Study Finds Marine Protected Areas Help Promote the Growth And Health Of Coral Reefs

In a new study that covered 700 kilometers of the eastern Caribbean Sea, it has been revealed that Marine Protected Areas have a big impact in helping coral reefs. This is the first true evidence that shows the positive impact of MPA’s.

Some have argued in recent years that protected areas MPA’s aren’t effective in saving coral reefs from the damaging effects of global climate change have led some to argue that such expensive interventions are not valuable.

In research that was funded by the National Geographic Society, Robert Steneeck, a professor of marine biology at the University of Maine, led a team that conducted research on the leeward islands of the Caribbean and discovered that local reef protections do in fact work.

Local island fisheries management resulted in a 62 percent increase in the density of young corals, which improves the ecosystem’s ability to recover from major impacts such as hurricanes or bleaching events, according the to findings which was published in Science Advances.

In the paper, Steneck says, “”MPAs can help coral reefs, but studies to the contrary just weren’t measuring the right things at the right scales. The idea behind MPAs is that, by reducing fishing pressure, you increase the number of seaweed-eating fish, and they decrease the amount of harmful seaweed, which makes it easier for baby corals to get started and thrive on the reef. But coral reefs are complicated, and lots of other things can affect fish numbers, their ability to control the growth of algae and the ability of corals to take advantage of this.

According to study co-author Professor Peter Mumby, taking field measurements on coral reefs is time consuming, so many researchers are forced to take shortcuts and use simple, widely available data to analyze how reefs respond to protection.

“While it sounds obvious, we show that our ability to detect the benefits of MPAs on corals improves dramatically when you take more detailed measurements,” Mumby says. “For example, a simple option is to count the number of herbivorous fishes. But if, instead, you estimate how intensively these fishes feed, you obtain a much clearer and compelling insight.”

“Certainly, stresses on reef corals from climate and atmospheric changes are serious and beyond direct management control. However, we suggest that local management measures can bolster the recovery of corals after damaging events and, eventually, improve their overall condition.”

The findings are incredibly encouraging especially when considering the recent findings that MPA’s help repopulate the area with sharks, which rehabilitates the whole reef system as a sort of balance is brought back to a reef.

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