[Coral-List] Vietnam bans scuba diving to protect a coral reef

Alina Szmant alina at cisme-instruments.com
Wed Jul 20 14:28:54 UTC 2022

A historical note about coral diseases: I started diving Caribbean reefs in earnest in 1970. Coral cover was very high (over 60 % in places suitable for coral growth) and diseases were so uncommon that they for practical purposes were ignored. Not that we weren't looking carefully at corals. I remember paying a lot of attention to corallivory and damselfish damage to corals, which are in the same scale of event as patches of coral disease.  I clearly remember one patch of bleached white Orbicella faveolata at around 60 ft off La Parguera at The Buoy, a shelf edge reef we used to dive weekly at least. I photographed it because it was so unusual and I have never seen anything like that back then. When Antonius published about Coral Dhut Down disease in 1977 it was about an aquarium phenomenon.  In 1983 he published about the outbreak of black band disease in Belize and we were all intrigued because we hadn't observed it that I recall where I worked in Puerto Rico and USVI. Bleaching was a new phenomenon being observed in the IndoPacific except for an incident reported by Coffroth and others down in Panama in 1983 same year Glynn reported major bleaching in the Eastern Pacific. Diseases in the Caribbean became a thing quickly after that, as did major outbreaks of the snail Coralliophila abbreviata. I remember Peter Glynn showing us this snail species during the marine ecology summer course of his in 1964, but they were small and not common. By the time I became interested in them as an ecological force of coral destruction in late 1980s and 1990s they were everywhere and huge in the Florida Keys whete they systematicallyate up colony after colony of O. faveolata and Acropora spp! I proposed that overfishing of lobsters were the cause of the snail outbreaks. 50+ % of lobster diet is snails. But overharvesting of Panulirus in FL Keys removed all the large, strong mandible individuals from Florida reefs and snails escaped predation. Lab experiments we did with huge captive lobsters from Dry Tortugas showed that the big lobsters quickly ate the huge snails while the 1 lb lobsters toyed with them and then gave up. It looked like the snails were particularly abundant on corals that had previously bleached or looked unhealthy.  These corals also had more patches of diseased looking tissue. My presentation about the need to stop overharvesting of lobsters and to leave the big guys aline (basically a slot fishery model) got me threatening letters from lobsters fishermen.

To summarize my several decades of observations: coral diseases were unusual in the Caribbean until early 1980s when first vestiges of bleaching were showing up ( an exception is the Acropora die offs in some areas that are still unexplained). By then, overfishing on most Caribbean reefs ( more people, more overfishing) was already extreme and prey animals such snails and damselfishes started really impacting coral health by direct predation or algal lawns... huge algal lawns growing on the top of centuries old massive head corals. Bleaching began to be severe after the 1987 event, and coral tissue loss due to post-bleaching mortality and diseases on the affected corals took off.

I interviewed for the job as the director of the undergraduate marine science program at the University of Miami in 1986 or so while I was research faculty at RSMAS. Funding for coral reef research was slim back in those days, and soft money jobs were stressful!  The head of the search committee,  a primate biologist with little interest in coral reefs or marine science for that matter, asked me what I would do (like for research) if all the coral reefs started to die? I remember glibly replying that maybe then there would finally be lots of funding for coral reef research, and phrophetically I was right. Sadly, funding didn't show up until corals and reefs were already in poor shape, si for the past 30 years or so and especially over the past decade, Caribbean researchers have largely been trying to understand different ecosystems and communities than those I was first exposed to in the summer of 1964 and began my own research in 1970.

Thus done be surprised about sparse coral disease work in the old days. No one would have been funded to study them back then.

Dr. Alina M. Szmant,  CEO
CISME Instruments LLC

-------- Original message --------
From: Douglas Fenner via Coral-List <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Date: 7/20/22 9:23 AM (GMT-05:00)
To: Eugene Shinn <eugeneshinn at mail.usf.edu>
Cc: coral list <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Vietnam bans scuba diving to protect a coral reef

I suppose one more little point.  I fully agree that more money and effort
need to be devoted to coral diseases.  A lot more is already being directed
there these days than in the past.  Evidence of that can be found in the
582-page huge tome entitled "Diseases of Coral" published in 2016,
reference below.  It is a gigantic effort produced by some 67
contributors.  Piles and piles of information on coral diseases and related
topics.  Way too much for me to wade all through and digest.  And that
didn't happen without a LOT of hard work and financial support.  Contrast
that to when I started working on coral reefs decades ago, almost nobody
was working on coral diseases back then.  I'd be willing to bet that
the study of coral diseases has increased since 2016 as well.
       I think it would be unrealistic to expect humans to spend as much
money on coral disease as is spent on human diseases, particularly a
worldwide pandemic that has killed many millions of humans, disrupted lives
and economies world-wide, etc etc.  I also point to a lot of effort being
put into the new Stony Coral Tissue Loss disease that started in Florida
and spread to the Caribbean.  Papers on that topic are coming out rapidly.
       It is true that progress in terms of finding out the causes and
finding cures for coral diseases has not gone as rapidly as many would
like.  But it is not for a lack of effort or smarts or excellence among
those studying coral diseases.  Coral diseases are particularly difficult
to figure out, that is just an aspect of their biology we don't control.
Not every disease is easy to conquer, such as cancer, diabetes, and obesity
in humans.  At least that's the way it appears to me.
       In general, I completely agree that the amount of effort and money
that is being directed at saving coral reefs has been entirely inadequate
to the task.  Always too little, too late.  But then the task is
particularly difficult because for nearly everything that needs to be done,
there are groups of people who feel threatened by those conservation
efforts and fight their implementation.  And in lower-income areas, where
most coral reefs are, people have little or no alternatives, they must do
what they do for survival.  And we live in a time when there are a lot of
other important threats that humanity needs to deal with.  Evidence of the
pushback is obvious with climate change, quite successful, one day we hear
that US leadership attempts to take action on climate change was stopped,
the next day Europe has record high temperatures and is on fire, and
climate change produced mass coral bleaching is considered the greatest
future threat to coral reefs.  The problem in a nutshell.

Woodley, C. M, Downs, C. A., Bruckner, A. W., Porter, J. W., and Galloway,
S. B. (Eds.) 2016. *Diseases of Coral*. Wiley. 582 Pp.

Cheers, Doug

On Mon, Jul 18, 2022 at 4:34 AM Eugene Shinn via Coral-List <
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> wrote:

> 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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