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Dive Against Debris

Participate in or join a Dive Against Debris event. Dates Vary.

Dive against debrisIn response to the onslaught of marine debris, one of the biggest ocean issues of our time, Project AWARE launched Dive Against Debris. Created by divers for divers, this global, underwater survey of rubbish is designed to increase debris removal efforts, prevent harm to marine life and connect your underwater actions to policy changes and prevention.

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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Wary? Effect of Repeated Culling on the Behaviour of an Invasive Predator

Researchers in the Bahamas found that lionfish on culled reefs altered their behavior. They were less active and hid deeper during the day, when culling took place. This led them to hunt more often during dawn and dusk, which is also when their prey are more active. Researchers are not sure whether this shift in behavior is learned (lionfish have learned to perceive the threat of divers hunting for them) or evolutionary (the bold lionfish are being culled, leaving the shy and more hidden ones). This has management implications because if they are learning to hide it is important to cull them at longer intervals, so that they ‘forget’ their fear of divers. If their behavior is evolutionary, and the more bold lionfish are being hunted and killed, this could have positive benefits for conservation efforts. The remaining population would have a lower fitness because shyer predators capture fewer prey.

Author: Cote, I.S., E.S. Darling, L. Malpica-Cruz, N.S. Smith, S.J. Green, J. Curtis-Quick, and C. Layman
Year: 2014
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PLoS ONE 9(4): e94248. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094248

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Global Conservation Outcomes Depend on Marine Protected Areas With Five Key Features

Dr. Graham Edgar and his 24 co-authors stirred up the marine conservation world with their recent article in which they review 87 MPAs at 964 sites (in 40 countries) around the world using data generated by the authors and trained recreational divers. Their overall conclusion is that global conservation targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity, that are solely based on the area of MPAs, do not optimize protection of biodiversity.

They found that effective MPAs (measured by biodiversity, large fish biomass, and shark biomass) needed to have 4 or 5 of the following characteristics: no-take, well enforced, >10 years old, >100 km2 in size, and be isolated by deep water or sand. Only 9 of the 87 MPAs had 4 or 5 of those characteristics, most of the remainder of MPAs were ecologically indistinguishable from non-MPAs. The authors hope that reserves that are serious about biodiversity outcomes will adopt the 5 characteristics (when possible) and quickly see a rapid increase in the potential of a site to have regionally high biomass and species numbers.

Author: Edgar, G.J., R.D. Stuart-Smith, T.J. Willis, S. Kininmonth, S.C. Baker, S. Banks, N.S. Barrett, M.A. Becerro, A.T.F. Bernard, J. Berkhout, C.D. Buxton, S.J. Campbell, A.T. Cooper, M. Davey, S.C. Edgar, G. Försterra, D.E. Galván, A.J. Irigoyen, D.J. Kushner, R. Moura, P.E. Parnell, N.T. Shears, G. Soler, E.M.A. Strain, and R.J. Thomson
Year: 2014
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Nature 506: 216–220. doi:10.1038/nature13022

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Interview with Dr. Graham Edgar

Five Characteristics of Effective MPAs

Dr. Graham Edgar and his 24 co-authors recently stirred up the marine conservation world with their article, “Global conservation outcomes depend on marine protected areas five key features”. In this article, they review 87 MPAs at 964 sites (in 40 countries) around the world using data generated by the authors and trained recreational divers.

News Edgar et al map

Their overall conclusion is that global conservation targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity that are solely based on the area of MPAs do not optimize protection of biodiversity. They found that effective MPAs (measured by biodiversity, large fish biomass, and shark biomass) needed to have 4 or 5 of the following characteristics: no-take, well enforced, >10 years old, >100 km2 in size, and be isolated by deep water or sand. Unfortunately, only 9 of the 87 MPAs had 4 or 5 of those characteristics, most of the remainder of MPAs were ecologically indistinguishable from non MPAs. The authors hope that reserves that are serious about biodiversity outcomes will adopt the 5 characteristics (when possible) and quickly see a rapid increase in the potential of a site to have regionally high biomass and species numbers. You can find the paper here, and see a conversation with some of the authors.

