Shifting Baselines in Coral Conservation

Irus Braverman. 2019. 'Shifting Baselines in Coral Conservation.' Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. DOI: 10.1177/2514848619882560

University at Buffalo School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2019-005

Posted: 10 Oct 2019

See all articles by Irus Braverman

Irus Braverman

University at Buffalo Law School

Date Written: October 2019

Abstract

Reef-building corals are increasingly exposed to warming ocean temperatures. Their immediate response to this rise in temperature is to expel their symbiotic algae and turn white, or bleach. It is mainly for these reasons that corals have been perceived by scientists as both a sign and a measure of the imminent catastrophe facing life in the oceans and, subsequently, on earth. To measure their decline across space and time, coral scientists have come up with maps, indexes, and color-coded representations. Yet they soon realized that what they regard as a healthy reef is, in fact, yesterday’s depleted reef. This problem, referred to as the shifting baselines syndrome, is seen by many as rendering most comparisons across time difficult and as frustrating the ability to predict the future. The problem is exacerbated in the context of oceans, and further yet in the context of coral reefs, because of the lack of reliable historical records about their status. In fact, many of the coral scientists I have interviewed perceive shifting baselines as one of the core problems facing coral conservation scientists and managers in their attempts to accurately calculate coral decline — a project that is typically deemed necessary for effective management policies and restoration practices. My article will critically explore the application of, and the assumptions behind, the shifting baselines concept in the context of reef coral science. Specifically, I will draw on interviews with coral scientists to describe the practices and devices embedded in the creation of baselines for corals and, finally, explore how certain scientists are challenging the conceptions of nature and of time that underlie their operations.

Keywords: corals, climate change, bleaching, shifting baselines

Suggested Citation

Braverman, Irus, Shifting Baselines in Coral Conservation (October 2019). Irus Braverman. 2019. 'Shifting Baselines in Coral Conservation.' Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. DOI: 10.1177/2514848619882560; University at Buffalo School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2019-005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3466840

Irus Braverman (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

School of Law
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Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716-645-3030 (Phone)
716-645-2064 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~irusb/

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