[Coral-List] Coral-List Digest, Vol 167, Issue 13 - Message #2 Eugene Shinn

ddugger biocepts.com ddugger at biocepts.com
Tue Jul 19 13:28:10 UTC 2022


Your comment is probably the most interesting and informative I have seen on the Coral List. Thank you.

Durwood M. Dugger

Message: 2
Date: Sun, 17 Jul 2022 17:00:37 -0400
From: Eugene Shinn <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Vietnam bans scuba diving to protect a coral
Message-ID: <a0047861-9247-5f59-744b-e92c2fd4f6e5 at mail.usf.edu>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8; format=flowed

Thank You Doug for helping me make my point. When humans become ill 
research is initiated in order to determine which bacterium, fungi, 
toxin, or virus is causing the illness. COVID-19 provides a good recent 
example. We know COVID is caused by a virus that has been identified. We 
are shown its name and there are SEM photos showing what it looks like. 
Can we do the same for many of the various coral diseases? Of course 
not. What we are given is a slew of things associated with various coral 
diseases. For example, there is a long list such as, ballast water, 
divers, anchors, boats, touching, fertilizers, and also there is iron, 
copper, mercury, lead 210, pesticides, and Beryllium 7 transported in 
the atmosphere. I agree that elevated water temperature is leading to 
bleaching but do we know if there is also a microbe or toxic element 
facilitated by the warm water? I don?t know. I agree this may be 
splitting hairs but if it were humans in-stead of corals there would be 
millions devoted to finding the exact cause or causes. You and I both 
know that no agency is going to fund that kind of research. In addition, 
which journals would publish research results that counter the 
prevailing paradigms? That?s why I mentioned the oil experiments as 
examples. If those simple experiments had resulted in coral-death 
science journals would be happy to publish the results. It?s just human 
nature and politics. I was once privy to some oil toxicity experiment 
results from studies conducted at Texas A and M. Many showed little 
effect of crude oil on the test organisms. Processed oil is another 
story. I was overseeing that work representing the American Petroleum 
Institute that funded the research. I knew all the grad students 
conducting the experiments and none wanted to publish the results. They 
feared it would affect their careers or future job opportunities. The 
main reason I mentioned the oil experiments earlier is because the 
effect of crude oil on marine organisms was what the multimillion-dollar 
Australian Barrier reef hearings in Australia were all about. It had to 
do with whether the government was, or was not, going to allow drilling 
in the vicinity of the barrier reef. That should not surprise anyone. 
Those hearings went on for more than two years. Clearly knowing the 
effect of oil on corals was considered very important. I sat in the 
witness box for more than two days answering the Lawyers questions. What 
I saw guiding it all was not so much science but mainly strong emotions. 
In the end the drilling was not allowed but I certainly learned a lot 
about people. It helped me decide it was time to change jobs. Today not 
much has changed. All of this happened in the early 1970s at least a 
decade before the present crop of coral researchers and activists were born.

I did not know then that my long experience with coral reefs would again 
lead to my next career involving coral reefs. I joined the U. S. 
Geological Survey not knowing that in addition to other subjects it 
would also involve coral reefs not only in Florida but also the the 
Caribbean, and the Marshall Islands. As list readers know Staghorn and 
Elkhorn forests (A. /cervicornis/, and A. /palmata/) in Florida and the 
Caribbean began declining in the late 1970s peaking in 1983. That 
decline continues today and involves many more species. There were 
plenty of divers in 1983 but coral decline did not involve divers 
touching them. At the same time the spiny urchin /Diadema/ began dying 
all over the Caribbean. Clearly touching had nothing to do with their 
Caribbean-wide demise. Ironically in the beginning their demise pleased 
many divers. They were no longer being stuck by those painful 
pincushions and few knew they were vital for coral reef health. However, 
that soon changed. Many of us assumed it was human development and 
sewage causing coral disease in the Florida Keys. Remember there were no 
fast-food restaurants, few motels and no dive shops in the keys when I 
began diving in the keys. As human population and businesses began to 
prolificate it seemed logical that coral diseases were related to 
population growth. Because of that supposed connection I put together a 
research group and began installing monitoring wells both on land and 
under water on the premise that sewage from septic tanks and shallow 
disposal wells were the sources for something (we did not know what) 
that sickened Corals and /Diadema/. While learning everything we could 
about Keys ground water and its movement We also began to learn about 
similar problems throughout the Caribbean. Coral reef demise soon became 
an even larger mystery. Everyone seemed to have their own theory about 
the cause of coral demise. Rising water temperature had not yet been 
suggested and admittedly systematic temperature monitoring did not yet 
exist. Cold fronts and cold water was clearly killing nearshore corals. 
Harold Hudson started a wide spread temperature monitoring program when 
he joined the Marine Sanctuary and modern temperature monitoring devices 
became available.

One day I saw an article about African Dust. It was an article about Dr. 
joe Prospero who had begun to monitor atmospheric dust on the Island of 
Barbados in the eastern Caribbean. He had begun the study in 1965 
looking for dust from outer space. What he found instead was red/brown 
soil dust that many called Saharan dust. I had known Joe and his work 
back then and considered it a purely academic project. Later I had an 
experience with dust in the Keys while on vacation in the summer of 
1973. I could hardly see land while offshore in my boat. I did not know 
what it was. Joes dust graph graph in the article showed dust had 
increased that year in his dust trap out in Barbados. I next read about 
Charles Darwin?s experience with dust landing on the Beagle during his 
famous voyage. It had sickened many of the ship?s crew*. At this point I 
will skip a few years forward because this is a long much more involved 
story which is described in my Memoir, ?Boot Strap Geologist.? *

As many already know, with initial funding from NASA I was able to put 
together a larger project consisting of a coral biologist, a geochemist, 
and two microbiologists to study what was being carried in African dust. 
There are many publications on the subject. During the study we found 
toxic metals, radioactive elements, pesticides, and around 200 species 
of viable bacteria and fungi (and many more viruses). I learned that 
asthma was rampant in the windward islands where there was no industrial 
activity. Human health was being affected by African dust in those 
islands. Even the military became interested because our microbiologists 
had cultured several live species of /Bacillus species/ in the dust but 
fortunately not /Bacillus anthraces,/ the one that causes anthrax. The 
attack on the World Trade Centers and the anthrax letters that followed 
elevated interest in our research. We were contacted by several other 
agencies. I retired from the USGS in 2006 because strangely the funding 
for our work abruptly ended. Fortunately the USF College of Marine 
Science which was next door adopted me and provided a new office. I did 
not lose interest in dust and its various effects on the environment. 
Because of what is happening today I continue to monitor reef health, 
and the reemergence of /Diadema/ disease that is presently happening 
again in the eastern Caribbean. With the changing climate and drying up 
of lake Chad and other water bodies in the African Sahel, dust storms 
have become more severe. They are now mentioned on the Weather Channel 
and other weather reports. Also there are now many more satellites that 
display images of African dust storms. There were only a few satellites 
back then and their images were not as sharp as todays images. Many more 
agencies are now aware of the possible effects of African dust and dust 
storms have increased in recent years. We are in the middle of dust 
season as I write this post. To my knowledge the health of coral reefs 
has not improved and you can be sure divers are not touching /Diadema./ 
This time their locations and progression through the Caribbean is being 
carefully mapped. You can track it?s progress on a map at, ?Diadema 
Response Network.? This time the disease began up wind and up current in 
the eastern Caribbean but has recently moved down current to the Florida 
Keys. The only good news is there is now a concerted effort to determine 
exactly what microbe/virus or chemical may be causing their demise. Gene

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