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

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Perceived Benefits of Fisheries Management Restrictions in Madagascar

Support for fisheries restrictions in coastal villages along coral reefs in Madagascar was studied to help guide the development of effective management practices. In Madagascar, as in other places with low enforcement capacity, effective management depends on understanding how to facilitate self-compliance. The researchers interviewed 465 people in 24 fishing villages using a questionnaire which included questions on fishing restriction and management preferences, in addition to socioeconomic questions. Support for management restrictions was high and unexpected given the poverty and dearth of past fisheries management. Incorporating this type of information on individual and village management preferences into management plans can increase the rate of compliance. To that end, the authors conclude that based on respondents’ perceptions, gear restrictions have broad appeal and could be implemented at the national level; while closed seasons and minimum size fish restrictions are more likely to be adopted on the village level. With low support for species restrictions, this type of management is expected to lead to conflict and undermine management. The authors point out the discrepancies between local and international donor and conservation group preferences, the latter groups often prefer closures and species restrictions, which can lead to slow progress of implementation. Thus, they advocate for working towards finding common ground and implementing the most supported restrictions first to support effective management.

Author: McClanahan, T. R., J. E. Cinner, C. Abunge, A. Rabearisoa, P. Mahatante, F. Ramahatratra, and N. Andrianarivelo
Year: 2014
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Ecology and Society 19(1): 5. doi: 10.5751/ES-06080-190105

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Meta-Analysis Indicates Habitat-Specific Alterations to Primary Producer and Herbivore Communities in Marine Protected Areas

A recent global quantitative review and meta-analysis was conducted on the effects of MPAs on coral reef herbivores and primary producers to support management decisions. Based on criteria for the meta-analysis, which included only well-enforced no-take MPAs, 41 individual publications representing 57 MPAs worldwide were included in the study. The authors found that within MPAs, macroalgal cover and sea urchin density were significantly lower as compared to fished areas. The relationship between macroalgae cover and herbivores was also explored. MPAs with higher populations of herbivorous fishes had significantly lower macroalgal cover. The authors conclude that the community response to MPAs is highly variable. Management implications include protecting key echinoid predators which appear crucial to the recovery of reefs. Also, actively managing grazers and predators should be an integral component of MPA design.

Author: Gilby, B.L. and T. Stevens
Year: 2014
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Global Ecology and Conservation 2: 289-299. doi: 0.1016/j.gecco.2014.10.005

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Developing Marine Protected Area Networks in the Coral Triangle: Good Practices for Expanding the Coral Triangle Marine Protected Area System

The authors describe six case studies of marine protected area (MPA) networks in the Coral Triangle region that differ in scale and the approach taken to establish the networks. These are:

  • Nusa Penida in Indonesia
  • Tun Mustapha Park in Malaysia
  • Kimbe Bay in Papua New Guinea
  • Verde Island Passage in the Philippines
  • The Lauru Ridges to Reefs Protected Area Network in Choiseul, Solomon Islands
  • Nino Konis Santana Park in Timor Leste

Through a synthesis of these case studies, common themes underlying successful outcomes were generated. These are:

  • Multi-stakeholder and cross-level management institutions: because ecological and institutional boundaries rarely overlap, multi-scale management and governance are needed for effective management
  • Integrated scientific information and local knowledge and traditions: MPA networks designed using scientific information and local knowledge that include stakeholder involvement typically have better compliance and community ownership
  • Building capacity for local responsibility and leadership: while all MPAs in the case studies above had the involvement of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), technical support should build the capacity for local management and leadership for long-term success
  • Multiple-use zoning to balance objectives: this flexible approach allows multiple objectives of the MPA network to be met for a broad range of stakeholder interests
  • Learning networks: Dissemination of lessons learned and best practices for MPA networks, and support networks are needed to share experiences and facilitate effective management

Author: Weeks, R., P.M. Aliño, S. Atkinson, P. Beldia II, A. Binson, W.L. Campos, R. Djohani, A.L. Green, R. Hamilton, V. Horigue, R. Jumin, K. Kalim, A. Kasasiah, J. Kereseka, C. Klein, L. Laroya, S. Magupin, B. Masike, C. Mohan, R.M. Da Silva Pinto, A. Vave-Karamui, C. Villanoy, M. Welly, and A.T. White
Year: 2014
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Coastal Management 42(2): 183-205. doi: 10.1080/08920753.2014.877768

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How Are Our MPAs Doing? Challenges in Assessing Global Patterns in Marine Protected Area Performance

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are established for a variety of reasons including: protecting marine biodiversity and habitats from degradation, replenishing depleted fish populations, regulating tourism and recreation, accommodating conflicting resource uses, and enhancing the welfare of local communities. In some cases effectively managed MPAs can lead to poverty alleviation, while in others, they may adversely affect local communities. This study utilized biophysical, social, and governance indicators from a commonly applied guidebook, How is your MPA doing?, to explore trends across 24 MPAs worldwide. The objective was to examine protected area goals and objectives and explore the possibility of using site-level data to understand how MPAs might be more effectively established and managed.

