[Coral-List] More big-picture thinking on Reef Optimism

Scott Wooldridge swooldri23 at gmail.com
Mon Mar 19 21:23:15 EDT 2018

Hi Coral Listers,

I should clarify further the standpoint from which I make my previous
observations. This standpoint is outlined in my Coral Reefs manuscript:


In brief summary, the manuscript outlines how the current global coral reef
crisis is not novel in the recent history (last 1 million years) of the
earth system. Even without human interventions to the climate, the earth
system would have transgressed through the 260-280ppm that signals the
demise of the coral-algae symbiosis (at a global scale). Without human
intervention, the demise would have transpired across a period of 5- 10 kyr
from now. So the reality is, humans have simply amplified a natural
earth-system-scale phenomenon. And strange as it may seem, the outcome of
this demise is a transition back toward ice-age conditions.

Given current global/country population sizes, human societies are no
better equipped to handle ice-age conditions as projected future warming
conditions. In summary, the answer does not exist in the commonly-held
belief that the best solution for future human persistence is to preserve
some “past” earth-system state and the biology/ecology that it supported.

This is big thinking, and doesnt allow for sentimentalism. It groups coral
reefs in the same class of so many other species (and I mean many – is it
thousands, tens of thousands) that are in demise or have gone extinct in
the recent past (and near future).

But perhaps the ace card we hold, seen by so many as the unfortunate evil,
is that it is clearly evident that humans can now – to a certain degree –
influence the climate of the whole earth system.

When we give up the notion of holding to “past” earth-system states, we
quickly realise that some new “optimal” competitive species set will move
into the niche provided by the new human-influenced (maybe engineered)
earth-system state. This is the absolute wonder of natural systems. Their
resilience to abhor a free space. We (humans) see a seaweed covered
seafloor as suboptimal as compared to a coral reef. Natural systems observe
no such thing. Both are places of intense competition and enterprise.

For humans to maintain prosperity given the speed of change to the
current/emerging earth-system state we will need to work fast to engineer
solutions that maintain food supplies. Clearly, carbonate producing
organisms and the species/ecosystems they support are to be lost (at global
scales). But seaweeds are going to love the elevated pco2. And surely there
will be other beneficial species (e.g seaweed eaters). A beneficial role
for modern science should be to identify these early, and forward think of
how best to integrate them into new food supply chains.

Please dont get me wrong. I personally prefer the natural world of my
childhood (even now) as far superior to human endeavours of exploitation
and greed. If somehow I was a god, I would push the delete button on the
human species. But there is sentimentalism, and there is reality. Science
must only concern itself with truth – else it is nothing but a faith-based
religion. And we already have good example these -  we dont need more.

Obviously we need to mitigate against run-away climate change. We need to
maintain pressure on governments to reduced CO2 emission and educate the
populace as to its benefits. But we also must be realistic as to the
changes for which we are already committed (for better or worse). Like
every baby child, the general populace just wants to hear that we will be
ok. They will unite behind any idea/leader/country that provides this
comfort level. Science can be the impetus for this comfort level, but not
if it is selling false comfort/optimism.

It is time for earth-system scale science and solutions. Are we ready? Are
we preparing the right kind of scientists/engineers? Or are we simply
transferring to them our sentimentalism and failing hope.



P.S.as to a bit of science (less my ramblings). The above paper also
outlines why so-called Super Corals cannot exist  when pco2 exceeds
260-280ppm. Sadly, the 260-280 threshold (and what it means for resource
partitioning in the coral-algae symbiosis) means that the thermal stability
of the symbiosis is in no way related to the thermal strength of either
(individual) part. The weakness is the symbiosis – not the individual parts.

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