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Marine Protected Areas maintain sustainability by safeguarding sections of coral reef.

Solutions Around the World

Coral reefs face many threats, from global ones, such as climate change, to more localized threats, like pollution. One way to preserve this ecosystem may be as simple as protecting a reef from interference. The health of a reef often improves quickly after protection is put in place and these benefits can spread into neighboring areas.
The microdocs in this section show groups around the world protecting their reefs and what happens to a reef once it is protected. It also features research focusing on reef preservation.

 The importance of research How do we know that?

Coral reef sustainability relies on many complex interactions within this ecosystem. Connections between coral reefs and other ecosystems, such as mangroves and seagrass meadows, are also essential for the health of all the ecosystems involved. Understanding these interactions, and what happens when they are disrupted, is important in preserving this ecosystem.

 The benefits of protecting reefs How do we know that?

Many of our activities can degrade the health of a coral reef. For example, overfishing can remove organisms vital for reef maintenance, pollution can poison a reef, and poorly planned coastal development can smother a reef or cause algal blooms.  Coral reefs can regain their health more easily without these extra sources of disturbance.

The protected ecosystem and the organisms within benefit in several ways:

  • Increased biomass
  • Increased populations
  • Increased diversity
  • Increased size
  • Increased fish fertility

The speed of recovery often depends on the life cycle of the organism. Typically, shorter lived organisms bounce back faster than those with longer generation times.

 But how can you catch fish if fishing is banned? How do we know that?

Marine protected areas become a reservoir of organisms for the surrounding region and a sustainable source of fish for the people nearby. Organisms spill from the protected area into areas where they can be caught. These organisms are typically larger and better quality than those from overfished areas.

The increase in body size associated with protection is especially important to fish. Big female fish usually have many times more offspring than smaller females, and, sometimes, the offspring of big females have a better chance of survival. Allowing some fish to grow big means more fish are able to be produced. See "Big Fish" for more information.

Additionally, MPAs act as a seed source for the surrounding region. Young marine organisms often travel much greater distances than adults (especially if the adults live fixed in place, like coral). Young organisms dispersing from protected areas help to repopulate the surrounding region. Research is trying to determine if this seeding effect is localized or whether dispersal links widely distributed reef systems. See "marine parks" for more information.

Another advantage to protecting reefs is that this method requires relatively little input. Once protection (and the means to police it) is in place, ecosystems typically regenerate naturally.

The groups featured in this section are from different parts of the world, but all use variations of this technique. These protected areas have many names: "Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)"; "Marine Managed Areas (MMAs)"; Marine Reserves, but all work on a similar principle - protect reefs from interference and let them re-grow naturally.

Microdocs in this section:

 References How do we know that?

Argundi, T. (1997). Marine protected areas and ocean conservation. R. G. Landes Company: Austin.

Hughs, T. et al. (2003, August 15). Climate change, human impacts, and the resilience of coral reefs. Science 301:929-933.

Lubchenco, J. et al. 2003. Plugging a hole in the ocean: The emerging science of marine reserves. Ecological Applications 13: 3–7.

Norse, E. & Crowder, L. (eds.) (2005). Marine conservation biology: The science of maintaining the sea’s biodiversity. Island Press: Washington.

PISCO. 2002. The science of marine reserves. Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO). PDF retrieved 29 August 2008 from http://www.piscoweb.org/files/SMR_US_LowRes.pdf

Sobel, J. & Dahlgren, C. (2004). Marine reserves: A guide to science, design, and use. Island press: Washington.

Sumaila, R & Charles, A. (2002, Fall). Economic models of marine protected areas: An introduction. Natural resource modeling 15 (3): 261-272.

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