British Virgin Islands – MPA Design

Creation of a Marine Protected Area Network to Protect Underwater Habitats in the British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands MPA Network

The Challenge
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are located 100km east of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean and are part of the Leeward Islands, which stretch from the BVI to Antigua. Composed of over 60 islands and cays, the BVI represent a total land area of 153.67km² (59 square miles). Every island in the BVI is surrounded by coral reefs of varying size, health and composition. The Anegada Horseshoe Reef is the third largest continuous reef in the Eastern Caribbean at 63km long, containing both patch reefs and barrier reefs. There are 63 popular dive sites in the BVI, which include 57 coral reef sites and 6 artificial reefs that have been created by shipwrecks. Tourism accounts for about 45% of the national income.

Proposed MPA Network for the BVI.

Proposed MPA Network for the BVI.

BVI Shannon Gore

The Anegada Horseshoe Reef. © Shannon Gore

The BVI has been threatened by both natural disasters and anthropogenic impacts. Hurricanes have frequently impacted the area over time, and flooding from torrential rains has resulted in landslides, which subsequently harm marine resources due to increased sedimentation. Most recently, the bleaching event of 2005 has had devastating impacts, resulting in almost 90% of the BVI reefs being bleached. Hurricanes in 2008 and 2010, and an extreme wave event in 2010 also affected the reefs. Human impacts on the BVI are vast and include the following: anchor damage from boats and ships; coastal development; increased sedimentation due to development on steep slopes, the creation of unpaved roads, and improper erosion control; sewage discharge from charter and private vessels and ocean outfall disposal of terrestrial waste; overcrowding of vessels; overharvesting of conch, spiny lobster and whelks; destructive fishing practices.

Actions Taken
The British Virgin Islands has declared 14 protected areas, including one marine park managed by the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands (NPTVI) and 13 fisheries protected areas, managed by the Conservation and Fisheries Department (CFD). Another 40 areas have been identified for inclusion in a Marine Protected Area Network. The primary goals of the British Virgin Island MPAs are:

  • To create a Marine Protected Area network that reflects the major marine and coastal habitats of the BVI;
  • To protect 30% of the important biological habitats across the BVI, including hard and soft corals, seagrasses, mangroves, turtle nesting beaches, and fishery habitats;
  • To cluster protected areas together so that they can be easily managed; and,
  • To ensure that there are protected areas across the BVI to enhance resilience.

BVI Stakeholder Feedback

BVI Gore and Peters

Shannon Gore, Conservation and Fisheries Dept., and Finfun Peters, National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands, ground truthing sites using aerial photographs as a guide. © BVI National Parks Trust

The overall goal was to create a system of protected areas for the BVI, in order to have a more comprehensive approach to protected area planning. The National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands, the Conservation and Fisheries Department and The Nature Conservancy collaborated to train relevant staff on MARXAN, marine reserve design software. Four potential MPA networks that included areas identified as important due to their biodiversity, importance as fish nurseries or breeding habitats were created using MARXAN. Each potential MPA network included 30% of each biological habitat type and varying levels of clustering of MPA areas and locked in areas (areas that are intended to be protected regardless of outcome). The BVI was divided into three geographic units to build resilience into the network through even distribution of MPAs in each unit. This process eliminated the potential to place heavy reliance on an extensive reef system around the island of Anegada to the detriment of other areas. These maps were then taken to stakeholders for feedback, including fishers, dive operators, charter boat industry and relevant government departments. To ensure participation in the stakeholder review process, meetings were organized on the four main islands in the BVI using existing organizations such as fisheries associations, the Charter Yacht Society, the Dive Operators Association, and the Marine Association. As the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands has a long established relationship with the charter and dive industry, due to over 25 years of managing mooring buoys in sensitive reef sites, it was relatively easy to ensure the participation of this sector of the marine industry. However, the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands did not have a similar relationship with fishermen. The fisheries extension officers at the Conservation and Fisheries Department were critical in assisting with this process because the fishers recognized and responded to their requests to attend the stakeholder meetings. Separate meetings were held for fishermen and the dive/charter industry due to the potential conflict of interests, and to make participants feel more comfortable when providing feedback. The main focus of the meetings was to have stakeholders draw on large printed maps that displayed the four MPA network models, indicating areas they currently use for fishing, diving, and anchoring, in addition to making suggestions of areas that should be protected. Stakeholders were also asked to select the MPA network model they preferred the most. One MPA network model was selected based upon all feedback, which was the one with the highest level of clustering and locked-in areas, and was slightly modified based on all stakeholder input. This map was then included in the overall proposed System Plan of Protected Areas for the BVI, and approved by the Cabinet in early 2008.

