Minimizing the Short-Term Impacts of Marine Reserves on Fisheries While Meeting Long-Term Goals for Recovery

No-take marine reserves are often proposed as management tools to recover small-scale fisheries, which, if enforced, can improve mid to long-term harvests and profits. However, the short-term losses may prevent fishers from supporting and implementing no-take reserves, resulting in a loss of recovery of fisheries. Trade-offs between short-term loss in profits and long-term benefits to small-scale fisheries were quantified, using a multispecies model of coral reef fisheries for one case study. Impacts of reserves at different time scales depend on the social and management context, but the key to gaining support for marine reserves is to quantify the trade-offs at different time scales for stakeholders and policy makers. Policies for implementing marine reserves that are flexible can offer options with less short-term losses for fisheries that can be more appealing to fishermen, while still reaping the long-term recovery benefits.

Author: Brown, C.J., S. Abdullah, and P.J. Mumby
Year: 2014
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Conservation Letters 8(3): 180-189

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Coral Reef Disturbance and Recovery Dynamics Differ Across Gradients of Localized Stressors in the Mariana Islands

Disturbance and recovery patters of coral reefs in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands were studied over a 12-year period, including Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS) densities, localized stressors, and natural disturbances such as tropical storms. COTS densities caused significant coral decline, however, the ability of reefs to recover was most influenced by localized stressors, in particular, grazing urchin densities and herbivore sizes. Reefs on Saipan had the highest disturbance impacts, with smaller fish sizes, grazing urchins, and water quality, even though they had the most favorable geological features for coral growth. These reefs are also subject to reef-based tourism, which is important to CNMI’s economy and thus deserves a hard look at how to improve fish assemblages, urchin populations, and local water quality concerns.

Author: Houk, P., D. Benavente, J. Iguel, S. Johnson, and R. Okano
Year: 2014
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PLoS ONE 9(8): e105731. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0105731

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The Micronesia Challenge: Assessing The Relative Contribution Of Stressors On Coral Reefs To Facilitate Science-To-Management Feedback

The Micronesia Challenge is an international conservation strategy initiated by the political leaders of 6 tropical island nations to conserve at least 30% of marine resources by 2020. Growing population and a shift towards cash-based economies have started to erode the traditional sources of sustainable reef management and have increased pressure upon marine resources. This study examined the effects of human populations on the diversity, function and status of coral reef ecosystems across Micronesia by assessing ecosystem condition to evaluate conservation goals of the Challenge, examining the distribution and variance of ecosystem condition as indicators of ecological stability and looking at the role of two stressors – fishing and pollution – in driving ecosystem metrics. Results showed that fishing pressure was a primary determinant of ecosystem condition across the majority of locations studied. Reef habitats that were most impacted by localized stressors also had the least stable ecosystem condition scores. In conclusion, habitats close to urban centers may require more management effort and may show less of a positive response to management than distant sites. Also, fish assemblages appeared to have a hierarchical influence upon coral-reef ecosystems compared with localized pollution. Prioritizing management upon herbivore size and diversity may best preserve the trophic relationships responsible for ecosystem services that coral reefs provide to the Micronesian island nations.

Author: Houk, P., R. Camacho, S. Johnson, M. McLean, S. Maxin, J. Anson, E. Joseph, O. Nedlic, M. Luckymis, K. Adams, D. Hess, E. Kabua, A. Yaon, E. Buthung, C. Graham, T. Leberer, B. Taylor, and R. van Woesik
Year: 2015
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PLoS ONE 10(6): e0130823/ doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0130823

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We’re excited to announce a new coral reef fisheries module!

Coral reef fishery managers have spoken up, and we heard you! TNC’s Global Fisheries and Reef Resilience have teamed up to bring you the latest coral reef fisheries science and management strategies.

The new Coral Reef Fisheries Module was created through generous funding from partners including WildAid and covers key topics including coral reef fisheries stock assessment methods, tools for managing fisheries, and surveillance and enforcement systems.

You will also find coral reef fisheries case studies describing management challenges and actions taken and helpful summaries on the importance of reef fisheries and what you can do to boost their resilience. Now DIVE IN to explore!

If you are interested in adding a section to the new reef fisheries module, or have comments, questions, or suggestions about Reef Resilience, visit or reach out to the Reef Resilience Team.

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Hawaii – Coral Disease

Detection of a Coral Disease Outbreak in Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi and Lessons for the Future

Hanalei, Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi

The Challenge
Hanalei, on the North Shore of Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi, is a small community of about 450 permanent residents. The Hanalei region is rich in biodiversity and cultural tradition and is home to species of high conservation value. Five ahupuaʻa, the traditional Hawaiian land division, drain into Hanalei Bay. There are also three culturally important fish ponds, a traditional Hawaiian aquaculture technique that encloses or diverts stream waters into an enclosed near shore area for purposes of rearing fish for local consumption. The Hanalei River is one of fourteen American heritage Rivers in the United States.

