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Sediment And Turbidity Associated With Offshore Dredging Increase Coral Disease Prevalence on Nearby Reefs

This study provides the first empirical evidence linking turbidity and sedimentation with elevated levels of coral disease and other indicators of compromised health in situ. The study was conducted in Australia’s Montebello and Barrow Islands, encompassing marine managed areas characterized by low human use, minimal development/industry and strict management. Detailed coral health assessments were conducted following the completion of an 18-month dredging project in 11 sites of varying sedimentation exposure. Every hard coral colony of 5 cm or greater in diameter along transects was surveyed to determine and classify disease presence, as well as other signs of compromised coral health. It was shown that coral reef exposure to the sediment plume was the main driver of higher levels of diseases and other indicators of degraded coral health. White syndromes (WS) disease prevalence strongly corresponded to high sedimentation and turbidity levels indicating the importance of water quality on coral disease and the need to manage coastal development to maintain nearshore reef health.

Author: Pollock, F.J., J.B. Lamb, S.N. Field, S.F. Heron, B. Schaffelke, et al.
Year: 2014
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PLoS ONE 9(7): e102498. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102498

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Using Wastewater Treatment Technologies to Reduce Nutrient Pollution Impacts on Coral Reefs

Watch on YouTube

March 11, 2015

Jim Bays, Technology Fellow at CH2M HILL discusses wastewater treatment technologies ranging from low-tech onsite treatment to large system level upgrades that improve public health and mitigate nutrient pollution impact to coral reefs and sensitive marine ecosystems. Case histories from small communities, resorts and large cities in coral reef areas are shared. Click here for resources from the presentation.

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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: www.reefresilience.org/network

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New Reef Resilience Online Course Launched

The new online course Advanced Studies in Coral Reef Resilience is designed to provide coral reef managers and practitioners in-depth guidance on managing for resilience. This free course incorporates new science, case studies, and management practices described in the Reef Resilience Toolkit.

The course includes six modules that discuss local and global stressors affecting coral reefs, guidance for identifying coral reef resilience indicators, design principles for resilient MPA networks, methods for implementing resilience assessments, and important communication tools for managers. Course participants can choose to complete any or all lessons within course modules. Read more.

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Sint Maarten – MPA Design


The Establishment of Man of Shoals Marine Park in Sint Maarten, Caribbean

Location
Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, West Indies

Coral reef in St. Maarten. © Nature Foundation St. Maarten

Coral reef in St. Maarten. © Nature Foundation St. Maarten

The Challenge
The island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, in the West Indies, is divided between the French Saint Martin in the North (53 km2) and the Dutch Sint Maarten in the South (34 km2). St. Maarten is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The island is surrounded by about 20 km2 of coral reefs.

St. Maarten experienced its first tourism boom starting in the 1960s, when Cuba was first closed to tourism. St. Maarten is now one of the largest tourism hubs in the West Indies with about 85% of its workforce employed in tourism or tourism-related industries. There is no large-scale commercial fishery, only 10-15 artisanal fishers and recreational fishing for marlin (Makaira spp.) and mahi-mahi (Coryphaena spp.). 

Until recently, there was little government management of the marine environment in St. Maarten. In 1997, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten was established in order to set up and manage a marine park in St. Maarten, under contract from the St. Maarten government. St. Maarten was the only country in the Dutch Caribbean that did not have a marine park, therefore the proposal aimed to achieve parity between St. Maarten and the other states of the Dutch Caribbean. The proposed park’s design was based on the design of a marine protected area in Bonaire. However, this design was too extensive (it would have included all of St. Maarten’s territorial waters) and too complicated to gain political support. The interests of the cruise ship industry, fishers, and dive shop operators made this challenging for politicians in St. Maarten. Furthermore, while Bonaire’s protected area had a staff of 54, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten had only three people on staff. The park remained an entity only on paper until 2010.

St. Maarten’s reefs have incurred long-term degradation due to the rapid growth of tourism and poor urban planning and infrastructure and lack of watershed management. Hurricanes and mass coral bleaching events have led to an 80% reduction in coral cover in the near-shore environment. 

Staff monitoring in Man of Shoals Marine Park. © Mauricio Handler/ DCNA/ NPL

Staff monitoring in Man of Shoals Marine Park. © Mauricio Handler/ DCNA/ NPL

Actions Taken
In 2010, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten was officially reactivated to create a well-managed marine park, with a strict no-take area to address increasing threats. The Foundation took a three-pronged approach to get support from decision makers on marine park establishment. First, the Foundation did an ecological assessment of St. Maarten’s reefs. This baseline study pinpointed specific areas – the country’s remaining healthy reefs – as a high priority for conservation. They redesigned the proposed park so that it would protect just those areas – representing 25% of the country’s territorial waters, and covering 10,000 hectares.

Next, an economic valuation study of the marine ecosystem was completed using a method from the World Resources Institute. This quick-and-dirty method was designed to be easy-to-use by managers. By interviewing dive shop owners, fishers, tourists and other tourism industry stakeholders, the study was able to paint a compelling picture of the importance of a healthy marine ecosystem to St. Maarten’s economy.

