[Coral-List] Coral research history

Eugene Shinn eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu
Wed May 1 17:34:51 UTC 2019

     Douglas Fenner is correct. For the most part it was mainly geologists that first began to study
of coral reefs. At least that was the case in Florida. In the early days cargo
ships were being lost at an alarming rate due to grounding on shallow Florida
Keys reefs. Because of grounding a whole wrecking industry was created. There
was even a wrecking court in Key West. To reduce the time lost fighting the
north flowing Gulfstream current Captains heading south would sail as close to
the reefs as possible. Because of all the ships loss to reefs it was once thought
there might be a way to remove the reefs. The head of the Coast Survey (later
to become the Coast Guard) commissioned geologists/engineers to determine how
best to remove coral reefs. One was a wealthy scientist named Alexander Agassiz.
Thanks to him it was determined that removing entire coral reefs was not
feasible. In his report to the Coast Survey he concluded lighthouses were the
best way to protect ships from sinking on coral reefs.It was all about protecting valuable ships. Go
and read,/Surveying the Florida Reef/  for the full story.

Much later when it was determined that oil and gas could be extracted 
from ancient reefs buried under thousands of feet of overburden oil 
companies decided that an understanding of, how and where, modern reefs 
are formed might help in the search for oil in ancient reefs. The most 
famous of such ancient reefs at the time were the Permian age reef in 
Texas and New Mexico (currently undergoing an economic rebirth due to 
horizontal drilling and fracking) and also Cretaceous age reefs under 
Texas and southern Florida. The so-called Sunniland oil field 
(discovered in 1943, 11,000 feet beneath the Everglades) is an extension 
of the Cretaceous age reef belt beneath Texas and exposed in the 
mountains of Mexico. Geologist began studying both living reefs and 
those exposed in Mexico in an effort to help driller know where to 
drill. That is how and why I became involved in study of reefs including 
those in Texas and Mexico. Because it cost millions of dollars to drill 
and oil well any knowledge about the target was considered valuable. 
Geologists were cheap compared to the cost of drilling.  Today modern 
seismic profiling has become so precise hands on geology and intimate 
knowledge of reefs is becoming obsolete. Emphasis has mainly shifted to 
ecology and saving coral reefs for the services they provide for 
tourists, fish,  and prevention of coastal erosion.

Regardless whether erosion of dead coral is more or less greater than 
live coral growth rates, recent geological research has shown the 
majority of the 350 km Florida Keys reef tract is loosing ground or in 
some cases never began growing. Kuffner et al. 2019). The only reefs in 
the Florida Keys that have actually kept pace with rising sea level 
during the past 6,000 years are the well known named reefs, mainly those 
with lighthouses or other visible markers. Unfortunately, thanks to 
geologists, those reefs that have kept pace with rising sea level 
comprise only a small percent of the total reef tract. They are the same 
ones that were so dangerous to shipping in the early days before 
lighthouses and GPS. Today there is little doubt that the entirety of 
the Florida Keys reef tract is rapidly loosing ground to a rising sea 
and various diseases. Although there were individual Keys reefs with 
abundant live coral in the 1950s-early 1970s recent C14 age dating work 
by Toth et al. (2018) show the most significant downturn in Florida reef 
accretion began about 3,000 years ago. We can only hope that genetically 
resistant transplants can stem the current death rate. Of course 
resistant corals or other reef building organisms will eventually evolve 
at geological rates as they have done since Pre Cambrian times.Gene


No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
College of Marine Science Room 221A
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
<eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
Tel 727 553-1158
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