Hanalei River and Valley

Hanalei River and Valley. © Hanalei Watershed Hui

Tourism is the main economic driver on Kauaʻi. Many community members operate small-scale tourism businesses. On the North Shore, only about 25% of the residents are long-term, permanent residents; many residential properties have been converted to vacation rentals, with many of these visitors and seasonal residents originating from the mainland United States.

The community is highly engaged in natural resource management and planning and has identified major causes of land-based pollution including the conversion of single family homes to more intense commercial uses, inefficient waste water management systems, natural erosion, over-use of fertilizers, and erosion and disturbance caused by feral pigs. Strong wave action characterizes the ocean waters surrounding Hanalei, ensuring that the water surrounding Hanalei’s reefs are generally well mixed and water residence times are low.

Answering media questions

Answering media questions about the coral disease response.
© Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources

In 2004, scientists studying the reefs on the North Shore of Kauaʻi first observed a black band coral disease at low levels. Then, in 2012, outbreak levels of the disease were reported to the volunteer reporting network, Eyes of the Reef (EOR). Scientists with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), University of Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (UH), and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have now confirmed that the disease affects three species of rice corals (Montipora capitata, M. patula, and M. flabellata), and, with some variation across sites, approximately 1-8% of colonies of these species. While these percentages are relatively low, Montipora corals are the dominant reef-building corals on North Shore reefs and therefore the disease has the potential to have a significant impact on reef structure and function. Black band coral disease can move through a coral colony very fast. Typically a disease front of cyanobacteria can be observed. It leaves behind dead coral tissue and algae covers the exposed skeleton.

Actions Taken

black band disease

Documenting the impact of the black band disease. © Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources

Once the Eyes of the Reef Network confirmed the coral disease outbreak, USGS, UH, and NOAA conducted an initial assessment, according to the established protocol of the Rapid Response Contingency Plan (RRCP). The RRCP provides the Hawaiʻi Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and its partners with a plan to respond to events affecting reef health, including coral disease, coral bleaching, and crown-of-thorn starfish (COTS) outbreaks. The first step after receiving the report was getting partner scientists and government biologists to confirm and assess the extent of the disease. In 2012, a UH microbiology laboratory identified a cyanobacteria responsible for the disease, similar to diseases that have been observed in the Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific. A UH doctoral student surveyed Kauaʻi’s reefs in 2013 and confirmed that the disease was predominantly affecting the North Shore (86% of the 21 northern surveyed sites had the disease present, while only one site out of four in the south had the disease). The press covered the disease outbreak extensively, which brought attention and community concern about the issue.

Lesions from black band disease

Lesions from black band disease on a coral (healthy coral is to the left of the disease front, dead coral is to the right). © University of Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology

There is relatively little known about coral diseases and less about how to manage diseased reefs; therefore, research is a major part of the first phase response. DAR partners are currently undertaking studies on diverse topics including disease transmission, potential treatments, the influence of coral health on coral susceptibility to the black band coral disease, how environmental factors correlate to the incidences of black band disease, and an experimental treatment option. This research will provide essential information to more effectively identify management options.

Members of the coral disease laboratory at University of Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology have been piloting an experimental treatment for affected coral colonies. Application of marine epoxy putty to edges of the disease lesions on affected corals has been found to effectively stop or slow disease progression on corals and a larger trial of effectiveness is a next step.

How Successful Has it Been?
In January 2014, DAR formed a Management Response Team with the partners that conducted the initial disease assessment as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), DAR biologists and education specialists, and a coral specialist from the Kewalo Marine Laboratory. The purpose of the Team, as described in the Rapid Response Contingency Plan, is to review incoming data regarding the disease outbreak, communicate the event to the public, and evaluate management options. Thus far, the team has prioritized projects that will identify environmental drivers for the disease, evaluate potential management strategies, and launched a website where they will continue to post the latest information about the response. The black band disease outbreak is ongoing and no recovery can be reported as of yet.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and key recommendations include:

    • A plan facilitates a coordinated response. The existence of the Rapid Response Contingency Plan enabled DAR and its partners to respond to the black band coral disease in an organized manner. Some diseases move quickly and can cover large areas, so it is good to be prepared and to know what resources are available to respond to these events.
summer camp about coral health

DAR staff teaching a local summer camp about coral health. © Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources

  • Community involvement is key. The citizen science network Eyes of the Reef is able to recognize coral disease outbreaks more quickly than if DAR staff had been working alone. In this case, community members expanded the capacity of managers to monitor for coral disease disturbances and will play a key role in the reef’s recovery.
  • Communication is critical when responding to this type of disturbance. Having a communication plan or involving a communication expert from the beginning would have aided the team in informing all partners and the community on Kauaʻi of what was known about the coral disease and about the research being done.
  • Contingency funding continues to be a substantial barrier. It is difficult because you cannot predict when, where, and how much funding will be needed for a disease event. A finance plan needs to be created that will allow funds to be isolated specifically for coral disease, bleaching, and COTS disturbances.
  • Partnerships are essential. Investigating a coral disease takes a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, managers, NGOs, communication experts, community leaders, private sector participants, etc. Collaboration can allow more resources to be leveraged in a timely and efficient way during a coral disease disturbance. DAR is building on this lesson by establishing the first global learning exchange of managers who respond to these types of coral reef impacts at the September 2014 U.S Coral Reef Task Force Meeting.