How successful has it been?
The Trust is now collaborating with the Survey Department to create the legal maps for these areas so that they can be officially designated as MPAs. These maps will then be used to consultatively create the zoning plan for the MPAs. In addition to this the boundaries of the MPAs and zones will be identified in the marine environment using marker buoys. As the MPA network is very extensive, a public relations campaign will be required to inform all stakeholders of the zones and permitted use. This will include all media sources, such as internet, newspapers, publications and brochures in the BVI and the US Virgin Islands. As of early 2014, the MPAs had not yet been implemented.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and some key recommendations include:

  • Selecting areas that are naturally protected from use due to location, rough seas, or depth assisted in achieving conservation goals with less stakeholder conflict.
    BVI Dive Operators

    Dive Operators and Director Joseph Smith Abbott discuss MPA scenarios on Anegada. © National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands

  • Stakeholder meetings and government involvement throughout the planning process ensures that everyone is aware of the MPA goals (the 30% goal became very well known in the BVI and regionally).
  • A greater understanding of the stakeholder groups is important. As the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands did not traditionally have a relationship with fishermen, it was not always possible to engage fisherman. Therefore, working with the Conservation and Fisheries Department fisheries extension officers was essential and helped improve these relationships.
  • Stakeholder meetings must be located in the communities where fishermen live and a relationship must be created with community members.
  • The way in which information is presented to stakeholders can affect how much feedback is provided in return. For example, using large paper maps laid out on tables enabled people to look at, draw on, and talk informally about the areas. People were also more inclined to attend meetings when they saw that their opinions were being recorded and taken into consideration.
  • It is critical to build trust between the government and the community. This entails continued engagement of stakeholders throughout the MPA planning process, particularly when zoning areas. In some cases, areas may have to be swapped (e.g. if 30% of a habitat can still be achieved by protecting another area and there is less conflict, then it may be wise to swap).
  • Many small island nations do not have access to university experts or scientific researchers so field work can be limited by capacity issues and resources. Therefore, scientific, management, and monitoring training is an important part of the long term project goals. Finding the right people to undergo training is equally important to ensure that capacity is retained within an organization.
  • Building in resilience using geographic distribution across an area and natural features can reduce conflict between stakeholders and conservationists. For example, some areas that have been included in the MPA network are located on the north or south sides of islands that are naturally too exposed, deep or rough to be utilized by stakeholders, therefore there is no conflict involved in protecting the area, but the 30% goal of habitat protection is still being achieved.


Funding Summary
Overseas Territories Environment Programme
NOAA National Ocean Service
The Nature Conservancy

BVI TNC and NPT discuss

TNC and NPT staff discuss the maps with the Fisheries Association of Virgin Gorda. © National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands

Lead Organizations
National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands Conservation and Fisheries Department Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour
University of Warwick Life Sciences
The Nature Conservancy Eastern Caribbean Program

University of Warwick
The Nature Conservancy Eastern Caribbean Program

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Bonaire – Land-Based Pollution

Wastewater Treatment and Fishing Legislation in Bonaire

Bonaire National Marine Park, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

The Challenge
Collectively, the island of Bonaire and the Ramsar areas of several satellite islands (Klein Bonaire and Lac) form the Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP). The park encompasses 2,700 hectares of fringing coral reef, seagrass and mangrove ecosystems and contains diverse habitats from the shore to intertidal environments, and from coral reefs to deep water environments.

