Fact checking the 60 Minutes segment on Gardens of the Queen

60 Minutes ran a really great piece on Jardines de la Reina or Gardens of the Queen (GQ), last night.  GQ is a spectacular reef off of Cuba’s south coast with abundant predators including goliath and black grouper and Caribbean reef sharks.

My PhD student Abel Valdivia (seen in the video above) is from Cuba and GQ is one of his field sites for his dissertation research on the role of sharks and other predators in the functioning of Caribbean reef ecosystems.  Emmett Duffy and I accompanied Abel to GQ in May and it is indeed as spectacular as David Guggenheim describes.  All of our coverage of the trip including Emmett’s journal and some cool video is here.

The very few remaining Caribbean reefs like GQ with fish communities that are more or less intact are invaluable. They show reef managers, policy makers and the public how spectacular reef fish can be (when we don’t eat them) and are essential for science.  Despite some inaccuracies about the state of the benthos that I’ll outline below, I thought the 60 Minutes piece was great for reef conservation in general.  Anderson Cooper did a nice (if imperfect) job explaining how reefs are threatened and why that should matter to us.  The storytelling, imagery and editing were superb.

Now, on to the fact checking.

There are a lot of predators at GQ  True  We have been surveying reefs throughout the Caribbean over the last several years, purposefully looking for reefs with lots of sharks and grouper, and GQ has more than anywhere else we have been. The total fish biomass at GQ is ~600g per square meter, most of which is shark, grouper and snapper.  This is 6-8x greater than most Caribbean reefs where, as David Guggenheim correctly points out, large predators have been locally extinct for decades.

The corals at GQ are healthy and abundant  False  Coral cover (the percentage of the seafloor covered by living corals) is only 18% inside the reserve (in 2005/2006 Pina Amargós et al. 2008).  Not bad, but far from the pristine state, in which coral cover would have been well above 50%.  In comparison, the Caribbean average was 16% during this period (n = 1547 surveys performed between 2001 and 2005, Schutte et al. 2010).  The once-dominant and now ESA threatened Acropora cervicornis or staghorn coral was wiped out regionally in the 1980s by a disease and is functionally extinct in GQ as it is elsewhere in the Caribbean.  Some other key species including Montastraea spp. are also in tough shape at GQ.

Another indicator of the poor health of the benthos (seafloor) at GQ is the large amount of macroalgae or seaweed: 45% compared to a Caribbean average of 15% (Schutte et al. 2010).  Not surprisingly, coral recruitment (the density of coral babies and a good indicator of reef “resilience”) is very low (~ 1 per square meter Pina Amargós et al. 2008)

Figure 1. Benthic coverage (%) of corals, seaweed (macroalgae including Halimeda spp.) and “other” (e.g., sponges and gorgonians) in and out of the GQ reserve (in which fishing is not allowed) compared to Caribbean averages.  GQ data are from Pina Amargós et al. 2008 and the Caribbean averages are from Schutte et al. 2010

The high predator density at GQ proves that marine reserves work  Sort of   The reserve certainly receives protection but the remoteness of the reefs combined with the scarcity of boats in Cuba (for obvious reasons) also plays a role.  Determining how well marine reserves work is scientifically tricky, and a snapshot picture doesn’t tell you much.  Fabulous reefs like GQ are the kinds of places that receive protection, so there is a chicken and egg problem too.

25% of reefs have died off   True, but  We have not really lost entire reefs the way we lose forests when the trees are cut down, but we have lost a lot of reef-building corals over the last few decades.  The best available science indicates that across the Greater Caribbean the value  is closer to 75% (loss in relative terms), and the picture isn’t much better in the tropical Pacific.

90% of sharks are gone  True  Again, if anything, this is an underestimate.  It is indeed rare to see a shark on a Caribbean reef and only a few countries – most notably the Bahamas – recognize the ecological and economic value of sharks and protect them nationally.  Sadly, marine reserves like the Galapagos Islands are becoming targets for shark fisherman.

