New and improved Network Forum

The Reef Resilience Network has launched a new and improved online discussion forum!

Now part of the Reef Resilience website, this interactive online community is a place where coral reef managers and practitioners from around the world can connect and share with others to better manage marine resources.

If you work to protect, manage, or promote coral reefs please join the conversation:

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Assessing Habitat Risk From Human Activities To Inform Coastal And Marine Spatial Planning: A Demonstration In Belize

The expansion of existing and emerging ocean uses has negative effects on ecosystems that provide habitat for key species and benefits to people. Integrated coastal and ocean management needs straightforward approaches for understanding the effects people have on marine environment. In recent years, extensive research has resulted in development of accessible approaches and a better understanding of the relationships between human activities and marine ecosystems. However, some important gaps prevent the use of these approaches in policy-making. This study focuses on the following three impediments to the uptake of risk assessments in coastal management: (1) methods for estimating how habitats will change under future management scenarios; (2) better understanding of the degree to which estimated risk reflects observed environmental degradation; and (3) accessible and transparent tools for incorporating estimated risk into coastal and ocean planning. A model called the Habitat Risk Assessment (HRA) model was developed, which is available in open-source software and can be used by government planners, NGOs, or other stakeholders to assess future scenarios for managing marine ecosystems. To make results more accessible to a policy audience, areas of habitat are classified as high, medium or low risk based on the risk posed by individual activities or by the cumulative effects of multiple activities. The model was used to assess risk to coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds and to design a spatial plan for the sustainable use of the marine environment of Belize. Results from the analysis and the model developed were used to inform the design of the country’s first Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Plan.

This study provides a risk ranking method that calculates risk to ecosystems using two sets of information: (a) exposure, which represents the degree to which the habitat experiences stressors due to a specific human activity and (b) consequence, which reflects the habitat-specific response to stressors associated with different human activities. This method helps identify management options for reducing impacts. In general, management interventions have greater potential to reduce risk via changes in exposure than changes in consequence. New criteria was also developed for estimating risks specific to life history characteristics of the main taxa of coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds. Criteria developed to estimate exposure and consequence were based on the cumulative impact and risk assessment literature for ecosystem components. To quantify exposure, the model requires information on (a) spatial overlap between habitats and activities; (b) temporal overlap between habitats and activities; (c) intensity of the activity; and (d) effectiveness of management strategies for reducing exposure. To estimate consequence of exposure to human activities, the model requires information on (a) change in area; (b) change in structure; (c) frequency of natural disturbance; and (d) resilience. To estimate risk, the study used information on exposure of corals, mangroves and seagrass in Belize to selected human activities and the consequence of this exposure. The study also evaluates future habitat risk under alternative scenarios such as conservation, informed management and development, to understand the influence of human activities on coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds in the future. Results suggest that of the three future scenarios, the Conservation option would result in the greatest area of low-risk habitat and least amount at high risk, for all three habitats.

The HRA model presented here identifies both, planning regions where corals, mangroves and seagrass are at high risk, and which activities contributes the most to risk. The information allows managers to prioritize locations for actions to reduce risk by identifying where the spatial extent and exposure of certain high-risk activities can be reduced. In general, the approach presented has the potential to inform multi-sectoral ocean processes by identifying where cumulative risk from human activities is likely to degrade marine habitats, and how changing the location and extent of these activities reduces risk. When combined with models that estimate habitat-induced changes in ecosystem services, the HRA model helps to evaluate trade-offs between human activities and benefits that ecosystems provide to people.

