, Volume 185, Issue 7, pp 5763-5773
Date: 15 Nov 2012

Coral assemblages in Tonga: spatial patterns, replenishment capacities, and implications for conservation strategies

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Coral reefs in Tonga have been confronted by multiple threats of various origins, including large-scale disturbances and human-induced stressors. These reef communities have been poorly studied, and efficient conservation actions are urgently needed. The aim of this study was to: (1) examine the spatial distribution of coral assemblages in the lagoon of Tongatapu; (2) determine the degree to which spatial heterogeneity of adult corals is influenced by recruitment processes; and (3) examine the implications of these results in terms of conservation actions. We recorded a total of 37 adult and 28 juvenile coral genera, a mean density of 11.6 adult and 5.5 juvenile colonies m−2, and a dominance of Montipora, Acropora, and Porites. For seven of the 10 dominant genera, spatial patterns of adults were linked to the short-term recruitment pattern history. Despite a reduced diversity and abundance of adult corals in some areas, the lagoon of Tongatapu retains the potential for replenishment through recruitment of young corals. Consequently, we suggest that conservation actions should focus on reducing factors causing coral mortality and maintain suitable conditions for the establishment and growth of juvenile corals, thus increasing the probability that they will reach maturity and participate to the maintenance of local populations. Rather than establishing a large marine protected area, which will almost certainly suffer from a lack of control and poor enforcement, alternative conservation measures could be successfully implemented through the establishment of several small village-based marine reserves, as has been undertaken in other South Pacific islands with promising results.