Assessing Reef Experts’ Baseline and Values Regarding the Florida Keys Coral Reef Ecosystem. Implications for Historical Ecological Knowledge of the Region




Muldrow, Milton

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The coral reef ecosystem of the Florida Keys has experienced a significant and rapid decline over the past several decades. This study was designed to test the “shifting baselines hypothesis,” first proposed by Daniel Pauly in 1995 which details a concern that each generation of fisheries scientist accepts as a baseline the stock size and species composition that occurred at the beginning of their careers. The study also examined experts’ views on critical marine affairs involving the reef, as well as their observations of habitat change over time. Snowball sampling was utilized in which 54 interviews were conducted. A response rate of 48% was achieved representing 2256 minutes of testimony. Correlation statistics were used to analyze respondent age and experience and a potential relationship with respondent baselines. The majority of experts interviewed (96%) were scientists. Baselines for the Florida Keys bank reef ecosystem were established based on respondent testimony. Independent of age, experience, or affiliation, respondents agreed that the baseline for the Florida Keys bank reef was approximately 33% cover and 44 years before present. Seventy percent of respondents reported never witnessing a reef dominated by Acropora sp., while 96% of respondents over the age of 60 reported experiencing Acropora sp.-dominated reefs. This demonstrated a dramatic difference in interaction with the coral reef from one generation of experts to the next, but still a high level of consensus regarding baselines. Marine protected areas (MPAs) were deemed effective for fish conservation, but not for coral reefs. The experts appreciated the value of MPAs, but believed that MPAs alone would not solve the problem of coral reef decline. They lacked optimism regarding human’s ability to manage and restore coral reefs, as nearly one-third of respondents suggested reef management is not able to influence percent coral cover.



Environmental science, Public policy, Coral reef, Fknms, Florida keys, Phantom ecology, Restoration, Shifting baselines