REPORT #263 May 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

This message sent to the Bz-Culture Mailing List from "Richard B. Aronson" :

Dear Friends,
An article my colleagues and I published recently in Nature has stirred some interest, ignited some anger, and hurt some feelings. I am writing to clarify what we said and to let you know my own feelings on the matter.

An unfortunate perception, based largely on media accounts, is that our paper stated that the Belizean barrier reef was killed by the 1998 bleaching event. That is not true, and that is not what we said in our paper. We stated in the paper that our study area was a 375-square-kilometer area of the central shelf lagoon, not the entire sweep of the barrier reef. (We did our study on the rhomboid shoals in the lagoon between Wee Wee Cay to the north and Laughing Bird Cay to the south.) Furthermore, we specifically said that most corals in fore reef, offshore atoll, and other environments in Belize recovered from the 1998 bleaching. Recovery has been observed and documented in those environments by Melanie McField, Tom Bright, Peter Mumby, and other marine ecologists working in Belize. We made this point repeatedly in interviews with the print media, but perhaps that was the less interesting side of the story as far as they were concerned.

The goal of our paper was to send out a three-part message based on the results of our research. That message is that (1) an area of the Belizean lagoon experienced the first bleaching-induced mass coral kill in at least the last 3,000 years, (2) that the bleaching episode was related in part to global warming, and (3) that everyone--in Belize and worldwide--should be concerned about the effects that global warming is having on reefs in general. We are only the messengers here; the angry emotions that some have expressed about the possible implications for tourism would be better channeled into campaigning against the things humans are doing regionally and globally that are bad for Belizean reefs.

On a personal level, it hurts me to see corals dying in the Belizean lagoon, because that area--the central lagoon--is my favorite place in the whole world to dive and do research. My colleagues and I are committed to doing high-quality scientific work and reporting our results accurately and honestly, and I can assure you that we took no pleasure in writing that Nature paper. Nobody is happy that coral reefs throughout the Caribbean are under threat. It seems especially unfair that reefs in Belize should suffering when Belize is one of the most forward-thinking countries in terms of conservation and ecotourism. Fair or not, it is our responsibility to prevent what happened to an area of the lagoon from overtaking the rest of the barrier reef, and the rest of the world's reefs.

Belize is a shining example of successful conservation policy in action. Now Belizeans have a reason and an opportunity to go a step further and lead the world toward solving global problems. That leadership will benefit not only the people of Belize but everyone else as well.

With kind regards,

Rich Aronson

Dauphin Island Sea Lab
101 Bienville Boulevard
Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA

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