Author: Arkema, K.K., G. Verutes, J.R. Bernhard, C. Clarke, S. Rosado, M. Canto, S.A. Wood, M. Ruckelshaus, A. Rosenthal, M. McField, and J. de Zegher
Year: 2014
View Full Article

Environmental Research Letters 9. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/9/11/114016

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Contrasting Patterns of Coral Bleaching Susceptibility in 2010 Suggest an Adaptive Response to Thermal Stress

Guest et al. (2012) examine the bleaching and mortality responses of corals at sites in Southeast Asia with different thermal histories during a large-scale bleaching event in 2010 to explore whether corals have the capacity to adapt to elevated sea temperatures. They also assess whether reefs in more thermally variable environments bleach less severely during heat stress events. They found increases in thermal tolerance on reefs that previously experienced major bleaching with the most susceptible species exhibiting the greatest increases in thermal tolerance. They also demonstrated that corals generally bleached less severely at locations where temperature variability has been greater and warming rates lower over the last 60 years. These results are important because they suggest that locations that are more resistant to bleaching can be identified from analyzing their thermal histories, and such sites could be considered priorities for protection in marine protected area (MPAs). These results add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the capacity for adaptation and acclimatization in corals has been underestimated which is good news for coral reefs.

Author: Guest, J.R., A.H. Baird, J.A. Maynard, E. Muttaqin, A.J. Edwards, S.J. Campbell, K. Yewdall, Y.A. Affendi, and L.M. Chou
Year: 2012
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PLoS ONE 7(3): e33353. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033353

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Bonaire – Invasive Species

Pro-active Approach to Combat the Invasion of the Indo-Pacific Lionfish by the Bonaire National Marine Park

The Challenge
The invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) was first reported in Bonaire’s waters in 2009 and has since become firmly established. Nowadays, it is common for divers on Bonaire’s reefs to encounter this invasive species. This issue is far from being an isolated problem; in less than a decade, lionfish have become established along the Southeast U.S and the Caribbean and are now expanding into the Gulf of Mexico and South America. Lionfish are not only established, they are thriving, and have surpassed some native species in certain locations. The lionfish invasion, which many believe is to blame on aquarium enthusiasts releasing unwanted lionfish, is reported as one of the most rapid invasions in history. Several factors have contributed to the proliferation of lionfish: the lack of natural predators in their invasive range, their generalist diet, their ability to adapt to many habitats and their prolific rate of reproduction.

hunting lionfish at night_smaller

Hunting lionfish at night. © Andre de Molenaar

By competing with native species for food or space, invasive species can cause important changes to the physical environment, as well as lead to the irreversible extinction of native species. Invasive species are especially an issue for island environments where native species have evolved in isolation and are more vulnerable to introduced predators. Lionfish are a major threat to reef ecosystems because they decrease the survival of a wide range of native reef animals via both predation and competition.  They can also trigger an increase in algal growth by preying on ecologically important herbivore species that keep seaweeds and macroalgae from overgrowing corals. This is of great concern for Bonaire’s reefs, which are some of the most diverse and healthiest in the Caribbean region. The presence of lionfish is also an important concern for Bonaire’s economy, as it has the potential to drastically reduce local fisheries as well as affect revenue from the tourism industry. Additionally, lionfish pose a risk to the health and safety of visitors, locals, and park staff, due to their venomous spines that can inflict a painful sting and result in serious health complications.

Catching LF GOPR0048_crop

Lionfish are caught by spearfishing. © Bas Tol

Actions Taken
Faced with the arrival and rapid population growth of the lionfish, the Stichting Nationale Parken Bonaire (STINAPA Bonaire), a nongovernmental organization that manages the Bonaire National Marine Park, quickly sprang into action to curb the invasion and protect native fish communities within the Bonaire National Marine Park. Because of the nature of the lionfish invasion, notably the mobility of the species and the high level of human resources required, the complete eradication of the species is a goal that cannot realistically be attained at present. The aim is therefore to actively control population numbers of the invasive species through periodic and repeated removal efforts, reducing the population of lionfish to a level where the impact on native reef fish communities is minimized and the spread of lionfish to previously unoccupied areas is diminished. The removal program is based on volunteers using spear guns, as the experience in the Bonaire National Marine Park has been that spear guns are the best technique to collect lionfish. While spearfishing is illegal in Bonaire, participating volunteers are provided with special permits allowing the spearing of lionfish using Eradicate Lion Fish (ELFs) by local authorities.