We asked Dr. Edgar some questions and here is what he said:

What can a manager of a smaller, newer, or not isolated MPA take from this paper, as they might not be able to influence those factors?

Concentrate on good enforcement, ideally through good will from the local community, and also through improved policing if required. Newer MPAs will age, so with good enforcement and some no-take zones, biodiversity goals are achievable in most locations. This is not assured, however, so ecological monitoring is needed to understand what is working and what can be improved, rather than assuming all is fine under the sea.

In regards to working with trained, skilled, recreational divers to collect data for this study: what would you recommend to coral reef managers who work with (or want to work with) recreational divers for their monitoring programs? What aspects of this part of the data collection led to success?
We found group participation helped during surveys, which were more enjoyable when motivated and like-minded divers could interact with each other. Also, one-on-one training and support to Reef Life Survey (RLS) volunteer divers is fundamental to consistent data gathering. Our divers can see that their efforts contribute directly to improved marine conservation management. Virtually all of the active divers from the start of the RLS program six years ago remain enthusiastic and continue to participate, a very positive statistic.

What surprised you the most in doing this study?
In terms of biology: the near absence of sharks and other large predatory fishes sighted by divers other than in MPAs, even off isolated unpopulated islands. By comparison with reports from cruising yachts and divers in the same areas only a decade or two ago, it seems clear that population numbers of big fishes and lobsters have declined precipitously in recent years.

In terms of governance: the fact that the developing world and the Southern Hemisphere are leading efforts to establish MPA networks. European and continental Asian countries have very few effective MPAs, despite huge ecological stresses and marine biodiversity assets that are remarkable and unique, but deteriorating.

What part of this research has made you feel the most optimistic for the future of MPAs?
The recent establishment of large no-take MPAs in isolated regions is a very positive step. Of course this is only one component of a global MPA system – we certainly need effective MPAs of a variety of sizes to encompass all ecosystem types worldwide – but it is great to see some refuges established that will assist the survival of large wide-ranging species, at least in the tropics.

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Understanding coral reef resilience in Tobago

news-Understanding Coral Reef Resilience in TobagoJahson Berhane Alemu I (a participant in our 2010 Training of Trainers Workshop) and co-author Ysharda Clement recently published the paper “Mass Coral Bleaching in 2012 in the Southern Caribbean”. For 6 months, they monitored approximately 650 colonies (composed of 30 taxa) at three sites across Tobago during a bleaching event in 2010. The purpose of their research was to find nodes of reef resilience in Tobago by identifying taxa resilient to bleaching. We asked Jahson more about his research. In particular, we wanted to know how coral reef managers could learn from his experience. Here’s what he said:

How do you think your findings will influence coral reef management in Tobago?

Our findings now contribute to an evidence-based foundation, on which reef managers can make more informed decisions. Our findings have now been integrated into a Bleaching Response Plan, where a suite of taxa have been incorporated to determine the impact of bleaching and other anthropogenic impacts on reef health.

What most surprised you during the analysis of your research?

The wide variety of responses of taxa to the same stimulus. This will be the subject of future research.

What advice do you have for coral reef managers and practitioners who are trying to identify resilient reefs?

Reef resilience means a bunch of things and it’s evolving. My opinion is that you’re not going to figure it out in one assessment. (Well, maybe you can, and good luck to you!) But I’m no expert and I’ve just started. For me, having a clear personal understanding of what it means and how I intended to apply this knowledge for example through the development of a response plan and MPA selection was central in my approach. This study is but only one of several underway to better understand reef dynamics and the future of coral reefs in Tobago.

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Tool shows future predictions of bleaching and acidification

 Year when Degree Heating Weeks exceed 8 at least two times in the following decade under Representative Concentration Pathway 2.6.

Year when Degree Heating Weeks exceed 8 at least two times in the following decade under Representative Concentration Pathway 2.6.