Funding Summary
Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR)The School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST)University of Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB)US Geological Survey (USGS)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (NOAA-CRED)Several additional community partners also contributed resources and supplies

Lead Organizations (Management Response Team Members)
Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources
University of Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine BiologyNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Coral Reef Ecosystem Division
The Environmental Protection Agency, Pacific Island Region
U.S. Geological Survey Wildlife Health Center
University of Hawaiʻi Kewalo Marine Laboratory
University of Hawaiʻi Department of Microbiology

Bubbles Below
Eyes of the Reef
Hanalei Watershed Hui
Kauaʻi Community College
Seasport Divers
Waipa Foundation

Reef Response: Black Band Coral Disease On Kauaʻi
Eyes of the Reef Network
Reefology 101, Coral Health and Ecology Forum
Hawaii Coral Reef Strategy, State of Hawaii (pdf)

Written by: Anne Rosinski, Marine Resource Specialist, Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaiʻi Department of Land & Natural Resources
Makaʻala Kaʻaumoana, Hanalei Watershed Hui

This case study was adapted from: Cullman, G. (ed.) 2014. Resilience Sourcebook: Case studies of social-ecological resilience in island systems. Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY.

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Palau – Fisheries Management

Reforming Palau’s Data-Poor Reef Fisheries through Community-Based Approaches

Babeldaob, Ollei, Palau

Aerial view of Palau known as "70 Mile Islands" as well as the rich coral reef surrounding them. © Ian Shive

Aerial view of Palau known as “70 Mile Islands” as well as the rich coral reef surrounding them. © Ian Shive

The Challenge
Palau is composed of 12 inhabited islands and over 700 islets stretching over 700 km. It has numerous island and reef types, including volcanic and raised limestone islands, atolls, barrier reefs around much of the main island cluster, and fringing reefs in the south. Palau has the most diverse coral fauna of Micronesia, including approximately 400 species of hard corals, 300 species of soft corals, 1400 species of reef fishes, thousands of invertebrates, and Micronesia’s only saltwater crocodiles.

For centuries, Palau’s waters have provided sustenance. The Northern Reefs – the second largest fishing ground in Palau – are depended on by fishers and the surrounding communities for food, livelihoods, and income. In fact, Palauans have some of the highest per capita fish consumption compared to other regions in the Pacific. But modern fishing practices and a growing tourism industry have increased fishing pressures here. Even though Palau has a deeply-rooted conservation ethic and a large network of marine protected areas (MPAs), the increased fishing pressure has not been able to keep stocks sustainable, and there is a growing awareness that protected areas alone are insufficient to maintain viable fish populations.

To manage a fishery sustainably, it is necessary to have information about the stock: how many fish, what species, how quickly they grow and reproduce, and how many can be harvested without putting the fishery in danger of collapse. But traditional stock assessments are so expensive and resource intensive, requiring years of data collected by trained experts at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars or more per stock, that they are prohibitive for most fisheries, especially those in developing countries. And without the stock data to inform management decisions, data-poor fisheries like those in Palau’s Northern Reefs can easily become overfished, threatening the livelihoods and food security of the people who depend on them.

Mature gonads of an emperor fish caught for the Palau Stock Assessment Project. © Andrew Smith

Mature gonads of an emperor fish caught for the Palau Stock Assessment Project. © Andrew Smith

Actions Taken
In 2012, The Nature Conservancy established a pilot project in the Northern Reefs to assess stock status using data-limited stock assessment techniques, to improve fisheries management through a community-driven approach, and to rebuild fish stocks. From August 2012 to June 2013, trained fishers helped scientists collect data on species, size, and maturity for about 2,800 fish caught in Palau’s waters. They measured their own catch as well as fish for sale at the country’s only fish market, Happy Fish Market. Palauans like to buy their fish whole, so gutting market fish to assess gonads was not initially a welcome idea with the fish sellers at the Happy Fish Market, but a $300 ‘rental’ fee negotiated with the local women sellers gave researchers access to 600 pounds of fish for data collection – a fantastic resource that also provided an opportunity to discuss Palau’s overfishing problem with a broad community of fish sellers and buyers.

The data-poor technique relies on sample size ratios to assess how much spawning is happening and how much is enough. At its most basic, the technique uses two pieces of local data, size of fish and maturity of fish, combined with existing biological information, to produce a ratio of spawning potential. As a general rule, if fish can achieve at least 20% of their natural lifetime spawning, a fishery can sustain itself. Less than that and the fishery will decline. While 20% is the minimum number, scientists hope to see fisheries achieving 30–50% of natural spawning. The findings in Palau were worrisome, showing that 60% of fish catch were juvenile, achieving just 3–5% of their lifetime spawning. The consequences of this were clear: if most fish are not reproducing, in a short time there will be no more fish.

Fishery managers and scientists have been presenting the findings of the pilot project at community meetings across Palau. With the new knowledge provided by the data, Palau’s northern fishing communities have moved quickly toward developing management strategies that could restore fish populations.

