, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 441-450

Conservation, precaution, and Caribbean reefs

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Abstract

Some authors argue that overfishing is an important reason that reef corals have declined in recent decades. Their reasoning is that overfishing removes herbivores, releasing macroalgae to overgrow and kill the corals. The evidence suggests, however, that global climate change and emergent marine diseases make a far greater contribution to coral mortality, and that macroalgae generally grow on the exposed skeletal surfaces of corals that are already dead. Macroalgal dominance, therefore, is an effect rather than a cause of coral mortality. Marine protected areas (MPAs), which are usually established to protect stocks of reef fish, foster populations of herbivorous fish under at least some circumstances. Increased herbivory can reduce algal cover, potentially accelerating the recovery of coral populations inside MPAs; however, establishing MPAs will have only a limited impact on coral recovery unless policymakers confront the accelerating negative effects of the global-scale sources of coral mortality.

Communicated by Ecology Editor P.J. Mumby