A new Google Earth tool contains the most recent projections of coral bleaching and ocean acidification for all coral reef areas. The projections are based on climate models from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. Using this tool, managers can go to areas of interest and view:

  • The years by which two thermal stress levels known to cause bleaching are projected to occur twice per decade and annually;
  • Projected declines in aragonite saturation state as well as corresponding declines in calcification.

The use of the tool and images obtained from it will help coral reef managers to communicate about the threats posed to reefs by climate change with their colleagues, stakeholders and with policymakers.

The associated paper summarizes the results of the projections and highlights that under the fossil-fuel aggressive emissions scenario, there are no refugia from the onset of annual severe bleaching or the effects of ocean acidification. Under this scenario, by 2053, 90% of all coral reef areas will experience annual severe bleaching. There are opposite latitudinal gradients in these threats to reefs, meaning that areas projected to experience annual bleaching later are exposed to the effects of acidification for longer.

The Reef Resilience Program spoke with one of the authors of the report, Dr. Ruben van Hooidonk, about the relevance of this tool for coral reef managers.

Is there any good news coming from your findings?
Overall, the news is rather pessimistic, but the projections do show that some reefs will experience bleaching conditions annually 20 years or more later than others will. Many of these locations are of both local and global significance, such as the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef.

How do you see a coral reef manager using this tool?
The tool we have built allows access to projections that have coarse resolution (1 degree by 1 degree) and for long periods of time (decades).  Therefore, the results do not inform the targeting of management interventions like reducing pressures from fishing and scuba, though they do increase the impetus for such actions.  The primary purposes for which the projections were developed and made available are long term planning and outreach/awareness-raising.

What next steps do you think a coral reef manager should take after reading this article to address the impacts of ocean acidification and coral bleaching at their site?
Our article and the tool we have made available highlight the plight of coral reefs. Although a reef manager cannot easily address the global issues of increasing temperatures and acidification, managers can reduce local stressors that compound those associated with climate change and acidification. Perhaps more than any article before it, our work shows the urgency and necessity of local actions that support the natural resilience of reef systems.

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Managing coral reefs in the face of acidification

In “Preparing to manage coral reefs for ocean acidification: lessons from coral bleaching,” Dr. Elizabeth McLeod and her co-authors discuss how management strategies designed to address coral bleaching can be modified to address the impacts of ocean acidification. The authors note that while stabilizing CO2 emissions is the most critical step to address ocean acidification, it is beyond the scope of reef managers. They highlight the importance of management strategies to address ocean acidification including: spatial risk spreading; managing connectivity between source and sink reefs; and improved management of local-scale stressors to enhance reef resilience. Five research priorities are also identified to incorporate ocean acidification into conservation planning and management. Read the abstract or email resilience@tnc.org for a copy of the article.

LizzieWe asked Dr. McLeod a few questions about acidification, and here’s what she said:

What coral reef region do you think will be impacted by ocean acidification first?
Some regions like the Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea, and Caribbean Sea, are projected to have seriously low aragonite saturation more quickly than other important reef areas like those in the Central Pacific. The hard part about all of this is that these studies are looking at global patterns of ocean acidification and we now know that local processes can be even more important in affecting ocean chemistry than global processes. Reef-scale processes can either exacerbate or reduce the impacts of changing ocean chemistry, making it really hard to predict how one area will fare compared to another.

What next steps should a coral reef manager take after reading this article to address the impacts of ocean acidification at their site?
We need to reduce stressors as much as possible to support reef resilience. By keeping reefs healthy, they are better able to cope with the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. Specifically, we need to reduce land-based
sources of pollution; this is particularly important for managing OA because nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen can lower pH and aragonite saturation states in seawater. Managing herbivores is also critical because herbivores are really important for reef recovery following disturbance – keeping the algal growth in check so coral can settle and grow. The bottom line is that reducing stressors helps to support ecosystem health, and therefore, will help marine organisms focus their energy on growth, calcification, and reproduction as opposed to recovery from damage.