Measuring fish length as part of the Palau Stock Assessment Project. © Andrew Smith

Measuring fish length as part of the Palau Stock Assessment Project. © Andrew Smith

How Successful Has It Been?
Everyone involved in the project, from scientists to fishers, are optimistic that Palau’s reefs will soon be on the road to recovery, but management and policy reforms are still needed. Palau is moving in this direction by developing policies that shift fishing access from modern open access to rights-based systems, such as reef assignment. Fishery managers are working to integrate fishery management tools, such as minimum and maximum size limits, protection of key spawning aggregations, and improvements in the design of the nationwide network of protected areas into their fishery management strategy. Stakeholders are striving to establish nationally mandated fishery data collection at key market locations as well as a long-term fishery monitoring program using improved underwater fish monitoring methods that will provide the data needed for data-limited stock assessments.

Finally, the success of any natural resource management depends greatly on enforcement and compliance. In March 2014, The Nature Conservancy and WildAid partnered to design an enforcement system for Palau’s Northern Reefs that is practical, affordable, and feasible to implement over a four-year time frame. The system provides strategic sensor coverage to key fishing areas, MPAs, and access ways. The strategy combines high-power video cameras and a robust VHF marine radio network with the strategic placement of buoys, patrol vessels, and a floating barge to provide a constant presence and fast response capacity throughout both Marine Managed Areas (MMAs).

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Solving the overfishing problem is never easy – there are trade-offs and sacrifices.
  • Management options range from imposing size limits to closing areas for a certain length of time until fish populations can rebound. But these choices, which tend to be contentious and complicated to work out, are much easier to adopt and apply when fishers are part of assessing the problem and are engaged in discussing the solutions.
  • Cooperative effort between scientists and fishers has been key to the success of the project. Palauan fishers’ extensive knowledge and experience helped inform the scientific process and increase community awareness of the problem.

Funding Summary
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Palau Protected Areas Network Fund

Lead Organizations
The Nature Conservancy

Palau International Coral Reef Center
Palau Conservation Society
Bureau of Marine Resources
Palau Protected Areas Network Office
Murdoch University

Video: A Breakthrough for Data-Poor Fisheries Starts in Palau

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Ecuador – Fisheries Management

Patrolling Paradise: The Evolution of Enforcement in the Galapagos

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Enforcement map

The Galapagos Marine Reserve and Respective Economic Exclusive Zone. © Google Earth

The Challenge
The Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) is the fourth-largest marine reserve in the world at approximately 133,000 km2. The GMR was formally created in 1998 via the Special Law for the Sustainable Development and Conservation of the Province of Galapagos (LOREG) and extends 40 nautical miles from its baseline around the islands. The islands have unique geographic and geological characteristics and are situated at the intersection of four oceanic currents. This helped produce the unique biodiversity that is found there today, earning them the reputation of a ‘living laboratory of evolution’ among scientists and researchers. Today, the combination of growing tourism and fishing industries, which support the livelihoods of the islands’ inhabitants, also threatens their isolation and biodiversity.

The sheer size of the marine reserve, a thriving year-round population of 28,000 inhabitants, and over 200,000 tourists a year pose numerous challenges to the conservation of the archipelago. The primary conservation and management challenges facing the Galapagos marine environment are illustrated by the following:

  • The artisanal fishing sector that resides within the archipelago includes 1,000 fishers and a total of 355 vessels. Key fisheries include lobster, sea cucumber, tuna, and several species of whitefish.
  • The national fishing fleet is the largest tuna fleet in the South Pacific. Key fisheries include tuna and whitefish.
  • International fishing vessels come from Colombia and Costa Rica. Key fisheries include tuna, sharks, and whitefish.
  • 85 liveaboards and more than 20 day-tour and inter-island vessels circulate throughout the archipelago.
  • Cargo and petroleum tankers arrive weekly to three key ports.

Seventeen years after the establishment of the GMR, important advances in fisheries regulations and enforcement have been made in terms of patrol fleet size, infrastructure, human resources, and institutional development. The management of marine resources, however, is still a complicated matter, especially due to the constant pressure placed on resources and the need for technical and human coordination in the maintenance of the patrol fleet.

Actions Taken
WildAid, in cooperation with partners, is working to make the GMR one of the best-protected marine areas in the developing world. Their ongoing project aims to stop illegal fishing and improve the fisheries management capacity of the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS). Effective management of the GMR cannot succeed without effective law enforcement and compliance efforts. There is no one ‘silver bullet’ approach to monitoring. WildAid has strengthened the surveillance and interdiction capacity of the GNPS by introducing cutting-edge technology systems while ensuring fast response capacity to intercept illegal fishers once they are identified by the system. The aim is to institutionalize the operation of these systems and establish core operating procedures for all departments involved in the control and vigilance of the GMR.