Goliath groupers are critically endangered  True  Goliath groupers are listed on the IUCN red list as critically endangered and are extinct throughout much of their former range across the Greater Caribbean. As David Guggenheim says, it is indeed very rare to see a goliath grouper on a Caribbean reef. However, thanks to 20 years of protection, the species has begun a robust recovery in Florida. This is one of the major success stories of modern fisheries management that could have been mentioned in the piece. Furthermore, it was achieved by a regional scale single species management approach.

GQ is more “resilient” than other reefs due to it’s protection, isolation, abundant predators, etc  False  Since the state of the benthos at GQ is far from exceptional (in terms of coral and seaweed cover), this argument isn’t justified.  In fact Dr. Fabian Pina, the Cuban scientists in the story, has shown that coral cover in the reserve is no higher than it is on neighboring unprotected reefs (Fig. 1)(Pina Amargós et al. 2008).  Conserving coral populations is a lot harder than restoring fish: the primary threats to corals cannot be managed locally and fish can’t stop climate change or disease outbreaks from happening.

Corals are being killed by sewage, coastal development and climate change True, but  These are indeed coral killers, but in the Caribbean, a majority of coral cover loss was caused by disease outbreaks. Coral diseases like white band and yellow band (or yellow blotch) have decimated once-dominant species. Yellow band outbreaks appear to be exacerbated by ocean warming and both diseases are just as severe on isolated and protected reefs like GQ as they are on reefs in close proximity to people and point source pollution.

GQ is an underwater eden, is largely untouched and illustrates the way a coral reef  ecosystems really should look  False  Although populations of a half dozen predator species are in good shape, coral populations have been devastated, there is an unnaturally large amount of seaweed and invasive lionfish are abundant. (So much for the Grouper-can-naturally-control-invasive-lionfish hypothesis)


Overall, this was a great 60 Minutes segment and reminded us all how vibrant a coral reef can be when the fish aren’t all gone.  Ironically, the weaknesses in the reporting illustrate the value of pristine places: without a reference point for what healthy coral populations look like, we forget how lush they can be and we mistakingly consider “natural” to be what remains.  The image below was taken in 2003 on an inexplicably resilient reef in Jamaica (with practically no fish) and gives you a sense of what truly robust Caribbean coral populations look like.  Unfortunately, I don’t know of anywhere in the Caribbean where both the corals and the fish are pristine.







28 responses to “Fact checking the 60 Minutes segment on Gardens of the Queen”

  1. Chris Petrone

    Thanks for ground-truthing that segment. Something that jumped out at me and perhaps you can clear up, was the coral head that Anderson Cooper was holding on to when interacting with the goliath grouper living or dead? In either case, I thought this wreaked of worst-practices. But when I put my Joe Public hat on, I realize that most people probably didn’t even notice.

    1. Hi Chris, I noticed that too: I saw him holding onto a large barrel sponge! It was alive and he shouldn’t have been clinging onto stuff! I hear his diving skills could use some improvement and that he ran out of air on a dive. But his hair sure looked perfect. Did you notice it wasn’t even moving when he was racing through the mangrove canals?

  2. Judy Lang

    Hi John,
    On the basis of 37 representative surveys in the Jardines de la Reina area of southern Cuba in 2001 (data at ww.agrra.org), I concur with your assessment of its benthos, and in the abundance of large predatory fishes relative to other parts of the wider Caribbean.

    But we didn’t see sharks milling about with a Goliath grouper, like in your video clip and on 60 Minutes last night. Do you know how widespread associations like this are at present?

    1. Thanks so much Judy. And Hi! 🙂

      I don’t really know, but on the reefs we dove on, they always co-occurred and the goliaths didn’t seem to fear the sharks. BUT, divers feed both, as is evidenced by the fact that they swim right up to you waiting for a handout when you descend (like they do at Hol Chan). Maybe that affects the interactions? A truce for the sake of a handout?