Bonaire1, caption: Bonaire National Marine Park contains diverse coral reef habitats. Photo © J.P. Carnevale

Bonaire National Marine Park contains diverse coral reef habitats. © J.P. Carnevale

Bleaching and hurricane events have affected this area in the past. Only mild bleaching occurred in association with the 1998 El Niño bleaching event, resulting in good recovery. In 1999, Hurricane Lenny affected the shallow reefs of the leeward side of Bonaire and Klein Bonaire; however recovery was similarly high, with recruitment rates 3.5 times higher than the rest of the Caribbean, and high survival rates. More recently, the 2005 and 2006 bleaching events resulted in bleaching of approximately 9% and 10%, respectively. However, in both events the recovery rate after the thermal stress subsided was almost 100%. After a bleaching event in 2010, 10% of corals bleached and died leading to a sharp decline in coral abundance in 2011. Combined with losses of herbivorous parrotfish to overfishing, this has led to an increase of macroalgae.

Aside from these natural disturbances, this region is threatened by pollution, coastal development, invasive species (lionfish and halophila seagrass) and growth in tourism activities.

Actions Taken
The mission of the Bonaire National Marine Park is to protect and manage the island’s natural, cultural and historical resources, while allowing ecologically sustainable use for the benefit of future generations. The BNMP strongly believes that the first step to ensure healthy and resilient corals is to protect water quality and reduce all stresses. Within this framework, the BNMP has been taking different conservation and management actions to address the distinct problems of overfishing, coastal development, pollution, and negative impacts of tourism.

Constructing the wastewater treatment plant. © Jan Jaap van Almenkerk

Constructing the wastewater treatment plant. © Jan Jaap van Almenkerk

In 2010, legislation was passed to improve environmental protection, and as of 2014 was still in place and starting to show improvements in the environment. The legislation includes protection of identified resilience factors like: full protection of herbivorous fishes, full protection of many carnivorous fishes, and stronger rules and regulations on fisheries. The new legislation also includes improvements in procedures for coastal construction and more stringent construction guidelines.

To address the documented decline in predator fishes like groupers, grunts and snappers, the BNMP started lobbying the government and different stakeholders in 2004 to create fish protected areas (FPAs). Within this lobbying work, a group of fishermen, dive operators, government officers and others stakeholders from St. Lucia visited Bonaire to explain to their counterparts how FPAs in Bonaire would benefit both fisherman and tourism operators. A few months later a group of fishermen, government officers, BNMP Rangers and tour operators visited St. Lucia with the same purpose. In 2008, after intensive negotiations, two FPAs were established on the leeward side on Bonaire, encompassing approximately 4 km of a no-take zone. In 2010 the harvest of parrotfish and use of fish traps were banned.

Coastal Development and Pollution
In addition to fishing pressures, Bonaire is experiencing rapid coastal development. To minimize the impact of construction practices, the BNMP developed an officially approved booklet of Construction Guidelines, together with the Department of Physical Planning, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the local waste management company, construction companies, land owners, developers, and local NGOs. The BNMP ran an intensive nutrient monitoring program during 2006-2008, and Nov. 2011- May 2013 that covered the entire leeside of Bonaire and all around Klein Bonaire. This nutrient monitoring program was run in cooperation with the Central Government, the Department of Physical Planning of Bonaire and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Florida. Preliminary data show that the levels of dissolved nitrogen are high and that the most probable cause is due to sewage and unsustainable irrigation practices in the coastal zone. To mitigate this sewage water input to the sea, the BNMP worked with resort operators to establish “water balances,” and to improve fresh water and waste water management. This work has ended with the establishment of a local sewer system.

With over four years of nutrient monitoring data indicating high levels of nutrients in the area, a wastewater treatment facility is under construction. The facility plant is designed to move wastewater away from the shoreline and is anticipated to be in operation by late 2014. A temporary plant is in place and has been operating since 2011 while construction continues on the main plant.

