A 9 November article on Mongabay.com reviews a study that challenges whether marine reserves promote coral recovery. A study published in the 14 August 2011 issue of Coral Reefs concludes that a decade of marine reserve protection has failed to help damaged Caribbean corals recover.
Healthy reefs depend on herbivorous parrotfishes to eat algal blooms. When fishing pressures overwhelm these seaweed-grazing species, algae choke new coral growth. Research has shown that marine reserves with strong ‘no-take’ enforcement can protect herbivorous fish populations. However, it’s less clear whether these safeguards also help corals bounce back.
In 2008-2009, researchers working at Glover’s Reef showed that the reserves made no difference in fish populations or coral health. But the findings at Glover’s Reef shouldn’t count as a failure, contends Peter Mumby, a marine ecologist at the University of Queensland in Australia. Mumby published a 2010 paper in PLoS ONE concluding that marine reserves do help Caribbean corals recover.
“If you’re going to study marine reserve impacts on coral, then you need a marine reserve that is actually doing something,” Mumby said. Because the reserve at Glover’s didn’t affect fish numbers, he’s not surprised that corals didn’t recover. He thinks parrotfish poachers may still be plundering reserves, despite beefed-up enforcement by the Belizean government.
Read the article on the Mongabay website.