Foreword: Aquarium Corals

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By Dr. J.E.N. Veron Excerpt from Aquarium Corals

This book, coming from a self-taught aquarist, is extraordinary.

Just as comets are now being discovered by amateur star-watchers rather than by professional astronomers, aquarists are now moving into an area of knowledge that was once the exclusive domain of marine biologists. It is a welcome development, and an exciting one for all those who choose to be part of it. Eric Borneman is clearly a scholar in his own right, but more than that, the essential message he sends in Aquarium Corals is: “This is a new field of discovery—come and be part of it.”

When I look up from my computer screen I am confronted with about 10 meters of shelves full of publications about corals and coral reefs, all read, most defaced by my annotations. Those shelves hold a lot of knowledge. To my mind, they beg the question: Is our understanding of coral reefs changing and, if so, how, why, and does it matter?

Many of the books on my shelves were written before the advent of scuba diving. These contain jargon-ridden descriptions of skeletal structures of “new species” or elaborate accounts of largely unknown reefs. They are hard to read and largely divorced from reality. The post-scuba publications are, understandably, somewhat different. Most are not just written for a theoretical or technical purpose, but rather to make a point—or to convey information about some “reality” or other of reefs. Reality for coral taxonomy for example, may have less to do with skeletal details of museum specimens and more to do with how species vary according to light availability and where they are found.

A New Age of Coral Understanding

We are now entering another historical phase of observation of corals. Because we now know how to keep corals in aquariums, we have the opportunity to observe them at any time of the day or night, in any weather and in microscopic detail. We can manipulate their environment as we choose. We can see how their feeding and reproductive behaviors change with water chemistry or temperature. We can see how different organisms interact with each other. We can make all sorts of experiments, just by moving specimens from one place to another. These are big changes in potential sources of knowledge and discovery.

Perhaps a decade from now, most detailed observations about corals will come from aquariums rather than from the field.

Obviously, field observations will continue to have a major role in information gathering, but that role will have a different focus and a different purpose. And the sum total of knowledge we have will be very much the greater for it.

Aquarium Corals & The Environment

In making these reflections, I am not supposing that everybody who keeps corals in an aquarium is an apprentice scientist! Far from it; most people who keep aquariums—like those who have gardens—have them because they are beautiful. This is important.

Coral reefs, like forests, are being degraded everywhere. Only in the past decade has this issue moved into the international political arena, which at least has resulted in some reefs having a measure of legal protection. But reefs, like forests, will only be protected in the long term if they are appreciated. Aquariums, both public and private, are playing a crucial role in this. They are helping to create interest for the general public, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that this interest, once embraced by a whole generation, will result in an active desire to conserve.

A year ago, a colleague proposed that if we are to conserve coral communities we are eventually going to have to learn to “garden” them. At the time I thought this was absurd, but the novel notion of “coral gardening” keeps coming back to me. In fact, it does so every time I dive on yet another sick reef in yet another country.

The unfortunate reality is that we are going to have to get active about preserving and rejuvenating reefs and better understanding reef management or we are going to lose most of our spectacular and diverse reef fauna some time this century. We need public awareness, we need to excite children, we need knowledge.

In his acknowledgments, Eric Borneman notes that it is remarkable that I take an interest in amateur aquarists: now he knows why. We need them, in many thousands, around the world. When we have them, I believe we will then have the sorts of knowledge about corals that gardeners have about the plants in their gardens. And we will do our best to ensure that the pinnacle of Nature’s achievement in the ocean realm—the coral reef—is ours to enjoy forever.
J.E.N. Veron
Australian Institute of Marine Science

Excerpt from Aquarium Corals.

Dr. J.E.N. Veron, known to colleagues worldwide as “Charlie,” took up diving in the mid 1960s and has been working on corals ever since—work that has taken him to all the major coral reef regions of the world. Dr. Veron has three higher degrees, including a D.Sc. for his early work on coral taxonomy. For many years, he has been Chief Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, where he is responsible for the institute’s multidisciplinary scientific initiatives.

His professional interests are in conservation, evolution, education, and science communication. He is principal author of 8 monographs and more than 70 scientific articles on the taxonomy, systematics, biogeography, and the fossil record of corals.

He has published two popular guides to corals: Corals of Australia and the Indo-Pacific (1986) and Corals of Japan (in Japanese, with Dr. M. Nishihira, 1995, Tohoku University Press). In 1995, he published the award-winning Corals in Space and Time: The Biogeography and Evolution of the Scleractinia. H

His Corals of the World (Australian Institute of Marine Science, 2000) is an end product of 30 years of research.