Marine protected areas

Quantifying the state of the coral reef ecosystem in relation to biophysical benthic and pelagic indicators and biological drivers of change in the Saba National Marine Park, Dutch Caribbean

Abstract

 

Coral reefsare experiencing large scale degradation. Motivated by the need for regular data monitoring and forquantification of the state and change of benthic and pelagic organisms,the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Networkprotocolwas executed on 18 dive sites in fished and unfished areasaround the island of Saba in the Saba National Marine Park (SNMP) in the Dutch Caribbean from March to May 2019. Pictures of the benthos were taken andanalysed with the Coral Point Count Excel extension software and fish biomass was calculated through the Bayesian length-weight-relationship. Although considerablybelow the Caribbean-wide average, coral cover around the island seems to be slowlyrecoveringfrom past diseasesand hurricane events. Coral species richnesspositively correlates with reef fish density and Serranidae species richness. As in other parts of the Caribbean, macroalgae in the SNMP arerapidly spreadingand increasingly competefor space with habitat-providing gorgonians, sponges and other benthic organisms. Incontrast toexpectations, fish density and biomass continue to increase, evenin zones where fishing is allowed. This mightbe explained by the higher availability of macroalgae that serve as food for variousherbivorous fish species, which in turn are, amongst others, the prey of predatory fish and thosehigher up in the trophic cascade. However, with the exception ofthe commercially important fish family Lutjanidae all key fish species have declinedin average size in recent years. Another findingis the increase of coral diseases. The results indicate the need for further species-specific research in order to identify the factorsthat arecausing the degradation ofthe reefs in the SNMP. A better understandingofthe interactions, ecological roles and functions of benthic and fish communities is therefore essential for the protection of reefs, that are of high value to Saba. The results of this study contribute to the adaptive management of the Saba Conservation Foundation that manages the SNMP.

Keywords: GCRMN, Reef Health Index, marine protected area, fish-benthos interaction, macroalgae, herbivory, trophic cascade, fishing, coral disease, Caribbean

Date
2021
Data type
Research report
Theme
Research and monitoring
Report number
Masters Thesis
Geographic location
Saba
Saba bank
Author

Abundance and population structure of queen conch inside and outside a marine protected area: repeat surveys show significant declines

ABSTRACT: Effectiveness of a marine protected area (MPA) in supporting fisheries productivity depends upon replenishment patterns, both in supplying recruits to surrounding fished areas and having a sustainable spawning stock in the MPA. Surveys for queen conch Strombus gigas were made in 2011 at 2 locations in the Exuma Cays, The Bahamas, for direct comparison with surveys conducted during the early 1990s at Warderick Wells (WW) near the center of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP) and at a fished site near Lee Stocking Island (LSI). There was no change in adult conch density and abundance in the shallow bank environment at LSI where numbers were already low in 1991, but numbers declined 91% in the deeper shelf waters. At WW, the adult population declined 69% on the bank and 6% on the island shelf. Unlike observations made in the 1990s, queen conch reproductive behavior near LSI is now rare. Average age of adult conch (indicated by shell thickness) at LSI decreased significantly during the 20 yr period between surveys, while average age increased at WW and juvenile abundance decreased. These results show that the LSI population is being overfished and the WW population is senescing because of low recruitment. In 2011, the ECLSP continued to be an important source of larvae for down- stream populations because of abundant spawners in the shelf environment. However, it is clear that the reserve is not self-sustaining for queen conch, and sustainable fishing in the Exuma Cays will depend upon a network of MPAs along with other management measures to reduce fishing mortality. 

Date
2012
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring

Mapping Benthic Habitats for Representation in Marine Protected Areas

Virtually all marine conservation planning and management models in place or proposed have in common the need for improved scientific rigour in identifying and characterising the marine habitats encompassed. An emerging central theme in the last few years has been the concept of representativeness, or representative systems of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The habitat classification and mapping needed to incorporate considerations of representativeness into MPA planning must logically be carried out at the same scale at which management occurs. Management of highly protected areas occurs almost exclusively at local scales or finer, independent of the reservation model or philosophy employed.