      Also, I never saw sharks as dense or behaving in the way they were in the 60 Minutes piece and I suspect the film crews were feeding them. We usually saw 2-3 or sometimes 4 or 5 circling from a distance, far off the bottom, usually past the dropoff (unlike in the 60 Minutes piece where they seemed to be very dense, near the bottom and moving more frenetically than Ive ever seen sharks act).

  3. Les Kaufman

    Hi John! One example of a place in the Caribbean with robust coral as well as intact fish (if we only slightly stretch the definition of “intact”) is the Belize barrier reef, or rather, several specific places on it, as of right now. In November on South Water, Carrie Bowe, and Curlew cayes, I saw quite impressively regenerated Agaricia tenuifolia, Acropora of both species and the hybrid, surviving (though bleached at the time) Montastrea and other massives, and a well-grazed, crustose coralline-encrusted shallow fore reef populated by medium to large parrotfishes. Though I can’t know for sure, I attribute this situation to the 2008 ban on fishing for parrotfish in Belize, plus not-so-bad policing of South Water Caye Marine Reserve by Belize Fisheries. Diadema densities were still low; Echinometra were abundant but I doubt they did all this by themselves.

    1. Hi Les! And thanks. That is good news. Most the places we are monitoring in Belize are in grim shape. Staggering algae cover (in refutation of Bruno et al 2010), few juvenile corals, no urchins, etc… BUT, parrotfish populations are indeed surging rapidly (since 2009 when the ban went into effect) across the BBR! I am kind of surprised it seems to be working. Lets hope they gobble up some algae and that lionfish don’t gobble them up!

  4. Greg Boland

    It was a nice piece. Suspicious that the sharks are fed. This is classic behavior at a tourist feeding site like Walkers Cay in the Bahamas. I also do not believe that “all” sharks have been reduced by 90%. This is true for some species, not all. Sites such as the Flower Garden Banks in the Gulf of Mexico have abundant shark sightings regularly; hammerheads, tigers, bull, silky and others, particularly in winter. This is along with a consistent live coral cover of over 50% since monitoring began in the mid 1970s.

    1. Thanks Greg. Agreed – not every shark species has declined this much. Nor have sharks declined at “all” places. But they certainly have at most. I also agree about the FG: highest coral cover in the Greater Caribbean and also the coolest (in terms of temp) reef in the region. Coincidence? Wish I could get out there myself… I missed a golden opportunity to go on a cruise to survey the FG with Bill Precht a few years ago.

    2. Rachel Graham

      What was not made clear in the 60 minutes piece is that the sharks in Jardines are indeed fed. This led to a disproportionate number of sharks present at the sites that were filmed and a potentially erroneously impression that this is the last hotspot for sharks in the Caribbean. With our Cuban partners led by Dr. Fabian Pina, we are about to implement a project looking at the relative abundance, diversity and distribution of sharks throughout the Jardines Archipelago and their connectivity to other sites in southern Cuba. The results will help us to answer the questions about how important Jardines may be for the conservation of sharks at that site and in Cuba. It will also help us to compare Jardines to other sites/MPAs in the GOM/Caribbean regions such as the Bahamas and the Flower Garden Banks, where indeed there appears to be relatively robust populations of sharks compared to the greater Caribbean.

  5. I noticed the hand on the barrel sponge as well and Anderson Cooper’s bouyancy control could be better, but I’ll cut him some slack and be willing to thank him for exposing the issue and hopefully, raising public awareness. By the way, I also noticed that David Guggenheim’s console was hanging in such a way that it might easily have made contact with the coral. But this is just a reminder that all of us, no matter how conscientious, should probably be more aware of potential
    unintended impact while we interact with the reefs we love to study and explore.

  6. Randy Olson

    Okay, I’m sorry to have to be “the Randy of the group” here (which refers to an anecdote in my book about my ruining people’s fun in Hollywood by speaking the truth), but “the storytelling” in the 60 Minutes segment was not good. It was dull. A week from now virtually no one will be able to remember the piece aside from saying it had nice footage of reefs in Cuba.