Bonaire3, caption: Bonaire National Marine Park's coral reef habitats are threatened by over-fishing, pollution, coastal development, tourism, and bleaching events. Photo © BNMP

Bonaire National Marine Park’s coral reef habitats are threatened by over-fishing, pollution, coastal development, tourism, and bleaching events. © BNMP

Dive tourism is an essential component of the economy of Bonaire, generating significant income and creating employment, and it is vital that dive operators and their clients are well educated about potential negative impacts and means of reducing them. In 2008, the BNMP developed a “Reef Ranger” course. This course has been mandatory since 2010 but not yet fully implemented. The goal of this program is to maximize active support for coral reef conservation by providing standardized training for dive staff, tailored to local circumstances. BNMP recognized that dive operators and divers can be natural ambassadors for coral reef conservation since they have a vested interest in maintaining healthy and diverse marine ecosystems.

Effective communication is also a fundamental goal of Stichting Nationale Pareken (STINAPA) Bonaire, which successfully manages two nature parks of Bonaire National Marine Park and Washington Slagbaai National Park. Communication with the general public and stakeholder groups is a main priority for the BNMP, prompted by a group of residents who indicated a decrease of awareness and involvement, and no sense of ownership of the BNMP. As a result, an on-going communication campaign titled “Nature is our livelihood,” was developed to provide knowledge and change attitudes about conservation issues. Providing adequate information concerning the importance of nature conservation and the sustainable development of Bonaire was considered of utmost importance. The campaign has been successful in some areas and is currently undergoing an evaluation.

How successful has it been?

Monitoring has taken place regularly since 2003 in Bonaire. The ban on fishing of parrotfish (and use of fish traps) has led to an increase in parrotfish population density and biomass after 2011, and, despite a decrease in coral abundance due to bleaching, coral cover began to increase again (while macroalgae cover decreased) in 2013. Perhaps due to an increase in predation, Diadema urchin populations have decreased.

Coastal Development and Pollution
A temporary water treatment plant was built on Bonaire and began operation in late 2011, and a second will be in operation in late 2014. It is estimated that a total of 17.5 to 35 tons of nitrogen a year will be removed from waste water. However, recent nutrient monitoring in late 2013 showed that water quality indicators on the west coast of Bonaire signal eutrophic conditions, though levels of nitrogen have been decreasing slightly. Some sampled sites had high levels of fecal bacteria numbers, and increasing levels of phosphorous. Generally, sampling has showed a slight improvement since 06-08 values, but nutrients remain at threshold levels.

A strong conservation ethic persists in Bonaire, mainly due to the large revenue from tourism focused on SCUBA diving and snorkeling. The focus of this environmental work has been on local people rather than tourism, although tourism has increased in the last few years.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and some key recommendations include:

  • Involvement of key stakeholders is critical. No conservation plan will succeed long term without complete support of interested parties.
  • Involve all stakeholders from the beginning; demonstrate that what you want to implement (with their help) has unique value, and that they are the beneficiaries of this plan/action.
  • Set up an implementation plan (simple is better), discuss it with the stakeholders when ready make it public, and follow it step-by-step with little improvisation.
  • Once the plan is implemented, inform stakeholders about news of progress as well as failures. Transparency is critical!
  • Create clear rules, laws and procedures. People are more willing to support what they understand and trust.
  • Communication campaigns can help provide updated information to the general public and government officers.
  • The development of Integrated Coastal Management can reduce the amount of stressors on the reef to improve resilience to future climate change.
  • The development of a course similar to the “Reef Ranger” program can improve the sustainable practices of reef divers and other water sport practitioners.

Funding Summary

Lead Organizations
Bonaire National Marine Park

Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment
Ministry of Economic Affairs
DROB—NMB (Local environmental planning department)
Sea Turtle Conservation of Bonaire
Council of Underwater Resource Operators
The Nature Conservancy

Bonaire construction guidelines formulated by the BNMP, Department of Physical Planning, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the local waste management company, construction companies, land owners, developers, and local NGOs.

