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Corals fail to recover at a Caribbean marine reserve despite ten years of reserve designation

Abstract

The ability of reserves to replenish fish stocks is relatively well documented, but the evidence of their ability to induce positive effects on benthic communities remains inconclusive. Here, we test whether 10 years of reserve designation have translated into positive effects on coral communities in Glover’s Reef, Belize. Surveys of 87 patch reefs inside and outside the reserve revealed no clear indication of reserve implementation benefitting coral cover, coral colony size, or abundance of juvenile corals. Furthermore, massive broadcasting coral species exhibited greater losses over time than their smaller-sized counterparts across all sites, suggesting that local management actions have not alleviated the regional trend of high mortality for these species. We detected no difference in herbivorous fish abundances or macroalgal cover between reserve and fished sites, providing a potential explanation for the lack of cascading positive effects on the coral community. We conclude that patterns of regional coral decline are evident at Glover’s Reef, including a shift in dominance from broadcasting species to brooding species and declines in mean colony size. Our findings suggest that regional stressors are overwhelming local management efforts and that additional strategies are required to improve local coral condition.

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank the research staff of Glover’s Reef Marine Station for assistance with data collection and D. A. Thoney for making available reef community data from 1998–1999. MK and BEH were supported by University of Miami Fellowships and University of Miami Citizens Board.

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Correspondence to B. E. Huntington.

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Communicated by Ecology Editor Prof. Mark Hay

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Huntington, B.E., Karnauskas, M. & Lirman, D. Corals fail to recover at a Caribbean marine reserve despite ten years of reserve designation. Coral Reefs 30, 1077 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-011-0809-4

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Keywords

  • Herbivory
  • Marine protected area
  • Resilience
  • Trophic cascades
  • Coral recruitment