[Coral-List] tragedy of the commons

David Obura dobura at cordioea.net
Wed Jul 24 05:15:40 UTC 2019

On this topic - as a community (mainly scientists and people with sufficient time and inclination to ponder) we tend to over-complicate things. Seminal ideas are that because they contain the fundamental core of an issue, though of course can be elaborated on tremendously (luckily for us or we’d have little to do!!). But the core is solid. Such is the case with the theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as discussions on the commons. In fact that’s a requirement of the ‘right’ or a ’seminal’ idea - if it doesn’t seed 50-100 years of thinking and new findings it would earn that label. So let's celebrate, rather than denigrate it! (and also separate the idea or theory from the culture and foibles of its originator … as an African, if we were to reject all ideas that came from the last 500 years of western science, well …).

For example, extending the title of a concept to be more specific (tragedy of the unregulated commons) only weakens the idea by narrowing it, rather than strengthening it as an umbrella concept.

The same holds for the discussion on population and consumption, and the generality of Paul Ehrlich’s IPAT equation from the 1970s - roundly ignored where decisions really matter for decades. Its been made more complex to suit many niche applications, and for its basic simplicity been roundly criticised - and through that criticism, much as with tobacco and climate, its potential impact in policy circles undermined. But the basic message - that you have to consider population, consumption and technology TOGETHER, as complementary factors, not as alternative/either-or options - holds true and still bedevils discussions, as in this thread. My two cents on this are in this preprint - https://cordioea.net/ipat/ or here https://www.preprints.org/manuscript/201812.0176/v1 - shared earlier on this list. And as found by Clive and Bernard it's immensely difficult to publish on this topic - but I couldn’t find a friendly editor even after 15 attempts!!

Anyway, this decade is the one that will determine if coral reefs survive in some form or other - it doesn't matter if Hardin anticipated our precise case, but we certainly have to use the understanding from his concept to try and reverse it, and if we fail that, at least ensure what comes next will be a clean and functioning ecosystem!

best to all!


David Obura || CORDIO East Africa, #9 Kibaki Flats, Kenyatta Beach, Bamburi Beach, P.O.BOX 10135 Mombasa 80101, Kenya
Email: dobura at cordioea.net; davidobura at gmail.com; Website: www.cordioea.net; www.wiofutures.net
Mobile: +254-715 067417; skype dobura; Twitter @dobura
On 22 Jul 2019, 19:03 +0300, coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov, wrote:
> Message: 2
> Date: Sun, 21 Jul 2019 05:51:13 +0000
> From: Clive Wilkinson <clive.wilkinson at rrrc.org.au>
> To: 'Ehsan KAYAL' <ehsan.kayal at gmail.com>,
> "'coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov'" <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
> Cc: "'bsalvat at univ-perp.fr'" <bsalvat at univ-perp.fr>
> Subject: [Coral-List] tragedy of the commons
> Message-ID:
> <SYCPR01MB470409A95ADAB0DC47639BE3B2C50 at SYCPR01MB4704.ausprd01.prod.outlook.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="utf-8"
> Dear Ehsan and others interested in tragedy of the commons on the List
> Several years ago Bernard Salvat and I published this paper in Marine Pollution Bulletin. It was the most difficult paper we ever wrote and took many years of agonising re-writing.
> Wilkinson, C., Salvat, B. (2012). Coastal resource degradation in the tropics: does the tragedy of the commons apply for coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds? Marine Pollution Bulletin, 64: 1096-1105. (copies can be provided)
> After several attempts to publish this in more socioeconomic journals with strong criticism from predominantly social scientists, Charles Sheppard accepted this for publication.
> There is a distinct split of people looking at tragedy of the commons: those who research communities living in natural environments see examples where tragedy of the commons has been avoided; whereas ecologists looking at ecosystems where people live see many examples of tragedy of the commons with ecosystem degradation and collapse (as Alina and others have pointed out). As a broad assessment we would suggest that for every one successfully community-managed system there would be 5 to 10 near or total failures.
> Early drafts were passed through experienced coral reef scientists (about 19) including Charles Birkeland, Don Kinsey, Peter Sale, Bob Buddemeier, Frank Talbot and Bob Johannes (to whom we dedicated the paper). While they did not always agree with our findings they provided valuable comment and most encouraged us to continue with publication.
> The major difference is the scale of observation: few would suggest that ecosystems, especially coral reefs, are being sustainably managed at the global scale. There are some good examples and the efforts of Nancy Knowlton and Jeremy Jackson provide case studies to build on; we need many more of these. To achieve this we need more cooperation between the social, ecological and other scientists rather than bluntly dismissing what Garret Hardin wrote 51 years ago.
> Clive Wilkinson
> Reef and Rainforest Research Centre

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