Population Genetic Structure Between Yap and Palau for the Coral Acropora Hyacinthus

(ALL INTERNAL, LIMITED EXTERNAL USAGE RIGHTS) Vibrant coral reef in Palau. While looking healthy, the white corals are the early signs of a struggling habitat as they begin to bleach from warm waters often attributed to climate change. Unfortunately there is not a reef in Palau that has not been affected in some way by coral bleaching. The coral reefs of Palau are part of a massive interconnected system that ties together Micronesia and the Western Pacific. To protect these reefs the Conservancy joined with other experts to develop Transforming Coral Reef Conservation. The Conservancy has worked with Palau’s community leaders and government agencies since 1992. In that time we have helped bridge the gap between traditional and modern approaches to conservation. The Conservancy helped establish the Palau Conservation Society, a local environmental organization dedicated to protecting Palau’s natural heritage. PHOTO CREDIT: © Ian Shive

Vibrant coral reef in Palau. Photo © Ian Shive

Listen to our interview with Dr. Annick Cros, coral reef scientist at the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology to hear about highlights from her recent publication on population genetic structure between Yap and Palau and how genetics can be used in coral reef management.

Click the play button below to listen to the interview.


Interview Transcript 

Reef Resilience (RR): Hello everyone, Reef Resilience is interviewing Dr. Annick Cros, coral reef scientist at the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology where she will share highlights from her recent publication on population genetic structure between Yap and Palau and how genetics can be used to tackle conservation issues.

Annick Cros (AC): Hi everyone! Thanks for having me here.

RR: Can you start with introducing what population genetics is?

AC: In very simple terms, it is the study of genetic variations in populations to understand their structure, boundaries and connectivity with other populations. When you study population genetics, you typically ask questions such as: “How much gene flow is there between these two populations?” As a manager, you surprisingly ask very similar questions! “How much spillover will I get from this MPA and where will larvae recruit?” Or “are these two groups of turtles related and should I manage them as one?”

RR: How can population genetics be used as a tool in management?

AC: So you are right in thinking that using population genetics to solve a conservation issue can be time consuming, expensive and requires resources and skills you may not have. However, in the case of connectivity of marine organisms, and the design of MPA networks, population genetics seems to be the best tool that we have at the moment. This is due to the fact most marine organisms reproduce via minute pelagic larvae that are very difficult to track. Since we often rely on oceanographic models to predict where larvae will go and settle we do not always get the right answer. Population genetics will not track larvae directly but will give information on where larvae have settled over time. The paper that we wrote actually is an example of how to use population genetics to answer one of these questions. 

We used Palau as our case study because in 1998 Palau suffered heavy bleaching mortality. Yet by 2004-2005, studies showed that the reef had almost recovered. Managers and scientists wanted to know how it had recovered so quickly and where the coral larvae came from. One hypothesis that we had was supported by an oceanographic model was that Palau recovered from a pulse recruitment event from Yap, a neighboring island approximately 500 km away. We wanted to test if this was true. Using the coral Acropora hyacinthus, we tested for a founder effect between Yap and Palau. The founder effect states that if larvae originating from Yap had traveled to Palau and recolonized the reef, the same genetic signatures should be found on Yap and Palau but with less genetic diversity in Palau. And that’s because only a small fraction of Yap’s genetic diversity would have traveled to Palau. We found that this was not the case and we rejected the hypothesis that Yap was the sole source of larvae for Palau’s recovery. Other signs indicated that it was more than likely that Palau recovered from its own surviving colonies.

RR: How do the results from your paper translate into management actions that can be implemented on the ground?

AC: Knowing that Palau had not recovered from Yap but from it’s own surviving colonies, this gave us the tools to tell managers that the best strategy to increase Palau’s reef resilience was to not to invest in Yap’s coral reefs but to instead invest in protecting their reefs at home. We are currently looking at further information to see how to protect these coral reefs at home based on population genetics. 

Author: Cros, A., R.J. Toonen, S.W. Davies, and S.A. Karl
Year: 2016
View Abstract
Email for the full article:

PeerJ4e2330. doi:10.7717/peerj.2330

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Malaysia – MPA Management

Eco-tourism Supports Marine Conservation Area in Malaysia

Sabah, Malaysia

The Challenge
The islands and surrounding waters off the coast of Sandakan in northeast Sabah, Malaysia are home to 500 species of reef fish, 300 species of corals, 25 species of seagrass and algae, and 7 species of giant clams. Part of the Coral Triangle region, this area is known for its exceptional coral reef diversity and its marine resources have high economic value, particularly for fisheries. The reefs however have been subjected to unsustainable fishing and illegal and destructive fishing practices which have compromised coral reef habitats.

