20 July 2012
The past week or so has seen an interesting discussion about the future of the reefs in the online pages of the New York Times.
It started off on July12th with an op-ed piece from Roger Bradbury, an ecologist doing research in resource management at Australian National University, entitled ‘A World Without Coral Reefs’ that painted a very bleak picture of the future of the reefs, a view with which, to a certain extent, I concur.
This was followed up by two articles in the ‘Dot Earth’ section of the online New York Times, on July 14th ‘Reefs in the Anthropocene – Zombie Ecology?’ and on July 16th ‘More on Coral Reefs and Resilience or Ruination’ both by Andrew C. Revkin.
These articles are well worth the attention of reefkeepers everywhere, laying out as they do, the future of the environment that forms the basis of our hobby, I urge you to read these articles.
Earlier I said that, to a certain extent, I concur with Bradbury’s piece. Let me explain.
Firstly, it is the reef environment that we have known for the past couple of centuries that we are going to lose, there will still be some form of ‘reef’ system in years to come and it will be home to many wonderful creatures but it will be different to the reef environment we known. This is change, not loss.
Central to this change will be the eventual loss of the Scleractinians, the reef building stony corals. This will then lead to the loss of certain reef fishes, the fishes that rely on the reef structure for shelter and for food. Some fishes will adapt to a changed environment (after all, many fish species readily adapt to the reef aquarium environment) others won’t. It might be a question of nutrition – think obligate corallivores such as Butterflyfishes without their food source of coral polyps. It might be the question of habitat degradation and how the loss of the habitat previously provided by absent stony corals makes juvenile fish vulnerable to predators (coincidental to the discussion at the New York Times, research has been published this week illustrating how habitat loss can affect juvenile fishes see, ‘Lethal effects of habitat degradation on fishes through changing competitive advantage’ by Mark I. McCormick of James Cook University.
In the short term responsible reefkeepers should consider themselves ambassadors for the reefs, showing off the wonderful animals resident in their reef aquariums to those outside the hobby, showing them the organisms that we are at risk of losing through climate change. By doing this we can create a greater awareness of what we risk losing and, perhaps, help slow or reduce the expected losses.
We cannot conserve the reefs as we know them without some fantastic technical fix that can prevent further deterioration almost instantly. We cannot maintain the diversity of species that we have known without this technical fix going further and reversing conditions on the reef back to those before mankind’s negative influence.
Long term, hobbyists in years to come should still have access to many wonderful fishes and invertebrates; it’s just that they will be representatives of an ecosystem different to the one with which we are familiar.
If you fancy joining this discussion from a reefkeepers point of view, please send your comments to me here at Reef Ramblings.
31 July 2012
Further to this subject, see ‘Are Coral Reefs really doomed? on the Independent website.
Photos courtesy ICRS 2012