Moreton Bay, on Australia’s east coast, was selected for studies at the local scale to map and classify macrobenthic habitats. In a site scale (1 km) trial for the major habitat classification study, remote underwater videography was used to map and characterise an unusual assemblage of epibenthic invertebrates on soft sediments. The assemblage included congregations of the comatulid crinoid Zygometra cf. Z. microdiscus (Bell) at densities up to 0.88 individuals.m-2, comparable to those found in coral reef habitats. There was no correlation between the distribution of this species and commonly used abiotic surrogates depth (6 – 18 m), sediment composition and residual current. This site scale trial is the first quantitative assessment of crinoid density and distribution in shallow water soft-sediment environments. The high densities found are significant in terms of the generally accepted picture of shallow-water crinoids as essentially reefal fauna. The findings highlight the conservation benefits of an inclusive approach to marine habitat survey and mapping. Assemblages such as the one described, although they may be of scientific and ecological significance, would have been overlooked by common approaches to marine conservation planning which emphasise highly productive or aesthetically appealing habitats.

Most habitat mapping studies rely solely or in part on abiotic surrogates for patterns of biodiversity. The utility of abiotic variables in predicting biological distributions at the local scale (10 km) was tested. Habitat classifications of the same set of 41 sites based on 6 abiotic variables and abundances of 89 taxa and bioturbation indicators were compared using correlation, regression and ordination analyses. The concepts of false homogeneity and false heterogeneity were defined to describe types of errors associated with using abiotic surrogates to construct habitat maps. The best prediction by abiotic surrogates explained less than 30% of the pattern of biological similarity. Errors of false homogeneity were between 20 and 62%, depending on the methods of estimation. Predictive capability of abiotic surrogates at the taxon level was poor, with only 6% of taxon / surrogate correlations significant. These results have implications for the widespread use of abiotic surrogates in marine habitat mapping to plan for, or assess, representation in Marine Protected Areas. Abiotic factors did not discriminate sufficiently between different soft bottom communities to be a reliable basis for mapping.

Habitat mapping for the design of Marine Protected Areas is critically affected by the scale of the source information. The relationship between biological similarity of macrobenthos and the distance between sites was investigated at both site and local scales, and for separate biotic groups. There was a significant negative correlation between similarity and distance, in that sites further apart were less similar than sites close together. The relationship, although significant, was quite weak at the site scale.

Rank correlograms showed that similarity was high at scales of 10 km or less, and declined markedly with increasing distance. There was evidence of patchiness in the distributions of some biotic groups, especially seagrass and anthozoans, at scales less than 16 km. In other biotic groups there was an essentially monotonic decline in similarity with distance. The spatial agglomeration approach to habitat mapping was valid in the study area. Site spacing of less than 10 km was necessary to capture important components of biological similarity. Site spacing of less than 2.5 km did not appear to be warranted.

Macrobenthic habitat types were classified and mapped at 78 sites spaced 5 km apart. The area mapped was about 2,400 km2 and extended from estuarine shallow subtidal waters to offshore areas to the 50 m isobath. Nine habitat types were recognised, with only one on hard substrate. The habitat mapping characterised several habitat types not previously described in the area and located deepwater algal and soft coral reefs not previously reported. Seagrass beds were encountered in several locations where their occurrence was either unknown or had not previously been quantified. The representation of the derived habitat types within an existing marine protected area was assessed. Only two habitat types were represented in highly protected zones, with less than 3% of each included The study represents the most spatially comprehensive survey of epibenthos undertaken in Moreton Bay, with over 40,000 m2 surveyed. Derived habitat maps provide a robust basis for inclusion of representative examples of all habitat types in marine protected area planning in and adjacent to Moreton Bay. The utility of video data to conduct a low-cost habitat survey over a comparatively large area was also demonstrated. The method used has potentially wide application for the survey and design of marine protected areas. 