    The power of storytelling rests in the specifics and in finding “the human face” of an issue. They had an amazing photo of Castro spearfishing buried halfway through the segment. Imagine if they had opened with that photo (instead of endless vanity shots of Anderson Cooper) and told THE STORY of the day that Castro himself taught a group of villagers how to spearfish and explained to them the importance of protecting coral reefs but then was shot at by a CIA spy that was in the group who then … yadda, yadda. Now THAT would be a good story that people could retell a year later.

    All that this segment presented was more “coral reefs, blah, blah, blah, Cuba, blah, blah, blah, Anderson Cooper, blah, blah, blah …” on and on. I’m very sorry. Think of it in terms of watching a boring film that stars your own children which you can’t see how dull it is to the average viewer because it features YOUR children! 60 Minutes is usually great with their storytelling, but sometimes they just do fluff pieces like this which don’t really help anyone very much.

    If you want a deeper understanding of what I’m saying here read the amazing and brilliant article by NY Times writer Nicholas Kristoff in Outside Magazine in November, 2009. He spells out the basic dynamics of storytelling very powerfully based on his years of watching failed communications campaigns in Africa. This stuff is not as easy as just going to a beautiful place with a reporter that everyone loves and doing “point and shoot” work. It just isn’t. But so long as you’re wrapped up in the “home movies” syndrome it’s hard to see that.

    1. Thanks Randy, for stopping in and leaving your feedback. I feared you were going to say “you idiot overly-cerebral scientists! It is all about the story, not the content! – don’t be such a frigin scientist!” ie, I worried you would think the message didn’t matter. That the fact checking would undermine it, etc.

      What is the point of good storytelling if the underlying fact the emotion wraps up isn’t true?

      I just read your book, regularly read your awesome blog, just watched your recent talk, but honestly, I still have a hard time understanding what exactly makes a good story. I think I need some examples. I see how the pieces at shiftingbaselines work and love them like everyone else. But we all don’t have access to famous actors and expensive production equipment. How can we applying your storytelling lessons and speak more from the lower organs in more traditional (and low budget) forums, like a blog, or twitter or an op-ed or lecture? I think what I need are examples. I know you have provided some on your blog.

  7. Steven Miller

    Apologies in advance…

    We can argue the facts and debate the story,
    while Cooper and Guggenheim bathe in the glory.

    Does it matter or not that cover is low,
    when the talent goes diving with lights all aglow?

    Americans watch from their couches,
    good natured and kind…
    but after the sharks are gone,
    so are their minds.

    Happy Holidays!

    1. OMG – a comment in rhyme! And a SCUBA diving poet-who knew!

  8. Randy raises some good points about narrative. I had no idea Castro was a diver — that would have been a great lede.

    All that aside, I am most struck by what the segment did not mention: ocean acidification. As I wrote on Maribo, I wonder whether the omission is just TV logic. A vibrant coral reef, even a bleaching event, make for good video. A slow change in ocean pH and calcification rates does not.

    1. Casto is (was?) a marine biology nut! He goes and watches the dolphins in the Havana aquarium during lunch time and has his own private marine reserve just west of the Bay of Pigs!

      Speaking of the Castro link, it seems there could be some politics driving the lionfish invasion?! See this post blaming the presence of lionfish on communism! Who knew!

      And here is the link to Simon’s nice post about ignoring acidification

  9. James Dimond

    Hi John, Les, all,
    I wanted to comment on the post about the Belize barrier reef, specifically the area around Carrie Bow Cay. Our extensive May surveys (an effort led by Randi Rotjan) inside and outside of the marine reserve and across several forereef habitats from 15 to 60 ft showed coral cover averaging around 10% (down from 30-35% in the late 1970s). I would agree that the area is well-grazed and largely free of fleshy algae, but coral cover is low.

    Thanks for the fact-check of the 60 minutes report–it did seem like what little they did show of the benthic cover was not necessarily impressive. But overall I thought it was a decent report.