Results of the nutrient monitoring program, conducted in cooperation with the Central Government, the Department of Physical Planning of Bonaire, and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution.

Bonaire National Marine Park Management
Coral Reef Resilience Assessment of the Bonaire National Marine Park (pdf)
Status and Trends of Bonaire’s Reefs in 2013: Causes for Optimism

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Australia – Monitoring Reef Resilience

Using Resilience Assessments to Inform the Design of Marine Protected Areas in Australia

Keppel Bay Reefs and Islands, Southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia

A bleached landscape from the severe bleaching event in the Keppel Bay in early 2006. © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

A bleached landscape from the severe bleaching event in the Keppel Bay in early 2006. © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

The Challenge
The Keppel Islands are a group of 16 continental islands lying 18 km off the coastal town of Yeppoon, in the southern Great Barrier Reef. Located in the shallow basin to the north of Keppel Bay, the islands are host to a patchwork of fringing reefs in various forms of development. Coral communities are abundant in some locations, with coral cover as high as 70%. Additionally, some of these reefs are dominated by extensive stands of branching Acropora that extend into shallow water.

Reefs within the Keppel Bay area have been affected by a devastating series of climate-related events over the last 25 years. Particularly severe flooding events occurred in 1991 and again in 2010. Both of these events devastated shallow reefs in the area. The mass bleaching events of 1998 and 2002 also impacted local reefs, and in the summer of 2006, most sites experienced at least 30% bleaching-induced mortality of corals due to a highly localized and severe warming event. Furthermore, during the latter half of 2006 an extremely low tide coincided with a heavy rainfall event killing many of the reef-flat corals throughout the reefs of the Keppel Bay. During summer 2009-2010, flooding led to a localized coral bleaching event. The flooding that began in 2010 extended through to May 2011 as a result of the record rainfall in the watershed. This most recent flooding caused 40-100% mortality of corals on the mostly fringing reefs, due to prolonged exposure to the freshwater flood plumes.

Many of the reefs within the Keppel Bay area are characterized by mono-specific stands of branching Acropora. The photo highlights that many of the corals at these sites compete for light and space with the macroalgae Lobophora variegata. Photo © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Many of the reefs within the Keppel Bay area are characterized by mono-specific stands of branching Acropora. The photo highlights that many of the corals at these sites compete for light and space with the macroalgae Lobophora variegata. © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Increasing development and the impact of climate change threaten the ability of the reefs to recover from these disturbances. The broad objective and vision of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is to provide for the protection, wise use, understanding and enjoyment of the Great Barrier Reef in perpetuity, through the care and development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. This will involve implementing both routine and reactive strategies to mitigate stressors that interact with those of climate change, in an effort to build resilience of the reef to future threats.

The Keppel Islands and surrounding waters are popular with a range of users. Historically, tourism has mainly focused around Great Keppel Island, and camping is available on seven other islands. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) jointly manage the area. Many of the islands are also National Parks, and together with the Marine Park form part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Although there is increasing residential development along the mainland coast, there is also increasing participation in community groups, including the Capricorn Coast Local Marine Advisory Committee (LMAC), that have interests in the management of local environmental issues.

Actions Taken
Resilience is a central goal in the management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and specific resilience-building activities have been part of the management response from the earliest stages of planning and consultation. The Climate Change Group at the GBRMPA developed a resilience assessment and monitoring protocol in late 2007 that was applied to 31 sites within the Keppel Bay region. The initial focus was to test and refine a method for assessing the resilience of reef sites, as a basis for implementing spatial management tools (such as no-anchoring zones). The preliminary resilience assessment involved an identification of reef sites important to local users and assessed them against a suite of broad-scale and local-scale putative resilience indicators derived from preliminary resilience measuring protocols developed by The Nature Conservancy, IUCN Working Group on Climate Change and Coral Reefs, and the GBRMPA. The results of the resilience assessment were integrated into a numerical score that was used to rank sites on the basis of likely resilience to climate change.

