Year in Review

In 2016, The Reef Resilience Network convened hundreds of marine resource managers, scientists, and decision-makers to inspire greater collaboration, share cutting-edge resilience science, and improve management decisions.

The International Coral Reef Symposium and World Conservation Congress offered ideal venues to further this work, as well as share lessons learned during the Network’s ten years. Notable scientific contributions include our research collaboration with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to identify coral reef refuges in Palau in the face of increasing thermal stress and ocean acidity.

Take a look at our Year in Review to see our latest efforts in helping marine managers manage  coral reefs more effectively. 


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New Network Resources: Spotlight on the Western Indian Ocean

Cleaning a coral nursery. © Reef Rescuers

Content Here

Improving Management of Spawning Aggregation Fisheries in the Seychelles Using Acoustic Telemetry

Marine managers in the Seychelles are collecting and using behavioral information on Shoemaker spinefoots to develop management strategies that protect spawning aggregations of these commercially important fish. Read the case study.

Reef Rescuers: Coral Gardening as an MPA Management Tool

To repair coral bleaching damage in a marine reserve in the Seychelles, a large scale reef restoration project uses “coral gardening”, a technique that involves collecting small pieces of healthy coral, growing them in underwater nurseries, and then transplanting them to degraded sites. Read the case studyWatch the webinar.

Preparing for Coral Bleaching in the Western Indian Ocean

David Obura of CORDIO East Africa presents updated guidance (in four basic steps!) for monitoring bleaching events in the Western Indian Ocean at basic, intermediate, and expert levels. Watch the webinar.

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Seychelles – Fisheries Management

Making Use of Acoustic Telemetry to Improve Management of Spawning Aggregation Fishery in the Seychelles

Praslin Island, Seychelles

Large migratory fish such as Tuna are unlikely to be protected by an MPA.

Large migratory fish such as Tuna are unlikely to be protected by an MPA.

The Challenge
Understanding the behavior of threatened species can increase the effectiveness of conservation efforts and reduce the cost of intervention. The use of marine protected areas (MPAs) is being promoted as one of the tools for the conservation of marine species. However, the effectiveness of MPAs is dependent on their ability to protect target species. Site-attached species with small home ranges are more likely to benefit from small MPAs than more mobile species with large home ranges. Many reef fishes with small home ranges are known to migrate long distances, during specific times of the year, and form large transient spawning aggregations that can last for several days. These migrations can take them outside the boundaries of MPAs where they are unprotected. In such circumstances these species need to be managed using a range of management options which can offer them a certain degree of protection while participating in spawning aggregations.

One of the rabbit fishes, the Shoemaker spinefoot (Siganus sutor) is a coral reef-associated herbivorous species that is known to form large transient spawning aggregations. The species is endemic to the Western Indian Ocean and is a commercially important target species in much of the region, often constituting more than 40% of inshore reef fishery catch by weight. In the Seychelles islands, Shoemaker spinefoots form monthly spawning aggregations at multiple sites around the time of the full moon between September and June. The locations and timing of these aggregations are known by the local fishers and a fishery has developed that specifically targets them. During these periods, catch per unit of effort increases and large quantities of spawning fishes are caught, sometimes even before they have had a chance to reproduce. This situation raises serious concerns regarding the health of the stock and undermines the effectiveness of nearby MPAs in protecting this species.

Implantation of acoustic transmitters in Shoemaker spinefoot. © Jude Bijoux

Implantation of acoustic transmitters in Shoemaker spinefoot. © Jude Bijoux

Actions Taken
To come up with management options to better protect spawning aggregations of Shoemaker spinefoots, a joint study was undertaken by the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) and the Praslin Fishers Association (PFA). The aim of the study was to use acoustic telemetry to collect behavioral information on fish attending spawning aggregations that could be used to guide conservation efforts and to raise awareness of the local communities on the need for sustainable exploitation of spawning aggregations.The study set out to (1) characterize the residency time of Shoemaker spinefoots at known spawning aggregation sites, (2) describe the lunar and diel pattern of arrival and departure at the sites, and (3) determine fidelity to specific spawning sites. Once the degree of site fidelity to specific spawning aggregation sites was determined, the study investigated whether the selection of spawning aggregation sites was innate or socially mediated through translocation of acoustically tagged fish between two sites. Monitoring of acoustic signals coming from the tagged fish was undertaken at the two study sites as well as at three other spawning aggregation sites in the area using an array of acoustic receivers. When a transmitter came within range of an acoustic receiver, the tag ID date and time was automatically recorded. From the logs researchers were able to reconstruct fish behavior, such as residence time, fidelity, and time of arrival and departure. A secondary aim of the study was to promote collaboration among staff of the SFA and members of PFA.

