REPORT #262 May 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

Recent scientific carbon dated research work, purpotedly by Richard Aronson of Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory in Alabama, USA, was widely quoted in world wide media indicating that the Great Coral Barrier off the country of Belize, the second largest barrier reef in the world, had suffered a massive bleaching effect to warmer sea temperatures caused by El Nino in 1998. The barrier reef was dead, the media said, quoting his scientific work.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As a lobster and conch diver and underwater commercial spear fisherman with 40 years of experience on this reef, and my children today doing the same thing as Master Divers running expeditions diving the reefs, I can vouch wholeheartedly that the good doctor is an incompetent scientist. What probably happened is that the good scientist went to some small patches of reef, a few spots that did have coral bleaching ( it was not widespread) and did his core drillings. He then failed to do nationwide reef transects and back up data, but probably extrapolated his data to cover the whole massive reef system of hundreds of miles. The conclusions were wrong! The data insufficient.

The barrier reef system of Belize is alive and well, as are the offshore atolls and inshore patch reef systems and reef veins. My daughters report great fishing, plenty of live coral, fantastic sea fans and sponges, huge Leopard Rays of 25 feet or more wing span, and fish population schools in the underwater marine parks bigger and better than ever.

I think the scientific work and subsequent announcement was a case of insufficient data and a self fulfilling wishfull prophecy finding a conclusion that had been pre-determined in Alabama before the expedition was consummated. Very poor science indeed!

The reefs of Belize are not clearly understood. There are many factors effecting a reef. There has been coral bleaching before in the 1970's and the 1980's in my experience. It is usually isolated areas. There is also a lot of dead reef that has been on the inner side of the barrier reef and the outside of the barrier, that have been that way for many centuries. We even found cannons and ancient anchors in coral that had been dead when these items were put down and lost 500 years ago. Each coral specie has a narrow environmental envelope in which it lives. It is not only water temperature, sunlight, fish populations, depth of water, wave action, water currents, tidal flow and oxygenation that effect individual coral species. There are more than 300 of them that I personally know about from marine research done in the 1960's and 1970's and 1980's and each lives in an ecosystem that is sometimes measured by just a few feet width and water depth of a narrow range of less than 30 feet. Alter any single item in the complex inter-relationship of such an eco-system and you get dead coral.

As to the conclusions widely spread by the media of Richard Aronson. They are interesting figments of his imagination and issued out of context of the whole barrier reef system. Very poor science and failing marks for this research work. Extrapolation is not what should be done. Do another expedition and cover the whole reef Richard, make your maps and plots of measured effected areas, or lose your degree.

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