Actions Taken
In 1997, the owners of Lankayan Island Dive Resort (LIDR) initiated the establishment of the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA), to counteract illegal and destructive fishing in the area and to protect turtle nesting habitats, fish populations and coral reef habitats. SIMCA is a privately managed no-take marine protected area located 80 km from the coastal town of Sandakan in northeastern Sabah, Malaysia. The reserve covers 463 km2 of the Sulu Sea and includes the islands of Billean, Tegapil and Lankayan.

SIMCA MalaysiaSIMCA was established as an IUCN Category II Conservation Area under the provisions of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997. Category II areas are managed to preserve natural conditions and provide opportunities for recreation, so fishing and other extractive activities are prohibited. The heads of Sabah Parks, the Department of Fisheries, Sabah Wildlife Department and LIDR met on Lankayan to discuss the idea of a privately managed marine reserve. Following this meeting, LIDR drafted a proposal and management plan; the reserve was subsequently gazetted in 2001. LIDR funded SIMCA’s establishment, which totaled around RM200,000 (US $63,600). In 2003, the government of Sabah, in the guise of the Sabah Wildlife Department, a unit within the Ministry of Tourism, Development, Environment, Science and Technology, leased the conservation area to Reef Guardian. The lease agreement runs for 30 years at the cost of RM60,000 (US $19,000) per year. The lease has an optional ten-year extension.

How successful has it been?
SIMCA is managed by Reef Guardian, which is a private not-for-profit organization wholly owned by Pulau Sipadan Resort, the parent company of Lankayan Island Dive Resort (LIDR). LIDR, the only accommodation within the reserve, helps fund Reef Guardian operations by levying a conservation fee on all visitors to the resort. Reef Guardian uses funds derived from the visitor fees to establish surveillance systems, monitor the reserve, enforce regulations, train personnel, and undertake conservation and outreach programs. Since establishment of the conservation area, incidences of illegal fishing and turtle poaching have declined and fish abundance and turtle egg laying have increased.

Aerial view of Lankayan Island dive resort. Photo © Reef Guardian

Aerial view of Lankayan Island dive resort. Photo © Reef Guardian

Reef Guardian monitors and enforces reserve regulations and runs marine conservation and outreach programs. Reef Guardian is staffed by 15 personnel who are stationed on Lankayan Island. The team is led by a marine biologist, who develops scientific research programs and outreach initiatives. Other staff members are responsible for ecological monitoring, turtle hatchings, radar surveillance and reserve enforcement. Staff operations are aided by Reef Guardian’s three high-speed patrol boats and radar equipment. Enforcement officers patrol the reserve’s boundaries and have powers of inspection and seizure. The officers are trained and certified as Honorary Wildlife Wardens. They are permitted to arrest offenders with assistance from the local enforcement agency. The combination of regular patrols and radar surveillance has all but halted illegal and destructive fishing in the reserve.

Nudibranch. Photo © Reef Guardian

Nudibranch. Photo © Reef Guardian

Compliance with regulations is high, in part because no fishing families live within the reserve. Prior to the construction of LIDR, there was one family residing on Lankayan. After being consulted, however, the family approved development plans for the island. Despite the success of SIMCA, it remains the only privately managed marine protected area in Malaysia. The owners of LIDR have encountered institutional resistance whenever they have suggested similar initiatives to the Government of Sabah.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Visitor fees have provided sustainable financing for management of the reserve and
investment in personnel training and surveillance technology to enforce the rules and regulations of the conservation area. In collaboration with government enforcement agencies, Reef Guardian has reduced threats such as illegal fishing and turtle egg poaching. As a result, there is a comparatively high abundance of commercially important fish, and turtle nesting at Lankayan Island has increased. Private management can be effective in conserving biodiversity in MPAs, and may well exceed regionally unsuitable locations.

Funding Summary
Reef Guardian operations are partially funded by a conservation fee of RM25 (US $8) per visitor per night levied on the guests of Lankayan Island Dive Resort. The conservation fee generates approximately RM250,000 (US $79,400) of revenue each year, which comprises 50% of the total operational costs of the reserve. The remaining costs are met entirely by grants, a resort lease fee (RM50,000 per resort) and the director’s fund. SIMCA’s RM500,000 (US $158,800) total annual operating costs translates to a per-hectare cost of US $3.43/year, which compares favorably with a median of US $7.80 per ha/year in a worldwide survey of the operational costs of 83 marine protected areas. The reserve also received a US $20,000 grant from Conservation International in 2006, US $44,000 from National Fish & Wildlife Foundation in 2008, US $61,000 from Conservation International Philippines in 2009, RM100,000 research fund from WWF-Malaysia, and RM60,000 project fund from the Ministry of Science Technology Innovation Malaysia in 2014. Furthermore, there are no tax breaks or other financial incentives available to LIDR’s owners in return for their donations to Reef Guardian.