How successful has it been?
The study was highly successful as it was able to reduce conflict between marine scientists from SFA and fishers from the island of Praslin. Collaboration between researchers and fishermen allowed experiences to be shared, and built up camaraderie. The acoustic telemetry study was able to accurately determine the lunar and diel timing of arrival and departure of aggregating fish at the spawning site, as well as documented spawning site fidelity and residence time. Unexpectedly, the study showed that there was a constant turn-over of fish participating in the spawning aggregation and that the amount of fish participating was much higher than was previously believed. The translocation study found that translocated fish display a wide range of behaviors, which included: 1) homing back to their original spawning site, 2) adopting the site where they were translocated, and 3) confusion, which caused them to wander between sites. From an awareness point of view, the study focused the attention of the public, especially the fishers on Praslin, on the plight of rabbit fish spawning aggregation sites and the threat that overfishing may pose. As a result, there was strong support from the Praslin fishing community during the drafting of the demersal fisheries management plan to limit the number of fish traps used during spawning aggregation periods.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and key recommendations include:

Social and governance issues:

  • It is important to have jointly implemented activities between fishers and fisheries management organizations. These activities create the space for people from both sides to meet, discuss issues and share experiences.
  • Once these working relationships between fishers and staff of fisheries management organizations have been created, it is important to keep them going through continuous involvement in new projects and initiatives.
  • The project was jointly implemented by SFA and PFA, and both partners actively participated in the project from its inception in the identification of research questions, sources of funding and implementation modalities. Equal involvement of both partners ensured that the project ran smoothly.
  • Involvement of fishermen in research projects is a better tool for raising awareness compared to presenting them with the results at the end of the project.
  • Fishermen know a lot about the behavior of fish species but they also have some misconceptions. Collaboration between fishers and scientists is thus encouraged so that fisher knowledge can be shared with scientists and scientists can also explain scientific principles to fishers and clear any misconceptions.

Scientific issues:

  • Due to the high cost of acoustic transmitters (US $350) and receivers (US $1,300) not all known spawning aggregation sites in the study area could be instrumented and the number of fish that were acoustically tagged (39 at study No. 1 and 56 at study No. 2) were limited. In such circumstances where cost limits the sample size it is good to combine acoustic tagging with conventional tagging which is much cheaper and have the capacity to provide much needed additional data.
  • The range at which the acoustic transmitters can be detected by the receivers is affected by ambient noise and can skew the results. Sentinel tags placed high in the water column at specific locations should be used to allow detection patterns to be more easily interpreted alongside change in detection efficiency.
  • Only the spawning aggregation sites were monitored using acoustic receivers and as a result no data could be collected when fish were outside of the receivers array.
  • Shoemaker spinefoot spawning aggregations can last up to seven days with fish arriving at the site as early as three days before the full moon and departing as late as three days after the full moon. Temporal protection measures at the spawning sites should coincide with these seven days.
  • Most tagged fish arrive at the spawning aggregation sites at dawn and depart at dusk. It is believed that these fish were using the rising and setting of the sun as a means of navigation.
  • Spawning fish showed fidelity to groups of closely related sites, indicating that fidelity is to a particular region and not necessarily specific sites. It is thus recommended that these spawning aggregation sites are managed by area rather than as independent sites.

Funding Summary
This work was supported through grants from the Marine and Coastal Science for Management (MASMA) Programme (Grant No. MASMA/OR/2008/06) of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) and from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) Small Grant Program (SGP) to the Praslin Fishers Association (PFA) (Grant No. SEY/SGP/OP4/Y3/RAF/2010/05). Financial and logistical support was also provided by the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) through the European Union (EU) from the sectoral policy support funds of the EU/Seychelles Fisheries Protocols under the Fisheries Partnership Agreement.

