[Coral-List] Ocean reality

Sheppard, Charles Charles.Sheppard at warwick.ac.uk
Thu Mar 15 17:26:03 EDT 2018

The thread on ocean optimism has been hugely interesting to people like myself who want optimism but are getting pretty desperate for significant success in any aspect of reef conservation. Yes, of course there are successes, but they remain buried in the avalanche of decline.   

Pessimism does indeed switch people off – all the proponents of Ocean Optimism note that clearly.  But there are different groups of people.  I have found many times that it is optimism that switches off the politicians and decision makers.  Several times when I have offered a glimmer of a solution to solve a coastal problem, the decision maker basically says, well, that’s alright then, and leaves it.  Conversely, if something is desperate, like this or than village being abandoned, or a fuel farm or road being wave-undercut (both real examples I have dealt with) then s/he is forced into doing something significant or else would have some awkward explaining to do..

Nancy Knowlton has said that she is “…continually amazed by the number of marine conservation professionals who are unaware of the successes that have been achieved…”  I think that many, like myself, ARE very aware but, the trouble is, we are equally aware that the disasters and system collapses are so much greater.  On this list we focus on reefs of course, but reefs are just one system.  The same is happening to mangroves and seagrasses, kelps and mud flats, sea mounts and of course pelagic systems too, all on similar downward trajectories.  Reefs (maybe polar regions too) may win the downhill race, but others are not far behind.   Certainly there are good stories, nobody denies that, but my own experience is that politicians will jump too easily on the vicarious publicity of a small good news story and say in effect: well that’s all right then, it’s sorted.  And do nothing..   

I am afraid therefore ‘ocean reality’ is far more essential than ocean optimism for those who decide things.  It might discourage students, as come have complained,  but that is really too bad.  A solution might be to not merely discourage them but to scare the wet-suits off them.  It is them who will take the biggest hit, after all, so it might be doing them a favour.  Historically, it is concerned and active young people have been the great shakers and eventual movers.  Britain's ambassador to the UN, later an college chief, said in a lecture I was at, something to the effect of:" You cant change most leaders' views.  They have to die off and be replaced by those with a different view."  

Ocean optimism remains essential for psychological reasons and for most people; but ocean reality is essential for politicians if anything is going to change.

Best wishes
Professor Charles Sheppard

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