O'Leary on saving coral reefs in Western Indian Ocean
Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse and spectacular ecosystems on earth. However, recent global estimates indicate
that approximately 34% of coral reefs have been destroyed or are declining. Coral reefs are threatened by climate change, pollution, overfishing and often a combination of factors.
But there is hope for these ecosystems. This hope is critical as coral reef ecosystems economically support millions of local people around the world through small-scale fisheries and tourism. By reducing local stressors to reefs like over-fishing and pollution, it is possible to help the corals (the framework and habitat of reefs) survive through current and future climatic change.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are viewed as among the best strategies to conserve coral reefs (and many other marine ecosystems) and to help maintain benefits to people and preserve biodiversity. MPAs are expected to restore ecosystems (especially through fully protected “no-fishing” areas), and to improve socioeconomic conditions by increasing revenues through ecotourism and fish spillover from MPAs to fished reefs. MPAs are a component of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets under Strategic Goal C: to improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity. Aichi Target 11 specifies that at least 10% of coastal and marine areas are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas.
Unfortunately, the commitment to establishing MPAs has not been matched with effective MPA management. Most MPAs fail to meet their management goals, such as fisheries and habitat enhancement. Conditions in MPAs can change despite strict regulations, because of changes in environmental conditions or human related impacts within and beyond MPA boundaries. Thus management of MPAs must be active and science-based.
In the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) considerable efforts have been made over the past two decades in establishing government mandated MPAs, and there are more than 70 individual sites over which some form of government (e.g. Kenya) or government-stakeholder co-management (e.g. Tanzania) exists. However, the WIO Management Effectiveness Assessments in 2004 revealed common deficiencies in management across nations which include: 1) unclear management objectives for MPAs, 2) ad hoc decision making without data, 3) few systems for demonstrating effectiveness, and 4) low capacity of MPA managers and staff to deal with uncertainty. As an example, in Kenya which has some of the oldest MPAs, one MPA has lost most of its corals without managers or stakeholders being aware.
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