Patrol Asset Accumulation
Prior to 1998 and the promulgation of LOREG, the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) focused only on the management of terrestrial areas and did not have capacity for marine enforcement. It is also important to note that prior to the LOREG, the Ecuadorian tuna fleet had complete access to the archipelago, while after 1998 the industrial fleet no longer had access to one of their primary fishing grounds. Since the creation of the GMR in 1998, initial enforcement efforts focused on the procurement of patrol vessels and equipment, the construction of a marine resources office, and the training of marine park wardens. By 2005, the GNPS procured and received numerous donations for an impressive list of assets: 11 patrol vessels, one floating base, a terrestrial base, and a four-seat patrol plane. GNPS maintenance capacity was not able to keep pace with asset acquisitions, and by 2006 most vessels were in disrepair. The asset accumulation also resulted in more personnel, fuel, lubricants, and per diems required to maintain operations. In order to address some of these issues, WildAid and Conservation International (CI) focused on developing the local maintenance capacity of the GNPS fleet to ensure uninterrupted patrolling of the GMR and on supplying technology to help reduce surveillance costs. Examples of the technologies employed are described below.

Technology Options for Surveillance and Interdiction

In 2009, WildAid helped implement a Satellite Vessel Monitoring System (SVMS) to track the exact position and speed of all large vessels traveling within the reserve on an hourly basis. In the first year, 32 vessels were apprehended using SVMS and the Rapid Response Patrol Fleet. © WildAid

In 2009, WildAid helped implement a Satellite Vessel Monitoring System (SVMS) to track the exact position and speed of all large vessels traveling within the reserve on an hourly basis. In the first year, 32 vessels were apprehended using SVMS and the Rapid Response Patrol Fleet. © WildAid

Collaborative monitoring systems require active location transceivers on board of vessels. Location messages include information such as: vessel name, latitude, longitude, course, and speed. A specific regulatory law must be promulgated to obligate vessel owners to purchase and activate on-board transceivers. If the location device is disconnected, the shore stations and control centers will not see the vessel’s position. As law violators tend to deactivate transceivers, regulations must consider stiff penalties for opportunistic tampering by stakeholders. A major drawback of these systems is that they will not detect fishers from other areas or countries which do not employ transceivers.

  • Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) for Monitoring the National Commercial Fleet. WildAid and partners worked with the Navy and environmental authorities to promulgate a law in March 2009 requiring all vessels above 20 GT to use VMS. Stiff penalties were included for transceiver deactivation and violators lost access to subsidized fuel. VMS transceiver signal frequency was set to hourly for Ecuadorian vessels, while the International Maritime Organization (IMO) standard is 6 hours. The vessel owners were required to pay for the monthly service. This was a 3-year process initiated in 2006, and both the Navy and the GNPS shared access to data and received control centers to monitor vessel movement.
  • Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) for Monitoring Commercial and Artisanal Vessels. Shore-based infrastructure supporting AIS was also donated and installed throughout the archipelago in 2012; however, it has been largely ineffective as there is no legislation to date mandating the use of AIS transceivers.

Non-collaborative monitoring systems are the best equipment option when detecting vessels that are intentionally carrying out illegal activities in specific geographic areas or in the absence of collaborative systems. Systems are often layered to make up for the deficiencies of one particular technology by using the strengths of another. For example, radar systems often complement AIS systems in order to detect foreign vessels or vessels that have intentionally deactivated their transceivers.

  • Patrol Plane for the Surveillance of Commercial and Artisanal Vessels. Given the vast expanse of the GMR, the GNPS procured a four-seat airplane with the help of USAID. Given the high cost of vessel operations, the patrol plane was first thought to be an excellent surveillance tool; however, over time it has become quite expensive, as all parts must be imported and the plane requires insurance, special fuel, a full-time mechanic, and pilot. This has also been complicated by the fact that the plane manufacturer shut down in 2009.
  • Vigilance Posts for Monitoring Artisanal Sea Cucumber and Lobster Fisheries. Given that many of these highly productive fisheries are concentrated in specific areas, the GNPS set up vigilance posts at key sites where fishing pressure is strongest. The physical presence of park rangers with binoculars and VHF marine radios has been the most effective system for specific geographic areas.
  • High Power Video Cameras and Radars for the Surveillance of all Vessel Activity at Ports. WildAid, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and CI completed the installation of harbor surveillance radars and video cameras at three key ports in November 2013. The additional sensors are extremely useful tools for both GNPS and Coast Guard authorities in the enforcement of local fishing, tourism, and maritime trafficking regulations. The cameras have been especially helpful for infractions such as fuel contraband, illegal fishing, overloaded inter-island passenger boats, and the cleaning of fish at port among others. Both the port captain and the GNPS control center coordinate with a staffed zodiac in the bay, which is able to respond swiftly as violations are identified. The radar is specifically useful for identifying vessels entering and leaving the bays with illegal contraband and with location transceivers deliberately turned off.