Based on the outcomes of the resilience assessment, a ‘Resilience assessment and capacity building’ workshop involving the GBRMPA, QPWS, Traditional Owners, the LMAC, and local stakeholders was held in 2008. This workshop identified candidate sites for the installation of voluntary no-anchoring zones as a mechanism to restrict anchor damage (and hence increase resilience) due to the increase in recreational use of the Keppel Bay region. In late 2008, 16 no-anchoring buoys were installed by QPWS staff at four sites in the Keppel Bay region.

Broad-scale conservation initiatives implemented in recent years have been aimed at restoring and maintaining system resilience. Some initiatives in place in the Keppel Islands include:

  • A comprehensive network of marine protected areas in the area.
  • The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan, which includes an extensive Reef Water Quality Monitoring Program, works with farmers to reduce amounts of fertilizers and sediments entering reef waters.
  • Voluntary moratorium (at some locations) on commercial collection of some aquarium fish species, identified through risk assessments as potentially vulnerable to the combined impacts of disturbance (bleaching and flooding) and fishing. This moratorium was lifted in 2013 in response to signs that corals in key collecting areas had returned to a stable condition.
  • There is generally low take of herbivorous species by recreational and commercial fishers throughout the Great Barrier Reef, which helps to protect the ability of reef areas like the Keppels to recover after damage.

Community engagement is also a key aspect of this resilience-based management initiative. Local reef users are an important source of knowledge on patterns of use, resource condition and dynamics. Also, effective restoration of ecosystem resilience requires active and willing participation of reef users in efforts to reduce local stressors. Finally, meaningful engagement by the local community in development and implementation of resilience-based management actions also help ensure that social and economic impacts are minimized.

A coral-covered reef crest at Sloping Island. Photo © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

A coral-covered reef crest at Sloping Island. © Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

How successful has it been?
Follow-up monitoring assessments in 2010, 2011, and 2012 revealed that the no-anchoring areas appear to be having a positive influence on coral health. Surveys indicate reduced anchor damage inside all four no-anchoring areas from ~80 instances per 1000 m2 in 2008 to high levels of voluntary compliance with the no-anchoring areas.

MPA network success
A 2010 report on the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan found that progress towards water quality targets was good, but that positive impacts on the marine environment are expected to take longer to manifest. There was a reduction in sediment and nutrient discharge in the Fitzroy watershed, which is the source of floodwaters for the Keppel Bay area.

The local community has become more aware of the vulnerability of the reefs in the area due to involvement in the resilience surveys and participation in the process of identifying sites for no-anchoring areas. This has resulted in a general increase in stewardship in the region, as evidenced by increased compliance with the voluntary no-anchoring areas, and strong willingness to assist researchers working in the area. Building on the knowledge about reef conditions and resilience concepts, the local community has developed organized and well-informed campaigns in response to development proposals in the area.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and some key recommendations include:

  • Resilience is a relative concept. For example, a site within one reef region having ‘high’ resilience, may have only ‘low’ or ‘medium’ resilience when compared to sites within other regions, and vice versa. This suggests that absolute values such as high and low should be used with caution. A relative approach (higher or lower), applied within a defined context, is likely to be more meaningful in most situations. In general, GRBMPA now ensures that the spatial context for any resilience assessments is clearly defined and communicated.
  • Quality standards for monitoring protocols should be developed, to reduce biases introduced by differing perspectives and expertise, therefore improving the use of these data for management decisions. The experience from the Keppels has provided the foundation for subsequent initiatives to formalize protocols for assessing system resilience. This includes a project in the Caribbean to develop a rapid resilience assessment protocol (monitoring multi-tool) for coral reef managers.
  • The Keppel Bay project first brought to light the value in using a simple, semi-quantitative approach to assessing resilience, using local and scientific expertise to estimate values for resilience indicator variables. Although coarse, this approach provides sufficient resolution for prioritizing management actions. Subsequent work has helped identify a more manageable set of resilience indicators, and the project in the Caribbean to develop a rapid resilience assessment protocol is designed around use of community members and local knowledge.
  • Community engagement at every step of the process was highly beneficial and as such, the no-anchoring zones appear to be having a positive influence on reef health despite being voluntary and non-enforceable.