LF collection_0156_Smaller

Volunteer collecting lionfish. © Jan Veenendaal

So far, around 300 local volunteers have been trained and licensed by STINAPA Bonaire to hunt and kill lionfish. Marine Park rangers conduct lionfish workshops for volunteers or visitors who are interested in helping to remove the fish, focusing upon how to safely catch and remove them. A core group of about 30 hunters remove hundreds of fish every week. STINAPA’s Junior Rangers are also involved in the program. All Junior Rangers have received lionfish education while those over the age of 18 have received training on lionfish removal. These Junior Rangers are not only helping with the removal of lionfish but are also helping instill amongst the youth of Bonaire an understanding of the threat that lionfish pose and the need for a pro-active approach.

Bonaire Lionfish in Truck_cropped

Results of volunteer lionfish collecting. © Larry Holling

STINAPA Bonaire has also established a number of important partnerships. They collaborate with Bonaire’s Council on International Educational Exchange Research Station (CIEE ) to ensure that lionfish data are processed and analyzed. So far, more than 5,000 lionfish have been handed off to CIEE, with research focusing on vital statistics such as the size and weight of lionfish, sexual maturity, feeding preferences, and habitat and depth preferences. STINAPA also partners with the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) to hold workshops to educate dive operators as well as the general public on why and how to control lionfish. STINAPA and DCNA have jointly developed an innovative tool for lionfish control: a smart phone app whereby Bonaire’s lionfish hunters can add the location and details of lionfish caught, escaped, or seen during a dive, and this data can be viewed on a live map. The goal is to create a centralized location for all collected data in order to show the complete picture to anyone interested.

How Successful Has it Been?
A study took place in 2011 to determine the effectiveness of lionfish removal efforts within the Bonaire National Marine Park. Differences in the density and biomass of lionfish were compared between areas in which lionfish were directly targeted during removal efforts and areas where they were not. Results showed that the local density and biomass of the invasive lionfish in fished locations on Bonaire is 2.76 times lower than in unfished areas. This study therefore shows that continued removal efforts are effective at reducing the local density and biomass of invasive lionfish. It also shows that using volunteer divers is an effective means in controlling lionfish populations, as large quantities of lionfish are being removed. However, these lionfish removal efforts can only target areas that can easily be accessed by divers, and a number of hard to access sites are not being controlled. In 2013, Bonaire’s deep reef was explored as part of the Bonaire Deep Reef Expedition; lionfish were observed as deep as 165 meters. Therefore, unless lionfish in these hard to access areas can be targeted, the effects of removal efforts will continue to be offset.

STINAPA Bonaire’s partnerships for this project have been a huge success. The thousands of lionfish that have been analyzed by the CIEE research station now represent one of the largest, in-depth and most long-term lionfish datasets in the Caribbean. Thanks to the research carried out on lionfish, managers of the Bonaire National Marine Park can better forecast the impact that lionfish will have on native fish populations and therefore develop more effective management plans. The research has also been a key asset in educating both Bonaire’s local population and visitors about the invasion. Research findings are shared via articles in newsletters and on social media, as well as through public lectures. They are also shared with Bonaire’s youth through lectures and hands-on workshops in local schools.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and key recommendations include:

  • Due to the nature of the lionfish invasion, a larger community effort is needed to increase the chances of more successful removal.
  • Setting up an efficient research program is crucial to the successful management of lionfish. Data on lionfish within the infested marine environment will help resource managers make informed decisions.
  • Extensive research on the subject at hand is also vital in explaining and gaining the trust of local stakeholders. If they see that research clearly supports community needs, they are more likely to comply with it.
  • Monitoring (pre- and post- infestation) is essential to assess the extent of the infestation so that management strategies can be adapted to respond to the level of threat.
  • A well-informed community is key in the fight against invasive species.
  • Due to the highly mobile nature of the lionfish invasion, complete eradication of the species is extremely difficult. Efforts should instead focus on actively managing lionfish in island waters, controlling abundance as much as possible.

Funding Summary
The program costs USD $7-10,000 per year.

