[Coral-List] Mixed Messages

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Wed Jul 31 17:48:49 UTC 2019

I think that we may be falling into the trap of narrowly defining impacts
and solutions within our particular area of specialty. As a physical
scientist, I often find myself forgetting that both problems and solutions
are affected by the social structure within which they occur and are

It has been convincingly argued that, until we solve the global factors
(mainly climate change), reefs will be cooked regardless of local actions,
Conversely, there is evidence that local actions can make reefs more
resistant/resilient (re: Steve's post) and at least delay climate-related
demise. To simple answer is "both". Those who have been around a little
longer will remember arguments about the primacy of "top-down" vs
"bottom-up affects". How things change!.... we didn't even have a nice term
for climate impacts  at the start of this argument, so someone invented
"side-in", whatever that meant - gotta have labels.

But, back to my opening point, we should not forget that people who live
near reefs have different perspectives and needs than those of us opining
from afar. We should not forget the importance of creating opportunities
for local residents to have a meaningful role in finding and implementing
solutions that work for them outside the vacuum of first-world management
concepts. The negative effects of heating are growing and need to be
addressed. However, buy-in at the local level is critical. And, every time
I feel that my training makes me better equipped to understand the
situation (and therefore to frame solutions), I read a poem by a resident
of Tuvalu:

"This is our home.
There are no robberies, no guns.
We sleep with the doors open.
My back yard is being eaten by the sea."

They do get it.


On Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 10:21 AM Steve Mussman via Coral-List <
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:

> Thanks Doug,
> Yes, it’s true that resilience has been defined broadly and that could
> certainly make a difference. Same with water quality I’ve been told and, of
> course, there are other variables at play as well. Case in point, I imagine
> it would be nearly impossible to determine what the conditions would be
> like on Looe Key (FL) today had water quality been adequately dealt with
> decades ago. No doubt it’s important, but would resilience be boosted
> enough to offset the remaining stressors, especially the effects of climate
> change? Another related point of interest would be whether or not
> observable impacts on one reef can be applied universally since there are
> so many variables involved. I also agree that the issue I raised has more
> to do with media misrepresentation than it does with the paper itself.
> However, I have seen examples whereby authors have gone out of their way to
> emphasize in no uncertain terms that reduction of carbon emissions
> (addressing climate change) is priority number one. That’s crucial in my
> opinion, not so much for the scientific community, but for concern for how
> science-based conclusions might impact public perceptions. That was evident
> in the discussions we had about sunscreens. No one would take issue with
> the idea that eliminating a source of harmful chemicals from the ocean is a
> net positive, just don’t allow it to be framed in terms that might suggest
> that it would in and of itself, save coral reefs. This may not be the role
> you scientists signed up for, but the critical nature of the situation at
> hand dictates that you be keenly aware of the fact that your research can
> and will be manipulated by special interests who apparently care far more
> about social media analytics than they do about the future of coral reefs.
> Regards,
> Steve
> Sent from my iPad
> > On Jul 29, 2019, at 6:49 PM, Douglas Fenner <
> douglasfennertassi at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> >      I think it is an open empirical question whether reducing local
> impacts improves resilience.  One confusion may be due to the definition of
> the word "resilience."  Some people have used "resilience" to mean both
> resistance to being killed and ability to recover.  Others have used
> "resistance" to refer to being killed and "resilience" to ability to
> recover.  Might be an important distinction.  It could be that local
> impacts have little or no effect on whether hot water kills corals or not.
> Evidence is strong that if the water gets hot enough, they die even in
> places with essentially no human local impacts (northern Great Barrier
> Reef, Scott Reef in NW Australia, Chagos, Jarvis (remote US Pacific island)
> etc).  Might be that local impacts have a huge effect on whether corals can
> recover.  Nearly no local impacts and they recover (such as Scott Reef and
> Chagos), and heavy impacts no recovery (Discovery Bay, Jamaica, 40 years
> later).  Or maybe that's not the solution to the question, empirical
> question, important question.
> >      My thought is that this title ("biggest threat to coral reefs") was
> on the popular article, not on the original, scientific article, it is not
> the fault of the authors of the scientific article unless they provided the
> idea that poor water quality is the greatest threat to coral reefs to the
> popular article writer (which I don't know to be the case, and I know that
> popular article writers have to have an attention-grabbing title to pull
> readers in, so I assume it was their idea).
> >       If the popular article had said that poor water quality was the
> biggest threat to Florida reefs, that may well be true.  My impression was
> that coral disease was the proximate cause of the death of most Florida
> corals.  But as the writers of this scientific article point out, nutrients
> have been documented to exacerbate coral diseases.  So maybe nutrients are
> the ultimate cause of the Florida coral deaths.  And could well be same or
> similar for the Caribbean, I suppose.  But for the world's coral reefs?  I
> don't think so, especially threat ifor the future.  Mind you, the
> documented decline in Florida and the Caribbean is greater than in most of
> the Indo-Pacific.
> >       Nutrients are widely considered to be one of the greatest threats
> to coral reefs.  Reducing nutrients from humans is obviously a very good
> thing to do, vital in many places, particularly Florida.  No dispute
> there.  But many of us think that global warming causing bleaching is the
> greatest future threat to the world's corals as a whole.  At the same time,
> other, local threats can have great impacts locally, and we must act on
> them as well as climate change, and locally the local threats are about all
> individuals can reduce.  But we must get global warming under control or
> the world's corals are going to be mostly dead from bleaching if they
> weren't already killed by disease, nutrients, sediment, overfishing, etc
> etc etc.
> >      Cheers, Doug
> >
> >
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Dennis Hubbard
Chair, Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
(440) 775-8346

* "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*
 Benjamin Stein: "*Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream*"

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