Ah, The Good News Just Keeps On Coming…

Today’s reading material is by J. E. N. Veron, courtesy of a link in the Yale 360 blog, “Is the end in sight for the world’s coral reefs?”

Of course, the aswer to the question posed in the title to this essay is obvious and is rather succinctly stated by Veron as well:

“It is a difficult idea to fathom. But the science is clear: Unless we change the way we live, the Earth’s coral reefs will be utterly destroyed within our children’s lifetimes.”

Now… for a show of hands… Is there anybody out there that thinks we will change the way we live, 1) at all, or 2) in time to save coral reefs from going the way of the non-avian dinosaurs? 

Hey, its not all bad, we could start a betting pool as to the year or month when the scientists of that future time could declare that the last coral reef finally wasn’t one anymore!

Any regular (if there are any – I really am sorry about the aperiodic nature of the blog, the explantion of that would take too long to write and really isn’t important – but I do hope to do better in the very near future) readers of this impossibly unperiodic electronic space in the aether, have surely noticed my lack of optimism as well.  I think many of scientists who voice public optimism are privately much more “pragmatic” than their public utterances seem to imply and in some – few – cases I have heard about, almost suicidal from the depression and grief of being in the position of observing and documenting this aspect of what is now becoming known in the paleontological community as “The 6th Extinction.”  — The name derives from an examination of the fossil record, wherein there are 5 major extinction events that punctuate the history of life.  On the plus side, so far… life has always recovered and rediversified after these extinction events.  On the negative side, once the cause of the event has been removed, that recovery has always taken tens of millions of years.  Evolution is sure and certain – but to refill a lot of “vacant ecological niches” takes a lot of time.

The positive take is that the changes that occur over the next few decades that will happen should be “interesting.”

And young people today will get to see another interesting phenomenon, where 30 or 40 years from now, new students of marine biology will see this changed (and to my – by then-  long dead eyes) and depauperate, truly ghastly, world as “normal,” the status quo; rather like tourists who now go diving for the first time on (the pathetic algal covered ruins of) what used to be the coral reef at Cozumel or other Caribbean vacation spots, and think they are seeing a thriving coral reef. 

This is what Jeremy Jackson, now one of the “grand old researchers” of the Caribbean coral reefs refered to, in 1997, as “sliding baselines.”  (The underlined emphasis is mine, to emphasize that this has happened to me, too).   

J. B. C. Jackson (1997) Reefs since Columbus. Coral Reefs 16, Suppl.: S23-S32:

 “The problem is that everyone, scientists included, believes that the way things were when they first saw them is natural. However, modern reef ecology only began in the Caribbean, for example, in the late 1950s when enormous changes in coral reef ecosystems had already occurred. The same problem now extends on an even greater scale to the SCUBA diving public, with a whole new generation of sport divers who have never seen a “healthy” reef, even by the standards of the 1960s. Thus there is no public perception of the magnitude of our loss.

 Another insidious consequence of this “shifting baseline syndrome” is a growing ecomanagement culture that accepts the status quo, and fiddles with it under the mantle of experimental design and statistical rigor, without any clear frame of reference of what it is they are trying to manage or conserve.  These are the coral reef equivalents of European “hedgerow ecologists” arguing about the maintenance of diversity in the remnant tangle between fields where once there was only forest.”  

And now, on the cusp of 2011, it is ever so much worse.   We live in a sick world (in all senses of that phrase) run by an aggregration of dunces. 

On that happy note,

Cheers! ??

Comments are closed.