Coral Reefs

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 353–366 | Cite as

Management under uncertainty: guide-lines for incorporating connectivity into the protection of coral reefs

  • L. J. McCookEmail author
  • G. R. Almany
  • M. L. Berumen
  • J. C. Day
  • A. L. Green
  • G. P. Jones
  • J. M. Leis
  • S. Planes
  • G. R. Russ
  • P. F. Sale
  • S. R. Thorrold


The global decline in coral reefs demands urgent management strategies to protect resilience. Protecting ecological connectivity, within and among reefs, and between reefs and other ecosystems is critical to resilience. However, connectivity science is not yet able to clearly identify the specific measures for effective protection of connectivity. This article aims to provide a set of principles or practical guidelines that can be applied currently to protect connectivity. These ‘rules of thumb’ are based on current knowledge and expert opinion, and on the philosophy that, given the urgency, it is better to act with incomplete knowledge than to wait for detailed understanding that may come too late. The principles, many of which are not unique to connectivity, include: (1) allow margins of error in extent and nature of protection, as insurance against unforeseen or incompletely understood threats or critical processes; (2) spread risks among areas; (3) aim for networks of protected areas which are: (a) comprehensive and spread—protect all biotypes, habitats and processes, etc., to capture as many possible connections, known and unknown; (b) adequate—maximise extent of protection for each habitat type, and for the entire region; (c) representative—maximise likelihood of protecting the full range of processes and spatial requirements; (d) replicated—multiple examples of biotypes or processes enhances risk spreading; (4) protect entire biological units where possible (e.g. whole reefs), including buffers around core areas. Otherwise, choose bigger rather than smaller areas; (5) provide for connectivity at a wide range of dispersal distances (within and between patches), emphasising distances <20–30 km; and (6) use a portfolio of approaches, including but not limited to MPAs. Three case studies illustrating the application of these principles to coral reef management in the Bohol Sea (Philippines), the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) and Kimbe Bay (Papua New Guinea) are described.


Ecological connectivity Reef management Margin of error Resilience Risk spreading Rules of thumb 



The ideas for this article emerged from a workshop entitled ‘Connectivity and population resilience—sustaining coral reefs during the coming century’ held 13–17 October 2007 in Townsville, Australia. We thank the participants in that workshop for valuable discussion, the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the Connectivity Working Group of the global University of Queensland—World Bank—Global Environment Facility project, Coral Reef Targeted Research and Capacity Building for Management for support for the workshop, and the Pew Fellowship Program in Marine Conservation for support for L McCook. We are grateful to the Spatial Data Centre at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and to Nate Peterson from TNC, for preparation of maps, to P Mumby and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments, and to R Kelley for permission to reprint Fig. 1.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. J. McCook
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • G. R. Almany
    • 2
  • M. L. Berumen
    • 3
    • 2
  • J. C. Day
    • 1
  • A. L. Green
    • 4
  • G. P. Jones
    • 2
    • 5
  • J. M. Leis
    • 6
  • S. Planes
    • 7
  • G. R. Russ
    • 2
    • 5
  • P. F. Sale
    • 8
  • S. R. Thorrold
    • 3
  1. 1.Great Barrier Reef Marine Park AuthorityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.Biology DepartmentWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA
  4. 4.The Nature ConservancySouth BrisbaneAustralia
  5. 5.School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  6. 6.Australian MuseumSydneyAustralia
  7. 7.Centre de Biologie et d’Ecologie Tropicale et MéditerranéenneUniversité de PerpignanPerpignan CEDEXFrance
  8. 8.International Network on Water, Environment and HealthUnited Nations UniversityHamiltonCanada

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