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Marine reserves: long-term protection is required for full recovery of predatory fish populations

Abstract

No-take marine reserves are advocated widely as a potential solution to the loss of marine biodiversity and ecosystem structure, and to over-fishing. We assess the duration of protection required for unfished populations of large predatory reef fish to attain natural states. We have monitored two marine reserves at Sumilon and Apo Islands, Philippines, regularly for 17 years (1983–2000). The biomass of large predatory fish was still increasing exponentially after 9 and 18 years of protection at Sumilon and Apo reserves, respectively. There was little evidence that the rate of accumulation of biomass inside the reserves was slowing down even after so many years of protection. This suggests that the length of time to full recovery will be considerable. We made two assumptions in order to estimate this period. Firstly, that biomass growth will follow the logistic model. Secondly, the conservative assumption that biomass had already attained 90% of the local carrying capacity of the environments in the reserves. We conclude that the time required for full recovery will be 15 and 40 years at Sumilon and Apo reserves, respectively. Such durations of recovery appear consistent with known life history characteristics of these fish, and with empirical data on recovery rates of heavily exploited fish stocks. By the time the full fisheries or ecosystem benefits from such reserves are apparent, human populations and impacts will have doubled in much of the developing world. Thus, networks of such reserves need to be implemented immediately. Furthermore, the management mechanisms for the reserves need to be successful over timescales of human generations.

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Acknowledgements

This project was partially funded by the United Nations Environment Program (1983), the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (1985) and a Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation (1999–2002). We thank C. Hatcher, D. Williamson and D. Zeller for making unpublished data available. Thanks to D.R. Bellwood, S. Connolly, L. Crowder, T.P. Hughes, G.P. Jones, D. Pauly and two anonymous referees for reading the manuscript. We are indebted to P.J. Doherty for very useful and constructive editorial improvements to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Garry R. Russ.

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Russ, G.R., Alcala, A.C. Marine reserves: long-term protection is required for full recovery of predatory fish populations. Oecologia 138, 622–627 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-003-1456-4

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Keywords

  • Biomass
  • Logistic model
  • Marine reserves
  • Predatory reef fish
  • Full recovery