Institutionalizing Operating Procedures and the Maintenance of Vessels
WildAid and partners aim to institutionalize the operation of these systems and establish core operating procedures for all departments involved in the control and vigilance of the GMR. This is very important because the technology and the systems are only as useful as those who are trained to operate and maintain them. Activities include:

    • Developing control center, patrol, and boarding standard operating protocols with the GNPS Marine Resource Department.
    • Providing technical support to the GNPS IT Department for the development of software to systematize all field patrolling activities and provide the information to the Maintenance Department. The software generates reports with respect to vessel hours navigated, crew hours, patrol tracks, findings, spare parts required, and follow-up on maintenance orders.
    • Establishing a baseline for the state of the patrol fleet that includes operational and maintenance costs. Based on this information, the GNPS began prioritizing its maintenance strategy, additionally carrying out periodic third party technical audits to monitor maintenance plan execution.
    • Periodic training programs on engine and electrical maintenance for personnel operating the vessels of the park service.
    • Developing a protocol for handling each of the environmental and constitutional criminal proceedings carried out by the GNPS legal department in all their stages to expedite the handling of GMR administrative and criminal cases. Given high levels of lawyer turnover with the GNPS, the database and protocols are key in helping maintain continuity and ensuring the rule of law.

How Successful Has It Been?
The GNPS currently possesses one of the most sophisticated electronic monitoring systems in the developing world and a fleet of fast response vessels to intercept illegal fishers once they are identified by the system. However, improvement has not been linear. Given the political nature of the GNPS, periods of progress have been rolled back due to turnover of directors and key employees. Despite these setbacks, the enforcement of the GMR has improved substantially. As shown on the map, most commercial fishing vessels respect the 40 nautical mile marine reserve. There is not full compliance, however, as some commercial fishers circumvent satellite detection by towing small fiberglass vessels so they can enter the GMR undetected. Regardless of all the technological innovations, vessels are still needed for interdiction. WildAid and partners continue to work with the GNPS to improve vessel readiness, optimize resource allocation, and institutionalize key protocols for efficient operations. Eventually, the GNPS will possess robust systems and highly trained personnel to execute an effective compliance program that ensures the sustainable harvesting of marine resources.

30 Day Time Lapse Image of the Galapagos Marine Reserve as Seen from the GNPS Control Center. © GNPS

30 Day Time Lapse Image of the Galapagos Marine Reserve as Seen from the GNPS Control Center. © GNPS

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Political will, particularly in terms of the enforcement of laws and regulations by authorities, is the most important factor for enforcing regulations and MPA management. Political will can come from many sources, such as the public, law makers, NGOs, the authorities, and other stakeholders.
  • Without appropriate legislation, collaborative system technology is largely ineffective for vessel monitoring. In addition, there must be penalties/incentives for proper use and to avoid deactivation.
  • All asset acquisitions must be performance driven and not dictated by donors. The GNPS received patrol vessels and other assets from donors who had the best of intentions; however, their maintenance proved too costly and resulted in a drain on their operating budget.
  • Technology is only a tool. Institutional capacity and human resources must be invested in to operate and maintain the systems and ultimately enforce rules and regulations.
  • Given high staff turnover, the elaboration of standard operating protocols for key maritime vigilance processes is crucial for ensuring continuity and preventing informal interpretations of rules and regulations.
  • The elaboration of simple measures such as vessel logs, checklists, and job aides help ensure predictive maintenance vs. costly corrective repairs.
  • The physical presence of an authority (boats in the water) still remains one of the best deterrents to illegal fishing within the GMR.

Funding Summary
WildAid: $2M
Conservation International: $2M
World Wildlife Fund and Sea Shepherd: $2.5M
USAID: $1.5M

Lead Organizations
Conservation International
World Wildlife Fund

Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS)
Ecuadorian Navy

WildAid Marine Protection

This case study was provided by WildAid. For further information please contact: Marcel Bigue at or click here.

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Sewage Pollution: Mitigation Is Key For Coral Reef Stewardship

In this new paper, the authors highlight the importance of addressing sewage, a global stressor affecting coral reefs. The authors note that of 112 coral reef geographies, 104 have documented sewage contamination problems, with the majority documenting direct ocean discharge. Despite this threat, the authors find that scientists and conservationists have paid less attention to understanding and abating sewage impacts on coral reefs, as compared to other stressors like overfishing. They suggest that reasons for this include the challenges of dealing with a large-scale diffuse threat, the diversity of pollutants involved, the high cost of water-treatment facilities, and bureaucracy. The authors explore how sewage discharge is often mischaracterized as a single stressor in coral reef management and suggest that it is important to recognize that sewage is a conglomerate of many potentially toxic and distinct stressors, including freshwater, inorganic nutrients, pathogens, endocrine disrupters, suspended solids, sediments, heavy metals, and other toxins. The authors state that mitigating the threat of sewage pollution will require: 1) understanding tolerance thresholds that corals have to sewage exposure, evaluating individual contaminants, additive, and synergistic combinations of contaminants; 2) quantifying the spatial extent and magnitude of the sewage discharge problems; and, most importantly, (3) testing both proactive and reactive strategies that can be employed to reduce the adverse impacts of human sewage in tropical coastal waters.