Lead Organizations
Stichting Nationale Parken Bonaire
Council on International Educational Exchange Research Station
Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance

Read the Honduras Lionfish Case Study in the Reef Resilience Toolkit

Effectiveness of Lionfish Removal Efforts in the Southern Caribbean (pdf)

Invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish Reduce Recruitment of Atlantic Coral-reef Fishes (pdf)

The Role of Volunteer Divers in Lionfish Research and Control in the Caribbean (pdf)

Biology, Ecology, Control and Management of the Invasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish (pdf)

Lionfish Management Guide (pdf)

Written by: Florence Depondt

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Malaysia – Communication


Managing Communication to Mitigate Potential Damage of Coral Reef Bleaching

Tioman Island, Malaysia

The Challenge
Tioman Island, part of the Tioman archipelago, is located about 55 km off the east coast of the Malaysian Peninsula in the South China Sea. The island is approximately 136 km2, with 14.5 km2 of reefs located primarily off the west coast. The archipelago includes four small islands which are ten to a few hundred meters in length, and are surrounded by reefs with 200-300 species of coral in the most diverse areas. Historically, fishing was the mainstay of the communities on Tioman, but more recently dive tourism has grown and now caters to 200,000 tourists each year, the majority of whom are divers or snorkelers. There are six villages scattered around the island which is home to a population of over 3,000 people. A no-take marine protected area (MPA), established in 1994, surrounds Tioman Island and extends for two nautical miles from the low water mark. Visitors to the island pay a conservation charge of 5 Malaysian Ringgit (in 2014, approximately US $1.53) which accrues to a Trust Fund.

Bleached coral Malaysia

Bleached coral. © Reef Check Malaysia

In March 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) alerted the region to the threat of an imminent coral bleaching event. Observations in May 2010 by Reef Check Malaysia, a local nongovernmental organizaton, confirmed significant bleaching. Through surveys, Reef Check found that 90% of the corals in Tioman were bleached. The worst of the bleaching came in June and lasted through August. Water temperatures surrounding Tioman Island reached 3-4°C above normal. Reef Check observed that the bleaching affected other islands off the east coast of Malaysia and affected the deepest reefs in the region – as deep as 20 m.

Actions Taken

Reef Check Dive Operators

Reef Check Malaysia conducts annual surveys. © Reef Check Malaysia

Institutional Response
Once NOAA alerted the region about bleaching, the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia, the national management authority for natural resources, established a monitoring program. In May 2010, the bleaching event came to the public’s attention when a dive operator from mainland Malaysia returned from a dive trip off Tioman Island and relayed the information to a friend who worked at a local newspaper. With very little scientific or empirical data, the bleaching event was reported in the local news and asserted that the coral reefs around Tioman were all dying due to bleaching. Dive site closures were suggested as one possible management option.

Reef Check Malaysia took the initiative to use reef resilience concepts to identify which reef sites would be most suitable for protection, with minimal disruption to tourism businesses, in the event site closures were deemed necessary. Reef Check approached dive operators on Tioman and two adjacent islands – Perhentian and Redang. Through discussions, it was determined which sites to close that would have a minimal impact on dive business. Reef Check aimed to close four critical sites on each island for protection. However, before the consultation process was completed, in June 2010, the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia announced area closure plans because of the severity of the bleaching. Due to a lack of clear communication, subsequent news reports (both local and international) suggested that entire islands were being closed to diving, not just selected reef sites. Because of the poor communication, most dive shop operators did not support the government-mandated closures and did not consider the closures when taking tourists to the reefs.