The authors found that monitoring is skewed toward biophysical goals and objectives. All five top MPA goals and all 20 of the top MPA objectives most commonly assessed by managers were biophysical. The authors suggest that this may be because biophysical goals and objectives can be assessed using few indicators, compared to governance or socioeconomic goals and objectives which require more indicators to assess. In addition, the authors found that smaller MPAs were correlated with better performance. The authors call for increased efforts to build awareness and capacity to conduct social science research to ensure that managers have the necessary skills to effectively assess the social consequences of MPA establishment. The authors also emphasize the importance of site-specific factors in driving MPA performance. They suggest that future MPA performance guidance include indicators to assess the effects of MPA networks, based on the idea that MPAs are likely to function better as part of a network than on their own. They also reinforce the need for greater emphasis on measuring the social impacts of MPAs to more accurately assess MPA performance. With improved global MPA datasets, policymakers and practitioners in the conservation and development community will be better able to understand what governance structures and resource use patterns are linked to stronger MPA performance.

Author: Fox, H.E., J.L. Holtzman, K.M. Haisfield, C.G. McNally, G.A. Cid, M.B. Mascia, J.E. Parks, and R.S. Pomeroy
Year: 2014
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Coastal Management 42: 207–226. doi: 10.1080/08920753.2014.904178

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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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Designing Marine Reserves for Fisheries Management, Biodiversity Conservation, and Climate Change Adaptation

Coral reef ecosystem goods and services, such as fisheries, are threatened by local and global stressors. Effectively designed and managed marine reserve networks (areas closed to all extractive uses) can reduce local threats and build resilience of coral reefs. This paper reviews recent scientific advances in criteria for designing marine reserve networks to achieve multiple objectives such as fisheries management, conservation, and climate change adaptation. The authors provide integrated guidelines regarding habitat representation, risk spreading, protecting critical habitat, incorporating connectivity, allowing time for recovery, adapting to changes in climate, and minimizing local threats. Integration of marine reserve networks into broader management frameworks is also stressed. Although the guidelines were written for the Coral Triangle region, they can be applied to coral reefs worldwide.

Ecological considerations and guidelines for marine reserve design outlined in the paper include:
Habitat representation: protect 20-40% of each major habitat
Risk spreading: protect at least 3 examples of each major habitat and spread them out
Critical areas: protect critical areas such as fish spawning aggregations, nursery, nesting, breeding, and feeding areas
Incorporating connectivity: apply minimum and variable sizes, 0.5-1 km and 5-20 km across, space reserves 1-15 km apart with smaller reserves closer together
Allowing time for recovery: put reserves in place for 20-40 years or permanently, use periodic closures in addition to long-term protection
Adapting to changes in climate: protect refugia of more resilient habitats
Minimizing local threats: place reserves in areas less likely to be impacted by local threats such as land-based pollution

Author: Green, A.L., L. Fernandes, G. Almany, R. Abesamis, E. McLeod, P.M. Aliño, A.T. White, R. Salm, J. Tanzer, and R.L. Pressey 
Year: 2014
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Coastal Management 42(2): 143-159. doi:10.1080/08920753.2014.877763

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Time Preferences and the Management of Coral Reef Fisheries

To better understand resource use patterns in Curaçao and Bonaire in the southeast Caribbean, the authors conducted a socioeconomic study of the time preferences and marine management preferences of local SCUBA divers and fishers. Through interviews with 197 divers and 153 fishers on the two islands, they calculated individual discount factors and present bias to evaluate time preferences and preferred strategies for managing coral reefs. Divers’ discount factors were significantly higher than fishers’, meaning they value the future more highly or are more future-biased. Divers, on average, supported more restrictions than fishers such as gear restrictions and marine reserves. And, only 1% of fishers were willing to limit the number of fishers, while 34% of divers were willing to limit the number of divers. Overall, divers were more supportive of management than fishers. The main management and policy implication of this study is that differences in diver and fisher groups should be addressed for effective marine management. The authors suggest offsets, such as a dive fee, like the Nature Fee in Bonaire used for marine park management. A portion of the fee could be used to pay fishers to reduce high-impact gears or the buyout of traps and nets. They also suggest property rights schemes within a larger management framework that includes some mix of gear or effort restrictions, incentives for sustainable use, enforcement, and local buy-in.

Author: Johnson, A.E. and D.K. Saunders
Year: 2014
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Ecological Economics 100: 130–139. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2014.01.004

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