Lead Organizations
Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA)
Praslin Fishers Association (PFA)

Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)
GoS-UNDP-GEF Mainstreaming Biodiversity Project
Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA)

Spawning aggregation dynamics of brown-marbled grouper and camouflage grouper at a remote Indian Ocean atoll (pdf)

Temporal dynamics, residency and site fidelity of spawning aggregations of a herbivorous tropical reef fish Siganus sutor

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Belize – Community Engagement

Community Researcher Program Builds Reef Stewardship in Belize

Port Honduras Marine Reserve, Belize

Fish in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve in Belize. © TIDE

Fish in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve in Belize. © TIDE

The Challenge
The Port Honduras Marine Reserve (PHMR) is a national protected marine reserve in the Toledo district of Belize. It covers 40,470 hectares (100,000 acres) of mangrove and coastal ecosystems, and encompasses over one hundred small, mangrove-­fringed cayes, benthic habitats comprising soft-bottom seagrass beds and fringing reefs.

A local nongovernmental organization, the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) employs rangers that carry out management and enforcement throughout the reserve, and until recently, had also been primarily responsible for monitoring in the reserve. However, the large area and limited staff resources made monitoring and effective enforcement difficult. The other main challenge is that of building support for the MPA and fisheries regulations among stakeholders. Until the Port Honduras Marine Reserve was founded in 2000 and TIDE and the Fisheries Department began to enforce regulations, local fishers were unaccustomed to being regulated. Fish stocks were, and still are, in a relatively healthy state, making it difficult to convince fishers that regulation is needed. In particular, the ban of gill nets in the reserve is perceived as having had a negative economic impact, increasing conflicts and hindering efforts to build stewardship.

Port Honduras Marine Reserve Ranger Station. © TIDE

Port Honduras Marine Reserve Ranger Station. © TIDE

Actions Taken
With the logistical challenge of monitoring fisheries, endangered species, ecosystem health and water quality over 100,000 acres of water in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve, TIDE began the Community Researcher Program. Through this program, TIDE has trained 15 young people from PHMR’s buffer communities (five per year for three years) to SCUBA dive and conduct environmental monitoring, then employed the best performers to conduct monitoring in PHMR on an on-going basis.

Trainees in the Community Researchers Program receive SCUBA training. © TIDE

Trainees in the Community Researchers Program receive SCUBA training. © TIDE

The monitoring activities performed by community researchers include:

  • Coral reef health using the MBRS method (specific to the Mesoamerican Reef) and AGGRA method (for comparison with the rest of the Caribbean)
  • Seagrass health using the SeagrassNet method
  • Mangrove ecosystem productivity using the MBRS method
  • Turtle nest monitoring
  • Conch and lobster surveys
  • Water quality monitoring, including nutrient and sediment analysis
  • Fish stock assessment (catch and market surveys)
  • Lionfish monitoring and culling
  • Collection of fish otoliths and observation of gut contents and gonad development.

As well as the monitoring techniques, community researchers are trained in:

  • SCUBA diving (PADI Open Water Diver)
  • GPS use and basic GIS analysis
  • Emergency first response
  • Basic environmental science, including basic coral reef ecology, land-sea interconnectivity and the impact of human activities.

How successful has it been?
The program has been very successful at addressing the challenges of monitoring and building support for the reserve. Zoe Walker, an independent assessor, concluded that “the Community Researcher Programme provides a good model for other organizations, with integration of community researchers into the science programme activities, and capacity-building targeted to ensure reliable data collection.” To date, the main successes of the program are:

TIDE community researchers training

Community Researchers in training. © TIDE

Building Stewardship: The initiative has excelled at building passion for conservation in the young participants. Community researcher Willie Caal was studying to be a primary school teacher when he joined. Within six months, he had switched to natural resource management and is excited about a career in conservation. “Being a community researcher can actually change your life. It changed me because I got more chance[s] to be in the ocean. I’m now more interested in conservation, in protecting the environment.” Community researcher Alana Barillas put it this way, “it makes you appreciate the environment more. It makes you see what’s really happening. [For example,] you see what is affecting the sea grass and the benefits that sea grass brings in terms of the nursery and controlling sedimentation. Knowing that makes you want to cherish it.” Those community researchers who are also fishers say they have improved their practices. “I have more commitment to practicing the right things that will benefit the environment,” said one.

The impacts don’t end with the community researchers – they are rippling through the wider community. Fishers now have more confidence in the use of scientific research as a basis for reserve management. One recently commented that he believes TIDE’s research results because his own daughter is involved in the data collection. “I come from a fishing family,” says Willie Caal. “My family loves to see me working in this kind of field. They ask me about the abundance of conch and lobster in the sea. I tell them they are more abundant in the conservation zones and they are reproducing there.” The community researchers are ambassadors for conservation and sustainable management. They communicate with resource-users about human impacts on ecosystems in a way they understand, creating deeper understanding and building stewardship. Fishers are starting to buy in to the idea that resource management is something that should be done by the community, for the community.