Finally, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten took the results from both the ecological assessment and economic valuation study to the community to make their case for the marine park. The Foundation made presentations at community meetings, talked with fishermen and dive operators, and presented to Parliament. On December 30, 2010, the Man of Shoals Marine Park was established.

One of the first steps for the marine park was the design of a mooring system for dive boats to prevent further damage from anchoring directly on the reef. Prior to and during the establishment of the marine park, the foundation conducted wide-scale outreach to explain why anchors damage the reef. Following the establishment of the park, small businesses in St. Maarten paid for the construction of a mooring system drilled into the substrate.

CS_StMaarten_Hawksbill2

Hawksbill turtle. © Nature Foundation St. Maarten

In the near future, the Foundation hopes to expand the park to 35,000 hectares, which will make it continuous with a park on the French side of the island. Because the current boundaries of the park include the parts of the reef that were best for fishing and diving, those areas with the calmest waters and the healthiest reefs, the expansion is an easier case to make, since it will include choppier waters that are used less for fishing and diving.

How successful has it been?
The Foundation has documented an increase in the populations in certain species of fish through yearly surveys. In 2013, they found that grouper and snapper populations have rebounded, showing a 10-15% increase and fishers are reporting increased catch. The Foundation has begun staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) nurseries and they hope to transplant these stocks to areas with high water quality to quicken the reef’s recovery.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Stakeholder involvement is key. Involving stakeholders and the local community is key to achieving conservation goals. The Foundation went to community groups and community council meetings and gave short and simple presentations. Instead of following these presentations with a traditional question-and-answer session, the Foundation personnel solicited feedback from everyone. By making these sessions informal, they were able to talk and listen to people, and therefore more effectively communicate with community members in a manner that was more comfortable for them.
  • Economic valuation of ecosystems is a powerful, persuasive tool. While it can be controversial, it helped make the case for conservation by showing the economic benefits of ecosystem services which was an effective way to reach key decision makers.
  • Effective communication should be a priority. Communicating the importance of conservation can be challenging, but to get political and popular support for conservation, scientists must do so through all the means available (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and traditional media). 

Lead Organization
Nature Foundation St. Maarten

Partner Organization
Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance

Funding Summary
Prince Bernhard Nature Fund
U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Caribbean Environment Program, United Nations Environment Program
World Wildlife Fund Netherlands
Implementing Organization of the Foundation for the Development of the Netherlands Antilles (USONA)
MINA Fund Netherlands Antilles
KNAP Fund Netherlands Antilles
The INNO Fund
Bunchies Garage & Trucking NV
Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA)
St. Maarten Harbour Holding Company (SHHC)
St. Maarten Tourist Office
Dutch National Postcode Lottery
SOL Antilles

Resources
The Government of Sint Maarten
Coastal Capital: Ecosystem Valuation for Decision Making in the Caribbean, World Resources Institute

Written by: Tadzio Bervoets, Nature Foundation St. Maarten, Sint Maarten

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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Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012, Executive Summary

Since the early 1980s Caribbean coral reefs have suffered massive losses of corals. Impacts from human population growth, overfishing, coastal pollution, global warming and invasive species have resulted in decrease of coral populations, increases of seaweeds, outbreaks of coral bleaching and disease, and failure of corals to recover from natural disturbances. This study analyses the status and trends of reef communities throughout the wider Caribbean. Metadata on the nature of the reef environment, depth and history of human population growth, fishing, hurricanes, coral bleaching and disease was compiled and analyzed. In some cases, biological information for coral and macroalgal cover, abundance of grazing sea urchin Diadema antillarum, and biomass of fishes such as grazing parrotfish was also obtained. Results imply that the three best predictors of the decline in Caribbean coral cover over the past 30 or more years are: (a) outbreaks of Acropora and Diadema diseases (1970s and early 1980s); (b) overpopulation, including increase in tourism; and (c) overfishing of herbivores, particularly parrotfish. Coastal pollution is also significant and increasingly warming seas is also a threat but so far, extreme heating events have had only localized effects.

In summary, the degradation of Caribbean reefs has occurred in three distinct phases: (1) Massive losses of Acropora (mid-1970s to early 1980s) due to White Band Disease; (2) Increase in macroalgal cover and decrease in coral cover following the mass mortality of Diadema (1983) and (3) Continuation of the patterns established in Phase 2 worsened by more overfishing, coastal pollution, tourism, and extreme warming events. Four major recommendations for management emerge from this report:

  1. Adopt conservation and fisheries management strategies to restore parrotfish populations;
  2. Simplify and standardize monitoring of Caribbean reefs and make the results available on an annual basis;
  3. Foster communication and exchange of information;
  4. Develop and implement adaptive legislation and regulations to ensure that threats to coral reefs are systematically addressed.

Author: Jackson, J.B.C.
Year: 2014
View Executive Summary
View Full Report

Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

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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
View Abstract
Email for the full article: resilience@tnc.org

Coastal Management 42(2): 143-159. doi:10.1080/08920753.2014.877763

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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. 

Author:
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: resilience@tnc.org

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

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