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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Size matters for marine protected areas designed to aid coral

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Feb 6 2017  see full article here

For marine protected areas established to help coral reefs recover from overfishing, size really does seem to make a difference, say experts….researchers have found that small community-based marine protected areas may be especially vulnerable to attack by crown-of-thorns sea stars (Acanthaster species) that can devastate coral reefs. The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, don’t diminish the importance of protected areas, but point to a new threat that may emerge from the degraded areas that often surround healthy ecosystems….”[Fiji’s] corals and fishes are recovering. But once these marine protected areas are successful, they attract the sea stars which can make the small marine protected areas victims of their own success.“…

…The sea stars are a natural part of the tropical Pacific environment, and outbreaks have been known for years. But there is concern that the densities of the pests and number of outbreaks have been increasing at a time when the coral reefs are more vulnerable. “Reefs are facing many novel stressors today,” said Clements. “They might have been able to tolerate crown-of-thorns attacks in the past that are too much for them now. There are multiple threats facing coral reef ecosystems, and this doesn’t help.”…”Our findings do not negate the value of the protected areas, but raise an issue of concern to the people who manage them,” he said. “This looks like a threat that could be accelerating, and we wanted to raise the awareness.”

Cody S. Clements, Mark E. Hay. Size matters: Predator outbreaks threaten foundation species in small Marine Protected Areas. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (2): e0171569 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0171569

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