Building capacity for conservation: The program has increased TIDE’s research and monitoring capacity greatly by enabling the survey of more sites more often and to a higher standard than before. It is also providing trained personnel for other organizations. For example, our community researchers have done monitoring work for the Healthy Reefs Initiative and collaborated on projects with Blue Ventures and the University of Belize.

Employment opportunities outside of fishing: TIDE is employing up to ten community researchers on a part-time basis. Furthermore, the training is enabling participants to find good salaried positions, for instance in the Belize Coast Guard and at a local dive resort. Over the coming years, we expect more to find jobs with the University of Belize, Fisheries Department and NGOs around the country.

Personal development: The program has created an exciting environment in TIDE’s research and monitoring department. Community researchers are exposed to exciting projects and interact with international volunteers. They like working alongside likeminded people passionate about the environment. With the initial group of community researchers, it was very difficult to get them to do anything without paying them. Now, most of them volunteer for extra duties because they care about the work and the research results, they want to gain experience and they enjoy the work.

Next steps

A Level 2 TIDE Community Researcher course is being planned, in which participants will be trained in ecology, basic data analysis, laboratory techniques and communications skills and receive PADI Advanced Open Water Diver certification. Next steps also include having the community researchers talk at schools about life as a community researcher and what it means to protect the environment. They will also receive media training and act as spokespeople to help build reef stewardship across Belize.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Make an effort to recruit the right people: Having the right people is key and using a widely publicized competitive application process including an application form and interview will maximize your chances of finding good quality candidates. TIDE recruits people who not only represent the community but also have a commitment to the environment and the right aptitudes. To be eligible, candidates must:

  • Come from the local community
  • Be aged 18+
  • Have graduated from high school
  • Be able to swim
  • Be contactable by phone and email
  • Demonstrate an interest in the environment and willingness to learn

Put due effort into training: As with selecting the right participants, this is key. Get the training right and everything that follows will be easier. ‘Continual reinforcement’ is used throughout the training. Provide handouts to avoid note-taking and enable trainees to listen. Most importantly, make the trainees learn by doing. The best way to learn anything is to do it and practical, hands-on training works best for most people. Allow the trainees plenty of time to practice techniques under supervision and be prepared to throw out your initial data as practice runs. Even classroom lessons can be interactive – don’t just state facts, get them to discover concepts for themselves by asking them the right questions.

Save yourself time and resources by using teaching resources from organizations: Find out what monitoring methods other organizations in your area are using. Standardize methods with them and see what they can offer in terms of training – they may be able to provide methods training or at least materials. For example, TIDE’s coral health monitoring methods and protocol for monitoring mangrove productivity were taken straight from the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Survey manual. The Healthy Reefs Initiative has training materials for the AGGRA method and ECOMAR provides training and materials for turtle nest monitoring.

Quality control mechanisms are necessary: To ensure a high quality of data collection and management, quality control checks must be performed at multiple stages. Trainees must pass theoretical and practical exams to qualify as TIDE community researchers and all research and monitoring activities are carried out under the supervision of an experienced marine biologist. The supervisor performs duplicate measurements alongside the community researcher on the first occasion that they use each technique and at random intervals thereafter. Any discrepancies between the results are discussed and problems resolved. All data entry is double-checked and there is an accountability trail for all data (the names of the people who collected, input and checked the data are recorded). Only community researchers who demonstrate competence and reliability continue to be employed.

Ensure high safety standards: Clearly an accident could undo a lot of your good work and so health and safety must be maintained. TIDE’s community researchers are insured for diving (the cost is shared) and they receive training in emergency first response and practice implementing an emergency action plan. The research vessel is equipped with an O2 kit and first aid kit and TIDE ensures that a rescue diver is present on all monitoring trips involving diving and insists that community researchers submit their dive logs before they can get paid.

Lead Organizations
Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE)

Australian Caribbean Coral Reef Collaboration (AusAID)

TIDE Community Researcher Program
Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Health Assessment
Healthy Reefs Initiative

This case study was adapted from: Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) 2015. Reef stewardship in Belize: TIDE community researcher program. A case study developed for the Australian Caribbean Coral Reef Collaboration.

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