Coral Reefs

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 565–577 | Cite as

Do no-take reserves benefit Florida’s corals? 14 years of change and stasis in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

  • L. T. TothEmail author
  • R. van Woesik
  • T. J. T. Murdoch
  • S. R. Smith
  • J. C. Ogden
  • W. F. Precht
  • R. B. Aronson


With coral populations in decline globally, it is critical that we tease apart the relative impacts of ecological and physical perturbations on reef ecosystems to determine the most appropriate management actions. This study compared the trajectories of benthic assemblages from 1998 to 2011 in three no-take reserves and three sites open to fishing, at 7–9 and 15–18 m depth in the Florida Keys. We evaluated temporal changes in the benthic assemblage to infer whether fisheries bans in no-take reserves could have cascading effects on the benthos in this region. Coral cover declined significantly over time at our sites and that trend was driven almost exclusively by decline of the Orbicella (formerly Montastraea) annularis species complex. Other coral taxa showed remarkable stasis and resistance to a variety of environmental perturbations. Protection status did not influence coral or macroalgal cover. The dynamics of corals and macroalgae in the 15 years since the reserves were established in 1997 suggest that although the reserves protected fish, they were of no perceptible benefit to Florida’s corals.


Coral reefs Florida Keys FKNMS Montastraea Orbicella Marine protected areas 



We are grateful to S. Burman, M. Dardeau, N. Hilbun, Y. Hintz, J. Hobbs, L. Kellogg, N. Lemoine, E. Looney, S. Lewis, J. Reynolds, W. Scott III, E. Tuohy, and L. Young for assistance with field work and image analysis. We thank the staff of NOAA’s National Undersea Research Center in Key Largo, Florida, operated by the University of North Carolina–Wilmington (NURC–UNCW) for logistical support. In particular, S. Miller and O. Rutten of NURC–UNCW provided critical assistance during our work in the Upper Keys. We thank S. Baumgartner and the staff of the FKNMS’s Key West office for support in the Lower Keys. D. Ward provided diving and boat support. Special thanks go to B. Causey and the late B. Keller of the FKNMS for support and encouragement. Three anonymous reviewers provided thoughtful commentary on the manuscript. This research was funded by the FKNMS, NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and administered by S. Vargo at the Florida Institute of Oceanography. Field work was conducted under permits from the FKNMS. This is Contribution Number 120 from the Institute for Research on Global Climate Change at the Florida Institute of Technology. The data from this study will be made available to interested researchers on request.

Supplementary material

338_2014_1158_MOESM1_ESM.docx (9.6 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 9856 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. T. Toth
    • 1
    Email author
  • R. van Woesik
    • 1
  • T. J. T. Murdoch
    • 2
  • S. R. Smith
    • 3
  • J. C. Ogden
    • 4
  • W. F. Precht
    • 5
  • R. B. Aronson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida Institute of TechnologyMelbourneUSA
  2. 2.Bermuda Zoological SocietyFlattsBermuda
  3. 3.Bermuda Aquarium Museum and ZooFlattsBermuda
  4. 4.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  5. 5.Marine and Coastal ProgramsDial Cordy and Associates, Inc.Miami LakesUSA

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