Reef Check Community Consultations

Reef Check Malaysia consultations. © Reef Check Malaysia

Bleaching Response Plan
In response to the lack of an organized action plan regarding the 2010 bleaching event, Reef Check began writing a bleaching response plan for Malaysia in 2011. The plan was adopted and published by the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia in 2012. The four major components of the plan are:

  1. Early warning system
  2. Ground-truthing survey
  3. Public awareness and communication exercise
  4. Resilience building action plan

The plan established a Bleaching Response Committee and clearly highlights steps to follow during bleaching events. For example, on receipt of a “bleaching watch” announcement from NOAA, the Committee will automatically issue pre-prepared emails requesting dive operators to conduct weekly Bleaching Watch surveys. In the event the alert level is increased to a “bleaching warning” the Committee will automatically issue invitations to specialists to conduct ground truthing surveys, and if the alert level reaches “bleaching alert level 1” the Committee will automatically issue pre-prepared site closure notices.

The plan includes pre-written press releases and FAQs for use at different stages of a bleaching event, and a database of relevant contacts, including media and dive and resort operators. The plan includes consultation with relevant stakeholders to clearly communicate the bleaching response plan (i.e., site closures).

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Clarity of Communication: Reef Check Malaysia used a communication response to mitigate the potential damage from a bleaching event. Management can only be effective if stakeholders at all levels know what is going on and where it is happening. Creating a communication plan will ensure everyone will be up-to-date and informed, to prevent misinformation and miscommunication.
  • Consultation: It is important to communicate with businesses that will be impacted by a disturbance. It is also important to educate and consult the community. Even if community members are not directly affected by a disturbance, they can help to mitigate damage.
  • Increasing Local Resilience: The most common cause of coral bleaching is regional increases in water temperature, a worldwide threat associated with global climate change. Although the cause of the disturbance is not local, the focus must be on local management of threats because this builds resilience. The global nature of this threat means that management of these events becomes just as important as preventing them.

Funding Summary
Reef Check Malaysia relies on corporate sponsorship for most of its funding, as well as some grant funding:

  • Khazanah Nasional Berhad
  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Lead Organizations
Reef Check Malaysia

Reef Check Malaysia Annual Survey Report 2010 (pdf)

Reef Check Malaysia Annual Survey Report 2011 (pdf)

Bleaching Watch Survey Reporting Form (pdf)

Written by: Julian Hyde, Reef Check Malaysia

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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Honduras – Invasive Species

Partnering to Manage Lionfish in the Bay Islands, Honduras

LocationBay Islands, Honduras

The Challenge
The Bay Islands of Honduras are comprised of three main islands with smaller cays surrounding them. Reef systems surround all of the Bay Islands, ranging from barrier to fringing reefs. This is the eastern-most part of the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world. The largest island, Roatán, is the capital of the Bay Islands. Since the 1950s, the economy of the Bay Islands has been tightly integrated into global markets, although the nature of that engagement has changed over time. In the 1950s-1960s, the lobster, conch, and shrimp industry was the mainstay of a booming Bay Islands’ economy. Later, in the 1970s, much of the Bay Islands economy came from an influx of diving tourism. Beginning in the 1990s, and continuing to the present, large-scale cruise ship tourism became a driving economic force. As tourism increased so did emigration from mainland Honduras to the Bay Islands. This influx of people put stress on the natural resources in the area. Today, a diverse population inhabits the Bay Islands.

Lionfish have become a major threat to native fish populations throughout the Caribbean and have been documented in the Atlantic since the 1990s. It is theorized that the presence of lionfish is due to the aquarium trade and the accidental release of the fish during various Hurricanes. Another hypothetical avenue for introduction from the Pacific has also been attributed to ballast water. When lionfish were first noticed in Belize in 2008, and soon spotted in the Bay Islands, managers had little time to plan a response. The lionfish began invading the shallow reefs and within two years they could be found around the whole region. In 2009, lionfish (Pterois spp.) were observed in the Bay Islands National Park, a protected area spanning 6,471.5 km2, with several management categories, ranging from no-take zones to multiple use areas.

Lionfish, an invasive species in the Caribbean. © Antonio Busiello.

Lionfish, an invasive species in the Caribbean. © Antonio Busiello.

