Coral Reefs

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 441–450 | Cite as

Conservation, precaution, and Caribbean reefs

  • Richard B. AronsonEmail author
  • William F. Precht


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.


Coral reef Coral disease Global climate change Marine protected area Overfishing Precautionary principle 



We are grateful to N.D. Bood, G.F. Crozier, M.R. Dardeau, K.J.P. Deslarzes, K.L. Heck Jr., N.L. Hilbun, L.S. Kaufman, S.L. Miller, R.M. Moody, P.S. Petraitis, C.S. Rogers, and J.F. Valentine for advice and discussion, and to S.R. Gittings for access to his unpublished data from the Flower Garden Banks. Comments from J.F. Bruno, T.R. McClanahan, T.J.T. Murdoch, R.T. Paine, M.L. Robbart, R. van Woesik and an anonymous reviewer improved the manuscript. We thank R.M. Moody and R.P. Dunne for help in drafting Fig. 1. Financial support was provided by the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) and PBS&J. This is DISL Contribution 376.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dauphin Island Sea LabDauphin IslandUSA
  2. 2.Department of Marine SciencesUniversity of South AlabamaMobileUSA
  3. 3.Ecological Sciences DivisionPBS&JMiamiUSA

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