Article: Thinking and managing outside the box: coalescing connectivity networks to build region-wide resilience in coral reef ecosystems

Journal Article
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Coral Reefs
Steneck, R. S.; Paris, C. B.; Arnold, S. N.; Ablan-Lagman, M. C.; Alcala, A. C.; Butler, M. J.; McCook, L. J.; Russ, G. R.; Sale, P. F.
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As the science of connectivity evolves, so too must the management of coral reefs. It is now clear that the spatial scale of disturbances to coral reef ecosystems is larger and the scale of larval connectivity is smaller than previously thought. This poses a challenge to the current focus of coral reef management, which often centers on the establishment of no-take reserves (NTRs) that in practice are often too small, scattered, or have low stakeholder compliance. Fished species are generally larger and more abundant in protected reserves, where their reproductive potential is often greater, yet documented demographic benefits of these reproductive gains outside reserves are modest at best. Small reproductive populations and limited dispersal of larvae play a role, as does the diminished receptivity to settling larvae of degraded habitats that can limit recruitment by more than 50%. For "demographic connectivity" to contribute to the resilience of coral reefs, it must function beyond the box of no-take reserves. Specifically, it must improve nursery habitats on or near reefs and enhance the reproductive output of ecologically important species throughout coral reef ecosystems. Special protection of ecologically important species (e.g., some herbivores in the Caribbean) and size-regulated fisheries that capitalize on the benefits of NTRs and maintain critical ecological functions are examples of measures that coalesce marine reserve effects and improve the resilience of coral reef ecosystems. Important too is the necessity of local involvement in the management process so that social costs and benefits are properly assessed, compliance increased and success stories accrued.