  10. Hi Everyone:

    A few thoughts on the information that was posted by John and others.

    First, I need to be totally honest and state that I contributed footage to the piece including some of the shark shots you guys are talking about. I didn’t have a hand in the production, but I know all the major players. I hope you don’t mind my comments.

    The high predator density at GQ proves that marine reserves work (Sort of):

    I would agree with the statement, except to point out that I have spent hundreds of hours underwater inside and outside of the reserves in the Caribbean during the past three years. In almost every case, I always see many more fish and sharks inside of reserves than outside of reserves. In many case the difference is incredibly striking. I don’t think there is any doubt reserves work to help protect fish. I would also point out that an area’s remoteness can help, but not always. This past summer I helped organize an expedition to the Swan Islands with Healthy Reefs (HRI). The Swan Islands are 175 miles off the coast of Roatan. The place was completely void of fish and while there were a few sharks around, we never saw them on dives. It scares me to think about illegal fishing boats coming into Jardines and wiping-out the shark population. Just look at what happened at Malpelo Wildlife Sanctuary this past October.

    The corals at GQ are healthy and abundant (False)

    I was really bummed when I saw these stats. On the surface Jardines looks much better than other areas around the Caribbean. I think we need to keep in mind that Jardines looks better to the average diver because of all the fish. There is a large beautiful stand of Acropora cervicornis at GQ, which is much larger than I’ve seen in other areas. The abundance of fish there is also very dramatic. Hol Chan MPA in Belize comes close, but the corals are not as large. In addition, we as divers tend to pick the best spots, which may skew our perception.

    General comment about the piece:

    I think it’s really important to look at the big picture here. We need people like Andreson Cooper and David Guggenheim to help bring the world’s ocean into the public spotlight. At the end of the day, the average American could care less about 18% cover vs. 25%. Hopefully they will remember that coral reefs are in trouble and we need to be more proactive in conservation efforts to reduce impacts from development, over fishing and pollution. With that said, those of us making films about the ocean need to be careful about fact checking and avoid making generalized statements that are incorrect. They only lend ammo to the other side.

    1. Thanks Kip,

      We really appreciate your comments!

      I don’t think there is any doubt reserves work to help protect fish.

      What I was trying to say was that simply observing high predator density, isn’t itself, proof that reserves work (as David seemed to me to suggest). I totally agree that the fish biomass at GQ is extraordinary compared to 99% of the Caribbean. That said, we work at other reefs with similar fish communities that are not reserves (let’s just say the locales have jobs that pay slightly better than fishing) and in many reserves in which there are few fish. I certainly agree that reserves can work for fish – there are many nice examples – but in my experience, they frequently don’t (due to lack of enforcement, failure to project spawning aggregations and juvenile habitat, etc).

      I’m sad I didn’t see that Acropora! My loss.

      I was going to comment on Hol Chan in the post – mainly suggesting that a lot of the fish are there for the feeding from divers (the grouper are downright aggressive there!). I worry about this at GQ too, mainly from a science perspective (it is hard to measure the effect of fishing bans if fish are being attracted with supplemental feeding). What is your take on feeding? Do you think it is affecting fish presence or behavior in reserves?

      I think it’s really important to look at the big picture here. We need people like Andreson Cooper and David Guggenheim to help bring the world’s ocean into the public spotlight. At the end of the day, the average American could care less about 18% cover vs. 25%. Hopefully they will remember that coral reefs are in trouble and we need to be more proactive in conservation efforts to reduce impacts from development, over fishing and pollution. With that said, those of us making films about the ocean need to be careful about fact checking and avoid making generalized statements that are incorrect. They only lend ammo to the other side.

      This is what I thought Randy was gonna say. If it were 18% vs 25%, I wouldn’t have said anything. But it is 18% with the key species practically extinct vs 70% with far greater coral diversity and reef complexity. Having fish is wonderful, but in the long run, we need to preserve corals too, simply because they form the habitat. As Gene Shinn says, no rock, no reef! And my bigger point there was no, we haven’t saved this reef; as Simon mentions, it is highly threatened by greenhouse gas emissions and we have to tackle that head on.