Date
2003
Data type
Other resources
Theme
Research and monitoring
Author

Patterns, causes, and consequences of marine larval dispersal

Quantifying the probability of larval exchange among marine populations is key to predicting local population dynamics and optimizing networks of marine protected areas. The pattern of connectivity among populations can be described by the measure- ment of a dispersal kernel. However, a statistically robust, empirical dispersal kernel has been lacking for any marine species. Here, we use genetic parentage analysis to quantify a dispersal kernel for the reef fish Elacatinus lori, demonstrating that dispersal declines exponen- tially with distance. The spatial scale of dispersal is an order of mag- nitude less than previous estimates—the median dispersal distance is just 1.7 km and no dispersal events exceed 16.4 km despite intensive sampling out to 30 km from source. Overlaid on this strong pattern is subtle spatial variation, but neither pelagic larval duration nor direc- tion is associated with the probability of successful dispersal. Given the strong relationship between distance and dispersal, we show that distance-driven logistic models have strong power to predict dispersal probabilities. Moreover, connectivity matrices generated from these models are congruent with empirical estimates of spatial genetic structure, suggesting that the pattern of dispersal we uncovered re- flects long-term patterns of gene flow. These results challenge as- sumptions regarding the spatial scale and presumed predictors of marine population connectivity. We conclude that if marine reserve networks aim to connect whole communities of fishes and conserve biodiversity broadly, then reserves that are close in space (<10 km) will accommodate those members of the community that are short- distance dispersers. 

Date
2015
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring

Indirect effects of overfishing on Caribbean reefs: sponges overgrow reef-building corals

Consumer-mediated indirect effects at the community level are difficult to demonstrate empirically. Here, we show an explicit indirect effect of overfishing on competition between sponges and reef-building corals from surveys of 69 sites across the Caribbean. Leveraging the large-scale, long-term removal of sponge predators, we selected overfished sites where intensive methods, primarily fish-trapping, have been employed for decades or more, and compared them to sites in remote or marine protected areas (MPAs) with variable levels of enforcement. Sponge-eating fishes (angelfishes and parrotfishes) were counted at each site, and the benthos surveyed, with coral colonies scored for interaction with sponges. Overfished sites had >3 fold more overgrowth of corals by sponges, and mean coral contact with sponges was 25.6%, compared with 12.0% at less-fished sites. Greater contact with corals by sponges at overfished sites was mostly by sponge species palatable to sponge preda- tors. Palatable species have faster rates of growth or reproduction than defended sponge species, which instead make metabolically expensive chemical defenses. These results validate the top-down conceptual model of sponge community ecology for Caribbean reefs, as well as provide an unambiguous justification for MPAs to protect threatened reef-building corals.

An unanticipated outcome of the benthic survey component of this study
was that overfished sites had lower mean macroalgal cover (23.1% vs. 38.1% for less-fished sites), a result that is contrary to prevailing assumptions about seaweed control by herbivorous fishes. Because we did not quantify herbivores for this study, we interpret this result with caution, but suggest that additional large-scale studies comparing intensively overfished and MPA sites are warranted to examine the relative impacts of herbivorous fishes and urchins on Caribbean reefs. 

 

Date
2015
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Journal
Geographic location
Bonaire
Curacao
St. Eustatius

Chemical defenses and resource trade-offs structure sponge communities on Caribbean coral reefs

Abstract:

Ecological studies have rarely been performed at the community level across a large biogeographic region. Sponges are now the primary habitat-forming organisms on Caribbean coral reefs. Recent species-level investigations have demonstrated that preda- tory fishes (angelfishes and some parrotfishes) differentially graze sponges that lack chemical defenses, while co-occurring, palatable species heal, grow, reproduce, or recruit at faster rates than defended species. Our prediction, based on resource allocation theory, was that predator removal would result in a greater proportion of palatable species in the sponge community on overfished reefs. We tested this prediction by performing surveys of sponge and fish community composition on reefs having different levels of fishing intensity across the Caribbean. A total of 109 sponge species was recorded from 69 sites, with the 10 most common species comprising 51.0% of sponge cover (3.6–7.7% per species). Nonmetric multidimensional scaling indicated that the species composition of sponge communities depended more on the abundance of sponge-eating fishes than geographic location. Across all sites, multiple-regression analyses revealed that spongivore abundance explained 32.8% of the variation in the proportion of palatable sponges, but when data were limited to geographically adjacent locations with strongly contrasting levels of fishing pressure (Cayman Islands and Jamaica; Curaçao, Bonaire, and Martinique), the adjusted R2 values were much higher (76.5% and 94.6%, respectively). Overfishing of Caribbean coral reefs, particularly by fish trapping, removes sponge predators and is likely to result in greater competition for space between faster-growing palatable sponges and endangered reef-building corals. 

