fading.  For coral reefs, the second major bleaching of GBR in less than a year provides a sorry background to Australia's own political battle over coal, while among the scientists we seem to mostly be arguing about whether reef restoration is worth doing, whether saving 50 reefs is a seriously self-limiting step or a rational approach to a crisis, and even over who first said reefs were in trouble.  Meanwhile our science muddles on.

And so I have written down some thoughts on my blog, that may impress some, and will definitely annoy some others.  It's at http://www.petersalebooks.com/?p=2519

I fear that we are continuing to adopt a business-as-usual approach to doing our science, and that, at least for ecology, business-as-usual is simply not going to be good enough.  I believe that rising above business-as-usual requires a real commitment to doing science well, and that many of us have either never experienced, or have forgotten how to show that commitment.  I also believe that, though we may well be excellent examples of what evolution can achieve, evolution has not equipped us well to do the kind of multifactorial, multidimensional, multiscale evaluations that are necessary when seeking to understand complex ecosystems like reefs.  And I make reference to three very different recent papers in Coral Reefs, each of which has its merits, to reveal the immense complexity contained in those simple - sometimes central - interactions between corals and turf and foliose algae that might help us understand why many reefs degrade, why degraded reefs sometimes recover, and why we are surrounded by reefs that have only 50% of the living coral they held 40 or so years ago.  Without that fuller understanding, we are in no position to undertake the task of rebuilding reef resilience, or sustaining coral systems through what is surely going to be for them a very difficult couple of decades.

I'll be interested in your insights.

Peter Sale
University of Windsor
sale at uwindsor.ca

More information about the Coral-List mailing list