  11. Lindsey Precht

    Hi John,

    My family and I watched the 60 minutes piece on Gardens of the Queen (GQ) with great anticipation. What a disappointment:-(. While I thought Anderson Cooper did a nice job conveying an interesting conservation message about an area few people know about let alone visit, I think he was bamboozled by Dr. Guggenheim’s personal agenda. In fact, I think that 60 minutes should have been much more transparent regarding Dr. Guggenheim’s vested interest in these Cuban reefs. Dr. Guggenheim is a Senior Fellow at the Ocean Foundation and is director of its Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program. While I’m not going to debate here the pros and cons of the socio-political implications of Cuban-American partnerships and scientific discourse, this clearly was the underpinning of Dr. Guggenheim’s story.
    In short, why was there so much excitement for a reef that has low coral cover and super high macroalgal cover? Many of the reefs here in my backyard in Florida look just as good and some much better than the GQ reefs portrayed in the 60 minutes piece! And what was all the hype about regarding the sharks and goliath grouper at GQ? I guess Dr. Guggenheim has never been on a shark dive in the Bahamas or come face-to-face with giant goliath’s in the Florida Keys. In fact, his comment that he has never seen a goliath grouper anywhere but GQ was surprising to say the least. However, after reading Dr. Rachael Graham’s posting above about shark feeding at GQ, I’m not surprised to see all those big fish hanging out together and harassing the divers – of course there was no mention of that in their story! So, why are there so many large predators at GQ? Was it the time-machine created by Fidel? Was it the regular feedings by the Italian-Cuban ecotourism group? Or both??
    The one thing I didn’t see you cover in your “fact check” of the 60 minutes piece was the side story about the reefs of Veracruz, MX. Dr. Guggenheim played this up as a recent tragedy that was unexpected when he went there in 2002 (already a ten-year old story). However, a cursory review of the published literature shows that all those reefs off Veracruz died in the 1970’s and 80’s (see Jordan-Dahlgren 1992, and Jones et al. 2008). So, why all the angst about Veracruz now? I guess the reefs at GQ look amazing in comparison but that is unfair, especially in light of their ecological history and physiographic setting.
    Lastly, I guess the protection afforded all those large predators by this MPA at GQ has done little to control the ever increasing population of invasive Lionfish. I guess the lesson to be learned here is that “natural biocontrol” of Lionfish in the Caribbean is an unlikely phenomenon. Maybe in the near future Anderson Cooper will do a story on real coral reef conservation success stories here in the United States. Now that would be an eye-opener!
    PS – Is that my Dad in your photograph above from Jamaica??

    1. Hi Lindsey!

      I agree, having an independent scientist talk about what is going at GQ instead or in addition to David would have been better journalism.

      And yes, that is your dad! I will send him the picture:)

  12. John – this is regarding the following statement in your post about the 60 Minutes piece: “Although populations of a half dozen predator species are in good shape …. invasive lionfish are abundant. (So much for the Grouper-can-naturally-control-invasive-lionfish hypothesis)”

    I actually have hope for the “Grouper-can-naturally-control-invasive-lionfish” hypothesis. I do not think the idea should be dismissed so easily. It is not clear in the 60 Minutes piece that the footage of the abundant lionfish was even from the same location as that where sharks and grouper are abundant. We asked Fabian Pina about his observations, and this was his reply:

    “We have not been able to do all the scientific work needed for lionfish invasion…however, I have seen a drecrease number of adult lionfish on reef slope where large groupers, snappers, moray eels and shark are…but I have no scientific prove of they are controlling the invader…”

    I think the jury is still out on this, and we desperately need more data. Do you have any direct information on this issue?