Author: Wear, S.L. and R. Vega-Thurber
Year: 2015
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Annuals of the New York Academy of Sciences: 1–16. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12785

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Micronesia – Predator Outbreaks

A Well-Developed Community-Based Marine Protected Area Proves Resilient to a Crown-of-Thorns Sea Star Outbreak

Nimpal Channel Marine Conservation Area, Yap, Federated States of Micronesia

The Challenge
Yap State is situated in the westernmost region of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The main island of Yap State is located within the Indo-Pacific center of biodiversity. The island is approximately 100 square kilometers, with a densely vegetated and hilly landscape. It is home to 7400 residents spread over 10 municipalities, a relatively small population compared to the other states of Micronesia. The population and urban center are slowly growing, placing increasing pressure on the islands’ natural resources for subsistence and economic gain.

The Nimpal Channel is located off the central-western coast of Yap. Both Okaw and Kaday villages have their fishing grounds associated with the Nimpal Channel. The villages are within the municipality of Weloy, home to approximately 1000 residents. In 2005, a men’s village meeting was called to address the ongoing problem of overfishing in their channel, and decided to seek help and information from outside their community. In 2006, a rapid ecological assessment (REA) was conducted across Yap Proper, including the Nimpal region, so that stakeholders could get a better sense of the current status of their resources. The coral-reef monitoring and assessment team for the REA process consisted of many knowledgeable fishermen from Okaw and Kaday villages, as well as regional scientists with local and global expertise. Following data collection and reporting efforts, and realizing that Nimpal’s resources were not as well off as many other places in Yap due to both natural causes and local fishing pressures, these two villages began discussing their desire to set aside part of their reefs as no-take fishing areas.

Monitoring seagrass beds. © Nimpal Channel MCA.

Monitoring seagrass beds. © Nimpal Channel MCA.

While the Nimpal Channel is very narrow (approximately 0.5 kilometers in width) and has only a limited mangrove stand associated with it, the two communities proposed to make it a Marine Conservation Area (MCA). Through the REA process, marine scientists recommended areas for protection that were larger, deeper, and had more extensive connections with nearshore mangrove habitats known to nourish juvenile fish populations. To marine scientists, the area that Okaw and Kaday proposed to set aside was clearly influential for the locally-owned marine resources, yet was smaller in size and harbored less biological diversity in comparison to other larger and more extensive channel systems nearby. In short, this was not the most ideal area to bolster fishery resources based upon ecological criteria alone. However, the timing was right, and the two communities strongly supported management in that area. Shortly after, in May 2008, Okaw and Kaday, in partnership, publically declared the Nimpal Channel as a Marine Conservation Area with technical support from the Yap Community Action Program.

Within only 1-2 years, monitoring results began to document improved fishery resources in the conservation area. These positive results were an immediate testament to strong community support for management, and dedicated local enforcement. Four years after formalizing the Nimpal Channel Marine Conservation Area, in 2012, a more formal scientific assessment of the channel reefs highlighted that the reef’s condition is second-highest among other MCAs in the region despite having one of the smallest extents. The MCA exceeded the expectations of many marine scientists and changed the way they thought about establishing new marine protected areas going forward. In this case, strong social acceptance and enforcement was more important than ecological criteria.

A crown-of-thorns starfish on a reef in Yap outside of Nimpal MCA. © Peter Houk

A crown-of-thorns starfish on a reef in Yap outside of Nimpal MCA. © Peter Houk

In late spring 2009, Acanthaster planci, commonly known as the crown-of-thorns sea star (COTS), began populating the coral reefs around Micronesia (from Pohnpei westward to Yap). A. planci is a carnivorous species of starfish that preferentially preys upon hard corals such as Acropora spp. and Montipora spp. A. planci were first quantified in monitoring programs off the southwest coast of Yap, and anecdotal reports from fishermen and data suggested a northward migration up the west coast of the island.

Actions Taken
Healthy coral reef systems with high levels of fishery resources have been shown to be resistant to the threat of an A. planci outbreak based upon recent evidence from places like the Great Barrier Reef and Fiji. While the exact mechanism remains elusive, there appears to be some added resistance to these natural disturbance events from healthy fish populations through predation and/or other biological interactions. Reefs that have already been stressed by increased sedimentation, reefs with low numbers of predators due to overfishing, and reefs with low coral diversity have proven most vulnerable to A. planci predation.

Acropora coral showing feeding scars from crown-of-thorns starfish on a reef outside of Nimpal MCA in Yap. © Peter Houk

Acropora coral showing feeding scars from crown-of-thorns starfish on a reef outside of Nimpal MCA in Yap. © Peter Houk

This outbreak of A. planci was not a new threat for Yap. A. planci outbreaks have been described as natural, cyclical events. There are a few theories on why the outbreaks occur. Some experts theorize that COTS outbreaks occur when the sea stars ‘sense’ oceanic conditions are most conducive for their larval offspring to successfully develop, and hence the initial outbreaks may be triggered by some form of nutrient enrichment in the surface waters near coral reefs. Following spawning from initial population outbreaks, it has also been hypothesized that larvae may get caught in ocean currents and somehow influence secondary starfish outbreaks downstream. In Yap, the single most significant COTS event was documented in the early 1970s, although there is local knowledge of smaller outbreaks over the years.