Funding Summary
Department of Environment and Heritage Program
Queensland Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing

Lead Organizations
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Australian Institute of Marine Science
James Cook University
University of Queensland
Central Queensland University
Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport, and Racing
Pro-vision Reef Inc.

Biophysical assessment of the reefs of Keppel Bay: a baseline study April 2007, Climate Change Group, GBRMPA (pdf)
Keppel Bay Case Study, GBRMPA (pdf)
Zoning map of the Capricorn section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (pdf)

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Caught in the Middle: Combined Impacts of Shark Removal and Coral Loss on the Fish Communities of Coral Reefs

Researchers used long-term monitored reefs off the coast of north-western Australia to understand how fishing changed shark communities in coral reef ecosystems. Two uninhabitated areas with atoll-like reefs with differing management regimes, closed marine protected area and open to shark fishing, were studied. Researchers found evidence that the loss of sharks due to fishing can have a cascading effect on the food chain with effects on mesopredators and primary consumers. Both habitat and shark fishing, individually and interactively, affected reef fish community composition and trophic structure across sites. Bottom-up processes such as bleaching and cyclones appear to affect herbivores, planktivores, and corallivores, but do not affect carnivores. Healthy reef shark populations should be a target of management of coral reefs, since the presence of sharks may promote the abundance of herbivores.

Author: Ruppert, J.L.W., M.J. Travers, L.L. Smith, M-J Fortin, and M.G. Meekan
Year: 2013
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PLoS ONE 8(9): e74648. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0074648.

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Mass Coral Bleaching in 2010 in the Southern Caribbean

The authors, Alemu and Clement, monitored the bleaching response at 3 sites across Tobago during a bleaching event in 2010. The purpose was to find nodes of reef resilience in Tobago by identifying taxa resilient to bleaching. This will assist local coral reef managers in the decision making process by recognizing reefs that should be conserved. For 6 months, the authors monitored about 650 colonies (composed of 30 taxa) at three sites, and gained an understanding of which influences (freshwater lenses, water temperature, terrestrial run-off) may be most important at those sites. The study highlighted the importance of understanding local variables in the management of reefs.

Author: Alemu I, J. B. and Y. Clement
Year: 2014
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PLoS ONE 9(1): e83829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083829

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Restrictions in Marine Protected Areas in the Coral Triangle – The coral reef crisis: The critical importance of <350 ppm CO2

The authors of this paper outline the grim state and future of coral reef ecosystems, and the consequential domino effects to follow for other systems associated with reefs. Mass bleaching and mortality are identified as the current crisis to corals, and based on the current rate of increase in global CO2 emissions (now exceeding 3% per year), most reefs world-wide are committed to an irreversible decline. Three issues of importance to the future of coral reefs are highlighted: (1) the role of multiple stressors and synergies; including sea level rise, storm impacts, fisheries impacts, water quality, and biotic responses, (2) the nature of resilience, and (3) the importance of domino effects. While the outlook for reefs in the fact of today’s rapid global warming is exceptionally serious, the authors provide remedial options for management interventions that will increase reef resilience, including: a) reduce the harvest of herbivorous fish to sustainable levels, b) protect sharks and other top predators, c) manage all aspects of water quality, and d) diminish direct anthropogenic impacts and stressors.

Author: Veron, J.E.N., O. Hoegh-Guldberg, T.M. Lenton, J.M. Lough, D.O. Obura, P. Pearce-Kelly, C.R.C. Sheppard, M. Spalding, M.G. Stafford-Smith, and A.D. Rogers
Year: 2009
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Marine Pollution Bulletin 58: 1428-1436. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2009.09.009

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Do Some Corals Like It Hot?