    1. Alastair Harborne

      The link underlying the Grouper-can-naturally-control-invasive-lionfish hypothesis is to a paper I co-authored, and I agree that it should not be dismissed so easily. Our paper suggests that groupers (and other large predators) may function as a natural biocontrol of the lionfish invasion. Nowhere in our paper do we suggest that they are a bioelimination agent. So it is entirely consistent with the hypothesis that grouper and lionfish will be found on the same reefs. The critical point is whether lionfish abundances are lower than they would be without grouper and other large predators being present. I don’t have any data to prove this – but equally it doesn’t seem that you do either. And the observations listed in G.P. Schmahl’s reply seem to support the hypothesis more than refute it. The over-fishing of grouper and the invasion of lionfish are critically important issues in Caribbean reef ecology, and rejecting the biocontrol hypothesis without any data does the scientific community no favours as it tries to educate managers and the general public on strategies for the protection and recovery of these precious resources.

      1. Hi Alistar, thank you. As you surely know, the Exuma Reserve has a full time person removing lionfish from the reserve. To me, this seems to be a more plausible explanation for your observation (in Mumby et al 2011) that lionfish density was lower in the reserve. I also suspect flow is playing a role as well (lionfish are VERY sensitive to flow and are virtually absent on high flow reefs).

        We do have data – a lot of it – a manuscript we are about to submit that indicates if anything, lionfish abundance is positively related to grouper abundance. More soon…

        But I do agree, both the over-fishing of grouper and the invasion of lionfish are critically important issues in Caribbean reef ecology. But I dont think the science indicates they are related issues, just like I dont think the science suggests there is a real link between overfishing / grouper and corals. We need to restore grouper and corals and limit lionfish abundance. Lets stop making bogus claims that these issues are all mechanistically related and that managers can solve all the problems reefs are facing with a single magic bullet.

    2. Alastair Harborne

      Sorry for the delayed response, but I just wanted to finish up this thread. We have been to the park on a number of occasions and talked to various people, and aren’t aware that there is someone removing lionfish (or at least there wasn’t before our surveys) – we of course considered this when writing the paper. Even if someone is doing it at the highly dive sites, they certainly aren’t doing it at all of our sites since some were discovered by accident and aren’t well known as reefs areas. Furthermore, our results were robust even when potential spearing sites were removed from the analysis. We also have new data – not yet published – that stable isotope analysis of adult lionfish reveals a systematic difference across park boundaries, suggesting a change in foraging behaviour. Given that prey groups show no systematic differences in abundance inside the park the best explanation is risk averse foraging. We’ll explain more in the subequent paper.

      However, I look forward to seeing your new data – my previous comment related to the availability of data to clarify the Cuba story. I am particularly interested in the information on flow. The highest densities of lionfish I have seen anywhere in the Bahamas are on patch reefs on Eleuthera where you can barely hold position against the current when the tide is ebbing or flowing. But maybe it is different on forereefs.

      There is clearly much to elucidate on the mechanisms of lionfish dynamics, but we maintain there is evidence of top predator (grouper / sharks etc) – meso-predator (lionfish) interaction. There is certainly more evidence than any link between grouper and corals. As I’m sure you know, increased grouper populations may be expected to adversely affect benthic communities because of potential predation of parrotfish. But our other papers from the park demonstrate the opposite (more coral recruits and higher increases in coral cover because the effects of cessation of fishing on parrotfishes is greater than any increases in predation).

  13. kirk

    Why I no longer have respect for scientist. “Goliath Groper are endangered” What a joke, Scientists should force 60 minutes to set the facts straight. Dr. Guggenheim should be fired. I so tired of the Media and their left agenda. Shame on all of you

    1. Why don’t you believe goliaths are endangered? You must live in south Florida in a place where some populations have begun to recover?

  14. Susi Jones

    What about the exaggerated claim by David Guggenheim that the reef was one the “most vibrant” and “flourishing” reef he’d ever seen? Evidently he has dived the Marshall Islands, Raja Ampat, Solomon Islands and other locations of vibrant reefs full of fish, large and small.

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