10 March 2009

Good in itself

In chapter 8 of Cold Water Corals [1], the authors ground their case for conservation on four norms for a philosophy of conservation biology (re)formulated in the 1980s by Michael E. Soulé and others:
In struggling to ascribe present-day or future economic value to cold-water corals we run the risk of making poor valuations based on incomplete knowledge. In his 1985 paper ‘What is conservation biology?’ Soulé set out four so-called normative postulates to encapsulate the values underlying the ethics of conservation biology: (1) diversity of organisms is good, (2) ecological complexity is good, (3) evolution is good and (4) biotic diversity has intrinsic value. If we take Soulé’s advice then the work described in this book clearly shows that cold-water coral habitats deserve to be conservation priorities. We know that cold-water corals provide habitat to many other species. We know they form highly complex, beautiful structures that have captured the public’s attention making them a poster child for deep-sea conservation movements around the world. We know coral skeletons hold a unique archive of past ocean climate. We know that they have been damaged by bottom trawling and are threatened by climate change. Where there remain doubts, society needs to weigh the short-term benefits of our present-day activities, be they fishing, mining or combustion of fossil fuels, against the loss to future generations of habitats we are only beginning to understand.

[1] Cold-Water Corals: The Biology and Geology of Deep-Sea Coral Habitats by J. Murray Roberts, Andrew J. Wheeler, André Freiwald and Stephen Cairns. Cambridge, May 2009.

Image: Bubblegum coral (NZ)

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