Managers in the Bay Islands noticed declines in reef fish biomass across the Bay Islands – even in areas with fewer resident lionfish. One alarming discovery was the decrease in cleaner fish like the damselfish (Stegastes spp.). Cleaner fish are comprised of many different species but share a common mutualistic behavior – they feed on the dead skin and parasites of other fish. Cleaner fish are particularly vulnerable because they are unaware that the lionfish are predators and approach the lionfish to remove dead skin and parasites. Researchers were also finding larvae of many native fish in the guts of lionfish when they were dissected.

Actions Taken
In Honduras, the national government provides no funding to manage the reef systems of the Bay Islands, so local and international NGOs must seek grants to support reef management. With the increasing numbers of lionfish on the Bay Islands’ reefs, managers and local NGOs began strategizing ways to rid the area of these invasive species. When lionfish became a problem throughout the Bay Islands and a problem for all NGOs in the region, they decided to join forces to find a strategy to eradicate the invader. They tried using nets, traps, and a “suction method” in which lionfish were siphoned out of the water with a PVC pipe. In addition to this, and, inspired by its success in the eastern Caribbean, managers began to target lionfish by spearfishing. They found spearfishing to be the most successful method to remove the fish.

The local Bay Islands NGOs worked together to successfully petition the Fisheries Department to allow permits for spearfishing lionfish. Both Roatán Marine Park and Bay Islands Conservation Association Utila helped to train divers, such as staff from local dive shops and advanced divers, to find and spear lionfish on the protected reefs. The training helped to foster better relationships between different NGOs in the area. Different local and international NGOs including the Healthy Reefs Initiative, and the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), began learning from one another and working together.

Funding for the training came from a combination of individual divers paying for training and through a voluntary tax (or user fee) that dive centers agreed to put on their services. Licenses were only given to dive instructors and dive masters. Since most of these volunteers are foreigners with higher incomes, they were able to pay for the licenses themselves. For about $35, volunteers can purchase a license, a spear, and one hour of training. The voluntary tax revenue is put towards eradication of lionfish from the Bay Island reefs as well as patrolling and environmental education.

Diver on Cordelia Banks, Roatan © Dano Pendygrasse.

Local skilled fishers (mainly from the Garifuna community) are also being trained to catch (without SCUBA), clean, cook, and market lionfish. Lionfish can now be found on the menu of 40 restaurants on Utila and Roatán, with fillets being sold to mainland grocery stores and delis.

How Successful Has it Been?
Spearfishing is decreasing numbers of lionfish in the Bay Islands. However, it is only effective if it is done in conjunction with properly managed areas. Though it is too early to tell the overall effect of the spearfishing initiative, ongoing assessments of the reefs reveal that there is an increase in biomass of reef fish where lionfish are hunted.

An ongoing challenge of the spearfishing project is the potential abuse of permit rights. Some local fishermen, who are trained and given licenses, illegally hunt protected reef fish, such as snapper and grouper. This is clearly seen when patrol boats find these fish speared in local fishers boats around the islands.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Partnerships between local and international NGOs: The widespread lionfish invasion compelled many local NGOs to come together. This partnership has allowed NGOs to pool their resources and expertise and has led to better managed marine protected areas.
  • A united front: The NGOs presenting a united front was important to improving the visibility of Bay Islands’ conservation issues at the national and international level. Where there were once many separately managed MPAs, there is now one large MPA, the Bay Islands National Marine Park. The NGOs coordinate their messages and their initiatives, which has been helpful in asking the government to grant licenses for spearfishing lionfish.
  • The need for a “middle man”: International NGOs like CORAL and the Healthy Reefs Initiative, help to create neutral ground in a contentious local NGO environment. The monitoring training also helped to bring together local NGOs.
  • Spearfishing only works with concurrent management: Reefs that were found to be more resilient to the lionfish invasion were those reefs that were already adequately managed. For example, areas that had better water quality and higher levels of surveillance/enforcement had higher populations of grouper (Epinephelus sp. and Mycteroperca sp.) and other animals that predate lionfish. In areas with higher diversity, unlikely predators might emerge. For example, sharks and eels have been found to prey on lionfish and sharks can be trained by divers to eat lionfish. In shark sanctuary sites there are fewer and smaller lionfish than in sites with fewer sharks.

