PrechtW. F. (Ed. ) CRC (Taylor & Francis) , 2006 ; 363 pp . ISBN-10: 0-8493-2073-9 ( Hardback ), ISBN-13: 978-0-8493-2073-6 ( Hardback): USD 109.95, GBP 62.99 .
2008 is the international year of the coral reef. This is an opportunity to stop and reflect on three fundamental questions that humans can raise and to relate them to reefs: ‘what can we know, what must we do, what can we hope for?’ The telegram responses are: ‘not enough, a lot, not much.’
The study of the genesis and evolution of coral reefs goes back to Darwin and beyond. The underlying biological/geological processes, however, are now being superseded by anthropogenically driven events. Newest analyses demonstrate that no area of the world’s oceans is unaffected by human influence, and that coral reefs are among the marine habitats with the highest cumulative impact scores: almost half the reefs experience medium high to very high impact (Halpern et al. 2008). The present book reflects the current status of research in marine ecology: nearly half of all publications deal in some way with the deterioration of the studied object, whether it be an organism, a community, or an entire habitat. Based on this critical status, and in line with the urgent need to take action, this book focuses on question number two above –‘what must we do’? One answer is coral reef restoration. Such restoration efforts may turn out to be the ecological equivalent of genetic engineering, with equivalent sets of arguments for and against and with detailed procedures outlined prior to tailored implementation.
The book consists of 20 chapters with a total of 38 contributors. This allows the broader issues to be clearly outlined, the framework to be set, case studies to be presented, and the perspectives to be discussed. It also makes the book far more than its ‘handbook’ title indicates.
Chapter 1, co-authored by the editor, defines ecosystem restoration –‘the return of an ecosystem to a close approximation of its condition prior to disturbance’ (versus rehabilitation projects) – and outlines the range of natural and anthropogenic threats. This effort is complemented by Chapter 3 (Coral reef restoration: an overview) and is provided with an ecological framework and geographical perspective in Chapter 4. The complex issue of restoration requires multi-leveled decisions on a case-by-case basis. The first step involves assessing the damage. Chapter 2 assesses small boat grounding damage in Florida, Chapter 9 streamlined assessments in US National Marine Sanctuaries, Chapter 11 international trends in injury assessment, and Chapter 13 assessment of a ship grounding in the Florida Keys. Assessment is followed by applying specific approaches, for example coral gardening (Chapters 7 and 16). The esthetic component of different approaches is discussed in Chapter 10, including the issue of artificial reefs and the role of highly active organizations such as the Reef Ball Foundation. Ethical dilemmas are discussed in Chapter 18, overall legal issues in Chapters 5 and 8. Additional case studies are presented in Chapters 14 (Puerto Rico) and 15 (Hawaii). A key aspect is evaluating the success of such efforts (Chapter 20), whereby final judgements, and improvements, can be made only after rigid monitoring efforts. Chapter 19 is devoted to the people who actually do a fair share of the ‘dirty work’, specifically the volunteer movement. This is an important aspect because, as opposed to other forms of marine pollution and habitat degradation (heavy metals, eutrophication, etc.), this is a field in which every able-bodied person – with some training and oversight, as is emphasized – can actually get into the water and do something positive. Managers have learned that involving stakeholders and including volunteer efforts are keys to success. Accordingly, such efforts are being funded, for example, by NOAA’s community-based restoration program.
The arrangement of the chapters seems to be somewhat haphazard and the photographs deserve a bit of criticism: although damaged reefs are inherently more difficult to document than blooming, highly structured ones, many images are poor contrast, overly gray miniatures in which even the items mentioned in figure texts cannot be discerned. In fairness, this is somewhat compensated by four pages of color plates in the middle of the book (albeit some again in postage stamp format).
I highly recommend this book. It takes its rightful place in a line of past, current and future publications on this topical issue, for example: ‘Artificial Reef evaluation: with application to natural marine habitats’ reviewed in Vol. 24 (1) of this journal in 2003; ‘A step-by-step guide for grassroots efforts to Reef Rehabilitation’ (http://www.reefball.org– final version presented at 2008 International Coral Reef Symposium in Florida); and an upcoming ‘Coral reef ecosystem management handbook’, slated to appear in 2009.
Although it is sad and telling that there is a need to intervene, to take action, there is some consolation in knowing we can do more than merely wring our hands. We must clearly work to prevent habitat damage in the first place. If the damage has already been done, however, we have no choice but to get wet: we need to spend more time in the water. The threats to coral reefs and our seas in general will not be solved by marine proteomics! This book outlines a wealth of strategies that give our third philosophical question (about hope for the future) a more positive spin.