Lead Organizations
Reef Guardian

Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area
Lankayan Island Dive Resort
Video about the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area
A private management approach to coral reef conservation in Sabah, Malaysia

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Communications and Facilitation Workshop to Support Bahamas’ MPAs – Bahamas, 2016

Bahamas workshop The Reef Resilience Network provided strategic communication support for a three-year project in the Bahamas to improve management of existing marine protected areas (MPAs) and expand MPAs to restore local fisheries. At the request of key project partners, Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation, The Nature Conservancy Bahamas, and the Bahamas National Trust, Reef Resilience staff led a one-hour strategic communication webinar followed by a two-day training six months later. The trainings built participants’ strategic communication and facilitation skills, and helped them refine key messages to conduct targeted and coordinated outreach across the Bahamas archipelago. Thirty-five Bahamian outreach specialists participated in the online and in-person workshops. Facilitation training was provided by NOAA.

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Climate Change Tools – Seychelles, 2015

In cooperation with NOAA’s International MPA Capacity Building Program and the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, we hosted a hands-on training for MPA managers and practitioners in the Western Indian Ocean region on tools to address climate change and enhance resilience within their MPAs. Twenty-six participants from eight countries in the region attended this week-long training on marine spatial planning, coastal processes with implications for management, and basic marine and coastal monitoring protocols, including hands-on training to monitor sea urchin density, structural complexity of the benthos, fish identification and sizing, and beach profiling. Read the report.
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Western Indian Ocean Training of Trainers – Zanzibar, 2013

The fourth in a series of four Training of Trainers (TOT) workshops included 25 managers from 10 countries throughout the Western Indian Ocean. Participants completed a 16-week online course prior to the in-person workshop. The five-day workshop was designed to create an atmosphere of learning and exchange with multiple opportunities for participants to share ideas with each other and interact with experts. Training in each topic area was provided throughout the week and expert coaches supported the participants in the development of a specific training plan for implementation in their area to build resilience into reef management.
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Southeast Asia Training of Trainers – Bali, 2012

The third in a series of Training of Trainers (TOT) workshops included 26 managers from 16 countries and territories. Participants completed the online Reef Resilience course and in‐person training. The workshop focused on building resilience into reef management and the tools that are available to address the impacts of climate change. The meeting brought together managers/trainers from throughout Southeast Asia to learn about and share ideas and led to the completion of in‐country trainings.
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Pacific Training of Trainers – Palau, 2011

The second in a series of Training of Trainers (TOT) workshops included 17 managers from 12 countries and territories in the Western Pacific islands. This two-part course consisted of an intensive, four-month online course that was mentored by global and regional experts on various course topics. Participants had weekly assignments and engaged in virtual discussions to further enhance their learning experience. This was followed by a week-long, in-person workshop to build skills in facilitation, communication, and resilient marine protected area design. Participants left the workshop with specific training action plans.

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Caribbean Training of Trainers – Florida, 2010

The first in a series of Training of Trainers (TOT) workshops included 26 managers from 19 Caribbean countries and territories. Participants took part in the three-month, intensive online course based on the Reef Resilience curriculum which included weekly discussion postings, online assessments and one long-term management planning assignment. The in-person workshop focused on reef resilience principles and provided participants with the tools to become successful trainers including facilitation, presentation skills, evaluation and the development of training implementation plans.

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Toward a Social Science Research Agenda for Large Marine Protected Areas

Large marine protected areas (LMPAs) are an emerging trend and are critical to achieving the Conservation on Biological Diversity’s target to protect 10% of the ocean by 2025. This paper addresses management concerns over LMPAs and calls for a distinct research agenda that examines both biological and social, or ‘human dimensions’, processes and outcomes. The study conducted interviews with LMPA managers, advocates, scientists, and donors along with participant observations at the 2014 World Parks Conference and a literature review.

Gruby et al.’s proposed LMPA social science research agenda consists of four related themes: scoping of human dimensions, governance, politics, and social and economic outcomes. More attention must be given to these four themes at all stages of the LMPA management process. Considering factors such as stakeholder engagement, policy interactions, and equitable distribution of benefits can help to mitigate conflict and increase LMPA effectiveness.

Author: Gruby, R.L., N.J. Gray, L.M. Campbell, and L. Acton
Year: 2015
View Full Article

Conservation Letters May/June 9(3): 153-163. doi: 10.1111/conl.12194

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