[Coral-List] BBC coral bioengineering article

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Fri May 3 15:55:34 UTC 2019

I have to agree with Steve on this one - for all the reasons he states plus
a few more. A common thread in all of the reconstruction efforts is the use
of rapidly growing branching specie. While there is some degree of logic to
this, there is also an "Achilles Heel". I can't find the image a colleague
sent to me, but a "thriving" *A. cervicornis* transplant community in the
US Virgin Islands was portrayed as "creating wave-resistant structure". In
the post-storm photo, virtually every transplant was fragmented to a size
that it was not visible in the photo. Rising temperatures are causing coral
decline on a variety of fronts. But, it is also increasing storminess; the
specifics are still being debated, but it is inescapable that the kinds of
waves responsible for the devastation of the transplanted colonies will
increase in frequency. I am not advocating against these efforts, but
statements like "Literally for $1m or $2m I could take elk horn coral off
the endangered species list in Florida within just a few years,”are just

The article also supports efforts to encourage "thermally tolerant
species", citing the "success" related to agricultural hybridization. There
is reasonable evidence in the historical/geological record that human
impact on climate may have started by 4000 years ago as selective breeding
of higher-yield crop species created agricultural/ecological pathways that
accelerated warming (rather than trying to summarize this, I can provide
the reference if anyone is interested). I am not saying that selective
breeding of corals will cause similar climatic issues, nor do I have any
biases against rapidly calcifying species; I am just pointing out the
unintended consequences of "can't fail" schemes that rely on picking
"winners" and "losers" based on some human construct of "value".

So, I acknowledge the good intent and efforts of folks transplanting
corals. It is easier to criticize every attempt than to come up with
something better. However, to portray a particular method in the way the
promised de-listing does is just irresponsible. And, anything that leaves
anyone with the idea that we can "fix" the problem of coral loss with
clever engineering without addressing the root drivers of climate change
not only ignores the complexity of nature but also leaves climate skeptics
with an excuse to continue business as usual.



On Fri, May 3, 2019 at 9:47 AM Steve Mussman via Coral-List <
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:

> Hi Doug,
> I just got around to reading the article that you posted last week and for
> me, it raised a number of difficult philosophical questions which I would
> like to share with you and other listers to see if anyone else is similarly
> conflicted.
> https://www.bbcearth.com/blog/?article=saving-coral
> It seems to me that there is now great emphasis being put on restoration
> in one form or another. Certainly all of these efforts are different and
> are being utilized in response to a variety of different conditions found
> on reefs around the world. I don’t mean to take issue in every case and I
> firmly believe that there is a lot we can learn from this line of work, but
> there seems to be another side to this that is somewhat troublesome. Using
> this article as an example, I would say that there is a risk that too much
> emphasis is being put on restoration as a solution. Why bother addressing
> the primary stressors if we can simply and cost-effectively geoengineer our
> way out of this mess?
> The end of the article emphasizes my point.
> “Literally for $1m or $2m I could take elk horn coral off the endangered
> species list in Florida within just a few years,” says Dave Vaughan, who
> believes his simple microfragmentation technique is ready to change the
> world.. If somebody asked me if I could take the polar bear off the
> endangered species list for $100m, I would have to say no, I can’t do it.
> But a species of coral? I’d say $10m, tops - and I can do it in two
> years.The question clearly is not if we can save the coral reefs, but if we
> choose to”.
> So, it is interesting to me that some people are making these claims
> without mentioning the imperative need to address the varied stressors that
> continue to plague our coral reefs. Can elk horn coral actually be brought
> back to Florida’s reefs through “microfragmentation” in just two years? Can
> these corals be engineered to withstand all that the naturally occurring
> corals in the Keys have been subjected to over the years? Can these new
> super corals take on poor water quality, eutrophication and climate change?
> . . . That’s quite a feat I would say and all for “$10 million tops”.
> If this is true, we should get right on it, if it is hyperbole, we need to
> tread more carefully.
> Perhaps there is a middle road . . . Or perhaps I’m being too critical.
> Steve
> Sent from my iPad
> >
> >
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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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