While doing research for this article, did you learn anything counter-intuitive or surprising about recommendations for managing for ocean acidification?
Yes. I was shocked by the large variations in pH and aragonite saturation states on some coral reefs. For example, on Heron Island Reef in the GBR, variations in pH and aragonite saturation state over one day were greater than the predicted changes in ocean chemistry globally by 2050. This is huge. This means that these local factors that can drive these reef-scale changes are really important!

Can you suggest further reading for managers interested in learning more about ocean acidification?
NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory has a great website and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution put together a really handy factsheet that has FAQs on ocean acidification. On this website you will find an overview of how ocean acidification works, and managing for ocean acidification.

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Opposite Latitudinal Gradients in Projected Ocean Acidification and Bleaching Impacts on Coral Reefs

A new Google Earth tool contains the most recent projections of coral bleaching and ocean acidification for all coral reef areas. The projections are based on climate models from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. Using this tool, managers can go to areas of interest and view: The years by which two thermal stress levels known to cause bleaching are projected to occur twice per decade and annually; Projected declines in aragonite saturation state as well as corresponding declines in calcification. The use of the tool and images obtained from it will help coral reef managers to communicate about the threats posed to reefs by climate change with their collegues, stakeholders and with policymakers. The associated paper summarizes the results of the projections and highlights that under the fossil-fuel aggressive emissions scenario, there are no refugia from the onset of annual severe bleaching or the effects of ocean acidification. Under this scenario, by 2053, 90% of all coral reef areas will experience annual severe bleaching. There are opposite latitudinal gradients in these threats to reefs, meaning that areas projected to experience annual bleaching later are exposed to the effects of acidification for longer.

Author: Van Hooidonk, R., J.A. Maynard, D. Manzello, and S. Planes
Year: 2013
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Global Change Biology 20: 103–112. doi:10.1111/gcb.12394

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Modelling Coral Reef Futures to Inform Management: Can Reducing Local-Scale Stressors Conserve Reefs under Climate Change?

A lack of understanding of the impacts of multiple stressors on coral reefs in a changing climate and the most effective management strategies was addressed in a recent paper using a simulation model. Researchers validated the model at four sites in Bolinao, the Philippines. The future reef state was projected for each site 40 years into the future under varying scenarios of cumulative impacts of poor water quality, fishing, and bleaching mortality. Management of water quality and fishing were found to have a significant impact on future reef condition. Simulated coral recovery following mortality caused by bleaching was highest at the least degraded sites and sites with the least impact from stressors. Poor water quality alone had a larger effect on overall reef state than the individual effect of fishing and bleaching. The authors highlight the importance to management of considering impacts of multiple stressors rather than considering them individually. For coral reef managers, the take away message is that managing local-scale stressors is critical to the future persistence of coral reefs in a changing climate.

Author: Gurney, G.G., J. Melbourne-Thomas, R.C. Geronimo, P.M. Alino, and C.R. Johnson
Year: 2013
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PLoS ONE 8(11): e80137. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080137

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Managing Resilience to Reverse Phase Shifts in Coral Reefs

In this article, the authors advocate for managing resilience of degrading ecosystems to reverse phase shifts from a macro-algal state back to a coral state, however they assert that it is unlikely that coral reefs will ever return to a pristine state. They suggest managing various factors- mainly managing herbivore fisheries- to support the resiliency of coral reefs during disturbance events. Citing an example in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, they discuss how a decades-long macro-algal state was shifted back to a coral state following a long period of time with no sunshine, leading to a algal die-off that was, importantly, supported by strong management regimes prohibiting herbivore fisheries. They discuss several fisheries management policies, such as gear restrictions or functional group restrictions (allowing catch of scarids and acanthurids while prohibiting catch of other important herbivores) that could reverse phase shifts. However, they emphasize the fact that these activities need to go hand-in-hand with global policy changes that slow climate change, and national policies that improve water quality.

Author:
Graham, N.A.J., D.R. Bellwood, J.E. Cinner, T.P. Hughes, A.V. Norström, and M. Nyström
Year: 2013
View Abstract
Email for the full article: resilience@tnc.org

Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11: 541–548. doi:10.1890/120305

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