To the local community, the sea stars are well known, but their lifecycles remain mysterious. Locals understand the origins of threats to the reefs like bleaching, sedimentation, and overfishing; however outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns sea stars just suddenly occur without any obvious proximal cause. During the 2009 A. planci outbreak there was no official attempt on Yap to remove the sea stars from their reefs, but fishermen noted their presence. In the case of the Nimpal MCA, the communities did not choose to remove starfish because of adherence to the established no-take MCA policy.

How Successful Has it Been?
The recovery of the coral reefs to the A. planci outbreak in Yap varied. A recent study revisited the study sites where coral populations were monitored as part of the 2006 REA survey and found interesting results. Many reefs along the western coast of Yap showed an expected decline in coral colony sizes and diversity, yet there was one unique exception. The Nimpal Channel MCA appeared to be more resilient to the disturbance event compared with sites to the north and south of this channel. Remarkably, no sea stars were found in the protected area during surveys shortly after the COTS event. In fact, monitoring of the area during the disturbance revealed an increase in coral colony sizes, no significant change in diversity within coral groups, and consistently high fish biomass. Reefs in the protected area showed high abundances of Porites spp. (the less desired coral for A. planci) but Acropora spp. also remained throughout the disturbance period. The area’s resistance to COTS is hypothesized to be due to an intact predator fish population and high coral diversity.

Community participants in a planning workshop. © Nimpal Channel MCA

Community participants in a planning workshop. © Nimpal Channel MCA

In contrast, formerly diverse reefs with extensive coral growth, such as off the southwestern tip of Yap, had the greatest coral reef damage after the sea star outbreak, with little recovery reported as of 2013. Other coral reefs to the north of the Nimpal Channel MCA started to recover in 2012, but recovery has been a slow process and remains ongoing. These findings suggest that the establishment of the locally-managed MCA may have benefitted the resilience of Nimpal’s reefs, and might be supporting recovery along adjacent reefs.

This case study highlights the importance of well-managed marine protected areas for weathering disturbance events. Nimpal Channel MCA appeared to provide added resistance to the COTS disturbance through a series of highly influential, but still poorly understood, ecological processes.

Installing monitoring equipment. © Nimpal Channel MCA

Installing monitoring equipment. © Nimpal Channel MCA

While the Nimpal Channel MCA was initially established to aid fish stock recovery, it was later found to have added benefits of enhanced resistance to COTS. The success of the Nimpal Channel Marine Conservation Area in both enhancing fish populations and mitigating the damage done by the 2009 disturbance continues to be a very popular and productive discussion at regional management meetings across Micronesia. This example shows that marine protected areas have additional benefits that we are only beginning to understand. Certainly the list of benefits will grow into the future.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
People, rather than biology and science, are most important to think about when establishing a marine protected area. Without the community’s dedication to protecting their channel, the Nimpal Channel Marine Conservation Area would never have been established. Based on biological considerations and the small size of the managed area, scientists felt other areas were better suited to set aside as a protected area; it was only through the community’s will and support that their protected area was established. Science is used to drive management recommendations, but other factors might be more relevant for successful management.

The success of a marine protected area is dependent on community involvement and knowledge. The success of the Nimpal Channel MCA is due to community-based decisions based in traditional ecological knowledge and supported by scientific measures. Consequently, the Nimpal Channel MCA is one of the few functioning protected areas in Yap.

Quantitative monitoring is essential for responding to increased frequency and intensity of disturbances. Identify critical biological thresholds in your management area. Reef ecosystems are complex systems that can behave in a non-linear manner (for instance, the decline of a predator fish population might not have the effect of reducing a reef’s resistance to an A. planci outbreak until the predator fish population declines past a critical threshold). Part of this non-linear behavior is related to trophic interactions (interactions between predators and prey, for example). Science has not fully explained trophic interactions and thresholds in coral reef systems. Disturbances are becoming more and more frequent; there might be a COTS outbreak one year and a bleaching event the next year. Because of the increasing frequency and severity of threats to coral reefs, it is important to collect quantifiable data to be able to perceive rates of change. For example, monitoring fish biomass in your area can be a good starting point to understanding how fish biomass is related to reef resilience. The relative level of biomass within different trophic levels may be related to the maintenance of coral reefs through time.

Funding Summary and Partners

Kaday Community and Cultural Development Organization
Pacific Marine Resources Institute
Yap Community Action Program
Marine Laboratory, University of Guam
Water and Environmental Resource Institute of the Western Pacific, University of Guam
Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC)
The Nature Conservancy Micronesia Program
Micronesian Conservation Trust
Conservation International’s Pacific Islands Program
Pacific Development & Conservation Trust
OneReef Micronesia

Written by: Peter Houk, Marine Laboratory, University of Guam
Berna Gorong, Kaday Community and Cultural Development Organization
Eva Buthung, Yap Community Action Program, Marine Program

This case study was adapted from: Cullman, G. (ed.) 2014. Resilience Sourcebook: Case studies of social-ecological resilience in island systems. Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY.

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