We are Columbus-style killers

The Taino are an extinct people from the Caribbean, represented by this statue in Puerto Rico (Wikipedia).
The Taino are an extinct people from the Caribbean, represented by this statue in Puerto Rico (Wikipedia).

Anarchists and cultural purists have a saying: “Assimilation is Death.” They contend that when one group submits and conforms to the demands of a dominant culture, the submissive culture dies. And they have a point, because many languages and cultures have disappeared at the hands of colonization.

Biology and ecology are teaching us that this trend extends to nature. For ecosystems, the saying modifies into something like “Overpopulation is Death.” Think about it: the world’s most populated areas lack natural abundance, and the least populated areas are havens for the diversity of species and their proliferation. This force extends into places where people do not live directly but have quick access: the coastal ocean.

Death of the ocean is a difficult concept to grasp, but it is becoming a constant prediction in science. Dead zones around river deltas are well documented, but new targets include even larger areas and entire ecosystems.

In a strange twist for biologists, a new major report on Caribbean coral reefs makes an explicit connection between the fate of nature and the history of colonization:

Before and after photos of same reef in the Florida Keys (Phillip Dustan).

“Because of their isolation for millions of years, and by analogy to the fates of Native Americans after their first contact with Europeans, Caribbean species should be exceptionally prone to the impact of introduced diseases. And this appears to be the case.”

In other words, the expansion of humans across the Caribbean brings disease and death to the sea. This assertion comes from the report Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012, the most comprehensive review of its kind. It puts overpopulation at the top of its list of main threats.

What were the fates of Native Americans after Christopher Columbus? The very name “Caribbean” refers to the Carib people, and they were connected to the Taino people. Ever heard of them? Their languages are gone, and the Taino were assimilated and/or disappeared. Extinct. Dead.

What is the destiny of Caribbean coral reefs? Here is the report’s summary of its recommendations:

Caribbean Coral Reefs Status Report - Cover
This report summarizes more than 30,000 projects on Caribbean reefs.

“Caribbean coral reefs and their associated resources will virtually disappear within just a few decades unless all of these measures are promptly adopted and enforced.”

Did you get it? By 2044 (three decades from now), reefs will have disappeared. Extinct. Dead.

The good news for reefs, as opposed to indigenous Tainos, is that they are not extinct yet. But is their death preventable, or inevitable?

The status quo of increasing populations and increasing threats makes the death of all reefs inevitable, and only massive change can stop it, the report concludes. It also notes that many devoted people have abandoned hope:

“Concerns have mounted to the point that many NGOs [non-governmental organizations] have given up on Caribbean reefs and moved their attentions elsewhere.”

Why would you give up, submit, and succumb to domination? History has taught us to act otherwise.

Giving up is death.



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