The Adaptive Bleaching Hypothesis is a controversial theory that states that stress resistant coral-zooxanthellae associations can develop from frequent and severe environmental stress. This hypothesis is reviewed and future directions for research are suggested. Discussions include the following topics, spatial and temporal variation in Symbiodinium, costs to Symbiodinium D due to heat tolerance, and future directions. This paper is critical reading for any MPA practitioner dealing with coral reef persistence as coral-Symbiodinium interactions impact reef resilience.

Author: Sotka, E.E. and R.W. Thacker
Year: 2005
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Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20(2): 59-62. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2004.11.015

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Do Fluctuating Temperature Environments Elevate Coral Thermal Tolerance?

While differences in thermal tolerance among regions with distinct annual mean temperatures were first recognized as evidence of coral thermal adaptation or acclimatization, thermal variation on much smaller spatial and temporal scales also appears to affect coral thermal tolerance. In this study, the authors measured the timing of high thermal pulses in a pair of pools in Ofu, American Samoa, and tested whether a coral population exposed to more frequent and more extreme pulses was associated with higher thermal tolerance relative to a population exposed to more moderate variation in the bleaching sensitive coral Acropora hyacinthus. The results showed that corals from the thermally variable pool, all of which hosted heat-resistant symbionts, evidenced lower mortality and less severe declines in photochemical efficiency than corals from the thermally moderate pool, regardless of symbiont type. The results highlighted the importance of monitoring multiple, potentially interacting mechanisms when considering the potential for reef corals to resist rising temperatures.

Author: Oliver, T.A. and S.R. Palumbi
Year: 2011
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Coral Reefs 30(2): 429-440. doi:10.1007/s00338-011-0721-y

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Large-scale Stress Factors Affecting Coral Reefs: Open Ocean Sea Surface Temperature and Surface Seawater Aragonite Saturation Over the Next 400 Years

This study seeks to investigate three IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) representative pathways (RCP) and their differing impacts of environmental stressors to coral reefs including rising sea surface temperatures and changes in seawater aragonite saturation, which relates to atmospheric carbon and ocean acidification.

A climate model, the UVic Earth System Climate Model, was used in this study to predict sea surface temperatures, open water aragonite saturation levels, and susceptibility of coral reefs to thermal stress over the next 400 years. Results of this work showed that by year 2030, 66–85% of the reef locations considered will become ‘thermally marginal’ and experience severe bleaching events at least once every 10 years.

Regardless of which RCP concentration was used in researcher’s simulations, virtually every reef considered in this study (97%) would experience severe thermal stress by 2050. Study simulations also showed that annual mean seawater aragonite thresholds will be exceeded within the first half of this century.

Author: Meissner, K. J., T. Lippmann, and A. Sen Gupta
Year: 2012
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Coral Reefs 31(2): 309-319. doi:10.1007/s00338-011-0866-8

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Preparing to Manage Coral Reefs for Ocean Acidification: Lessons from Coral Bleaching

The authors examine the lessons learned from the implementation of management strategies to address the impacts of coral reef bleaching and how these strategies may be modified to address the impacts of ocean acidification. Because stabilizing CO2 emissions is the most critical need to address ocean acidification, and this is out of the scope of reef managers’ jobs, it is important to manage for local stressors and protect resilient areas.

The authors have several recommendations: First, because evidence suggests local-scale processes and local stressors have more impact on ocean chemistry, it is important to manage for local stressors (such as land-based sources of pollution and over-fishing). Second, the priority areas to protect include the most resilient, least vulnerable sites. These sites may already be adapted to large variations in pH, may have surrounding seagrass beds, or be connected to “source reefs” to maximize larval influx. Finally the authors recommend further research into the impacts of lowered pH on reef species and on how local and regional processes can affect ocean chemistry.

Author: McLeod, E., K.R.N. Anthony, A. Andersson, R. Beeden, Y. Golbuu, J. Kleypas, K. Kroeker, D. Manzello, R.V. Salm, H. Schuttenberg, and J.E. Smith
Year: 2013
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Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11:20-27. doi:10.1890/110240

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