Date
2014
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Curacao

Monitoring Coral Reef Marine Protected Areas. A practical guide on how monitoring can support effective management of MPAs

Abstract:

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are an important tool for marine conservation and management; monitoring plays a critical role in managing these MPAs. Monitoring provides the essential information required to
make management decisions and determine if the decisions are working. Without monitoring, managers are essentially operating in the dark! This book was written in response to requests from many managers of MPAs from around the world who asked for advice on how to design and implement monitoring programs that can help them manage their MPAs more effectively.

The goals of this book are to:

  • Demonstrate how monitoring can play a major role in the effective management of MPAs;
  • Provide advice on which monitoring programs to use to facilitate effective management; and
  • Demonstrate how monitoring has played an important role in the effective management of MPAs using case studies from around the world.

Coral reefs around the world are at risk from many threats including global warming causing coral bleaching, over-fishing or destructive fishing, pollution by sediments, nutrients and toxic chemicals, coral mining
and shoreline development, and unregulated tourism. Monitoring the ecology of the reefs and the socio- economics of the people is the only way to understand the extent, nature and causes of the damage, and to identify ways to address these threats.

How can monitoring assist in the effective management of MPAs? Monitoring assists through the following tasks:

  1. Resource Assessment and Mapping
  2. Resource Status and Long-Term Trends
  3. Status and Long-Term Trends of User Groups
  4. Impacts of Large-Scale Disturbances
  5. Impacts of Human Activities
  6. Performance Evaluation and Adaptive Management
  7. Education and Awareness Raising
  8. Building Resilience into MPAs
  9. Contributing to Regional and Global Networks

This book will provide practical advice on how to design and implement ecological and socio-economic monitoring programs aimed at addressing these issues. Many useful references are included at the back along with Internet sites.

We have used case studies from around the world to illustrate how others have used monitoring to assist them in managing MPAs. There are many useful lessons from these case studies and all contain recommendations for other MPA managers.

The book provides information on many of the organisations involved in coral reef monitoring and management, along with the recommendations on coral reef monitoring and information processing from the recent ITMEMS2 (International Tropical Marine Ecosystems Management Symposium, 2003) meeting, which featured MPA managers from all over the world.

This is Version 1 of the book being released at the World Parks Congress in Durban South Africa, September 2003. Our intention is to keep it alive and continually update it. This copy will be lodged on the www.reefbase.org, www.gcrmn.org and www.aims.gov.au websites where we want to continually update it for use by MPA managers to improve their management and conservation of coral reefs. 

Date
2003
Data type
Research report
Theme
Governance
Geographic location
Bonaire

Charging for Nature: Marine Park Fees and Management from a User Perspective

User fees can contribute to the financial sus- tainability of marine protected areas (MPAs), yet they must be acceptable to users. We explore changes in the fee system and management of Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP) from the perspective of users. Responses from 393 tourists indicated that 90% were satisfied with park conditions and considered current user fees reasonable. However, only 47% of divers and 40% of non-divers were prepared to pay more. Diver willingness-to-pay (WTP) appears to have decreased since 1991, but this difference could be due in part to methodological differences between studies. Although current fees are close to diver maximum stated WTP, revenues could potentially be increased by improving the current fee system in ways that users deem acceptable. This potential surplus highlights the value of understanding user perceptions toward MPA fees and management. 

Date
2010
Data type
Scientific article
Theme
Research and monitoring
Journal
Geographic location
Bonaire