Funding Summary

Eighty percent of the enforcement and environmental education projects carried out by the Roatán Marine Park are funded through voluntary taxes from dive shops and an eco-store that is locally managed. About 20% of program work is funded through grants.

Lead Organizations
Healthy Reefs Initiative
Coral Reef Alliance
Bay Islands Conservation Association Utila
Roatán Marine Park
Utila Center for Marine Ecology
The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment Program

Government of Honduras

Roatán Marine Park Lionfish Program

Lionfish Guide to Control and Management (pdf)

Written by: Ian Drysdale, Honduras Coordinator for the Healthy Reefs Initiative
Jenny Myton, Honduras Field Rep for the Coral Reef Alliance
Giacomo Palavicini, Executive Director of the Roatán Marine Park

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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Experiment Mimics Fishing on Parrotfish: Insights on Coral Reef Recovery and Alternative Attractors

Alternative stable states and phase shifts of coral- to algae- dominated systems has been observed on Caribbean coral reefs with little or no signs of recovery. To better understand the mechanism by which depletion of herbivores leads to a loss of coral, large parrotfish were excluded from coral nursery habitat in two locations on the Belizean Barrier Reef, Glovers Reef and Carrie Bow Cay. Mimicking the removal of large fish by fishing, the authors used ‘parrotfish deterrents’ (PDs) around coral settlement plates and studied herbivory and macroalgae abundance. At both sites algae abundance was found to reduce coral recruitment. Porites coral failed to recruit at medium levels of algae and was more negatively impacted than Agaricia coral. These finding along with other studies suggest that algal abundance is a proximate driver of coral recruitment and thus recovery of Caribbean coral reefs.

Author: Steneck, R.S., S.N. Arnold, and P.J. Mumby
Year: 2014
View Full Article

Marine Ecology Progress Series 506: 115–127. doi: 10.3354/meps10764

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Chronic Nutrient Enrichment Increases Prevalence and Severity of Coral Disease and Bleaching

After exposing test plots in the Florida Keys, USA to increased nutrients (at levels equivalent to nutrient input from onshore sources), researchers found that increased nutrient levels led to increased prevalence and severity of coral diseases and coral bleaching. However, one year after nutrient enrichment stopped, there were no differences in bleaching or disease, indicating that coastal nutrients are increasing prevalence of bleaching and disease. Local scale nutrient input may worsen the effects of global stressors, so limiting nutrient input may be an important management tool for reducing threats to corals. This study is the first to show that nutrients can cause an increase of prevalence of disease or bleaching in the field. 

Vega Thurber, R.L., D.E. Burkepile, C. Fuchs, A.A. Shantz, R. McMinds, and J.R. Zaneveld
Year: 2013
View Abstract
Email for the full article:

Global Change Biology 20(2): 544–554. doi:10.1111/gcb.12450

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Kenya – Disturbance Response

Coral Bleaching Response and Monitoring in the Kiunga Marine National Reserve

Kiunga, Kenya, Western Indian Ocean

Kiunga Marine Project map. © World Wildlife Fund/Kenya Wildlife Service

Kiunga Marine Project map. © World Wildlife Fund/Kenya Wildlife Service

The Challenge
Kiunga Marine National Reserve (KMNR) is located at the northernmost stretch of the Kenyan coastline at the confluence of two major ocean currents (the north-flowing East African coastal current and the south-flowing Somali current), which creates nutrient-rich upwelling. The reserve covers 250km2 and provides a refuge for sea turtles and dugongs. The coral reefs found within KMNR are comprised of mainly patch reefs, with fringing reef in the northern part. Seagrass beds form the most extensive wildlife habitat in the KMNR. Mangroves also provide critical habitat for various species, serving as forage and resting areas for sea turtles and nursery grounds for juvenile fishes. These mangrove-dominated environments equate to approximately 30% – 40% of Kenya’s mangrove stock.

The primary goal of the reserve is to safeguard the biodiversity and integrity of physical and ecological processes of KMNR, for the health, welfare, enjoyment and inspiration of present and future generations. Although resilience principles were not initially taken into consideration during the design of the reserve in 1979, they have since played a major role in the management of the reserve. The 1998 mass bleaching event triggered interest in the effects of climate change, and subsequently resilience principles were incorporated into the management plan.

Barracudas. © Gabriel Grimsditch

Barracudas. © Gabriel Grimsditch

Climate change, El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) related events, and overfishing are a threat to this area. Kiunga reefs are ecologically marginal due to a natural barrier provided by major rivers separating them from other Kenyan reefs, and to the influence of high nutrients from upwelling off Somalia. The Kiunga reef system has not recovered from the 1998 bleaching event as quickly as other reefs along the Kenyan coast.

Numerous factors have made management of the reserve challenging. Due to the area’s proximity to the Somali border, it is difficult to enforce management schemes and patrol the area. The local community does not have a strong appreciation for sustainable resource exploitation in an area of constant lawlessness. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) are working to promote environmental education and awareness programs that co-manage natural resources with the local community. The area’s remoteness also makes management challenging because of logistics, high operational costs, and the difficulty of recruiting and retaining skilled and dedicated personnel.

Kiunga Marine National Reserve. © Gabriel Grimsditch

Kiunga Marine National Reserve. © Gabriel Grimsditch

Actions Taken
To address the issues of management capacity, WWF and KWS have partnered with conservation and research organizations to carry out regular monitoring to both share costs and attract expertise. With the assistance of partners, the goal has been to reduce impacts (such as fishing) by encouraging sustainable gear and practices, thus improving the reefs ability to withstand natural disturbances.

Currently, coral reef resilience monitoring is being implemented due to the development of an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) methodology. In 1998, the ENSO-related bleaching event generated a partnership between Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO) East Africa, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) for monitoring. These partners focused on monitoring bleaching (using a Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network methodology), while a wider team of 20 local fishermen monitored other coral reef ecological indicators such as fish, invertebrate and benthic populations, as well as the use of fishing gear. In 2006, a monitoring partnership with KWS began monitoring coral disease. In 2008, monitoring of coral reef resilience began in partnership with IUCN, CORDIO and KWS. Indicators that are being monitored include coral size class, herbivorous fish populations, coral condition and other wider resilience indicators such as oceanographic, anthropogenic and ecological factors. These various monitoring programs have guided management interventions by forming the benchmark for a zoning plan, and by enhancing co-management of natural resources due to increased participation and knowledge of fishermen in the region.

How Successful has it been?
The integration of resilience principles in the management of the KMNR has improved management of resources due to increased knowledge of the reserve and its resources. Additionally, co-management has been enhanced and relationships with the local community have improved. Lastly, the level of awareness of coral reef conservation within the local fishing communities has increased. This has changed the attitude of fishermen, who now recognize the importance of conserving their environment for the future and are now less likely to use destructive fishing gear.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Functional partnerships between government agencies and NGOs are critical for effective management and cost reduction.
  • Community buy-in is critical to establishing resource ownership and raising awareness/knowledge of environmental/climate change issues within the local community.
  • It is recommended that resilience studies and principles be understood and communicated among scientists, resource managers, and resource users.
  • It is critical to reduce the human impacts on reserves to provide a foundation for resource managers to better mitigate against the impacts of climate change.
  • Raising the profile of climate change is critical so that managers can help the community understand the real and present threat to natural resources.
  • Working to increase community understanding of the importance of taking a resilience-based approach to management is critical to management success.


Funding Summary
MacArthur Foundation
United States Agency for International Development (USAID-GCP)
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Lead Organizations
WWF Regional Office for Africa
Coastal Oceans Research and Development – Indian Ocean East Africa (CORDIO)

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS)
Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI)
Kenya Department of Fisheries
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Kiunga Marine National Reserve
Natural resource dependence, livelihoods and development: Perceptions from Kiunga, Kenya (pdf)

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