The Republic of Kiribati's Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), located in the equatorial central Pacific, is the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage site on earth. Created in 2008, it was the first Marine Protected Area (MPA) of its kind (at the time of inception, the largest in the world) and includes eight low-lying islands, shallow coral reefs, submerged shallow and deep seamounts and extensive open-ocean and ocean floor habitat. Due to their isolation, the shallow reef habitats have been protected de facto from severe exploitation, though the surrounding waters have been continually fished for large pelagics and whales over many decades. PIPA was created under a partnership between the Government of Kiribati and the international non-governmental organizations-Conservation International and the New England Aquarium. PIPA has a unique conservation strategy as the first marine MPA to use a conservation contract mechanism with a corresponding Conservation Trust established to be both a sustainable financing mechanism and a check-and-balance to the oversight and maintenance of the MPA. As PIPA moves forward with its management objectives, it is well positioned to be a global model for large MPA design and implementation in similar contexts. The islands and shallow reefs have already shown benefits from protection, though the pending full closure of PIPA (and assessments thereof) will be critical for determining success of the MPA as a refuge for open-ocean pelagic and deep-sea marine life. As global ocean resources are continually being extracted to support a growing global population, PIPA's closure is both timely and of global significance.
Over 1.3 billion people live on tropical coasts, primarily in developing countries. Many depend on adjacent coastal seas for food, and livelihoods. We show how trends in demography and in several local and global anthropogenic stressors are progressively degrading capacity of coastal waters to sustain these people. Far more effective approaches to environmental management are needed if the loss in provision of ecosystem goods and services is to be stemmed. We propose expanded use of marine spatial planning as a framework for more effective, pragmatic management based on ocean zones to accommodate conflicting uses. This would force the holistic, regional-scale reconciliation of food security, livelihoods, and conservation that is needed. Transforming how countries manage coastal resources will require major change in policy and politics, implemented with sufficient flexibility to accommodate societal variations. Achieving this change is a major challenge - one that affects the lives of one fifth of humanity.
Cumulative pressures from global climate and ocean change combined with multiple regional and local-scale stressors pose fundamental challenges to coral reef managers worldwide. Understanding how cumulative stressors affect coral reef vulnerability is critical for successful reef conservation now and in the future. In this review, we present the case that strategically managing for increased ecological resilience (capacity for stress resistance and recovery) can reduce coral reef vulnerability (risk of net decline) up to a point. Specifically, we propose an operational framework for identifying effective management levers to enhance resilience and support management decisions that reduce reef vulnerability. Building on a system understanding of biological and ecological processes that drive resilience of coral reefs in different environmental and socio-economic settings, we present an Adaptive Resilience-Based management (ARBM) framework and suggest a set of guidelines for how and where resilience can be enhanced via management interventions. We argue that press-type stressors (pollution, sedimentation, overfishing, ocean warming and acidification) are key threats to coral reef resilience by affecting processes underpinning resistance and recovery, while pulse-type (acute) stressors (e.g. storms, bleaching events, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks) increase the demand for resilience. We apply the framework to a set of example problems for Caribbean and Indo-Pacific reefs. A combined strategy of active risk reduction and resilience support is needed, informed by key management objectives, knowledge of reef ecosystem processes and consideration of environmental and social drivers. As climate change and ocean acidification erode the resilience and increase the vulnerability of coral reefs globally, successful adaptive management of coral reefs will become increasingly difficult. Given limited resources, on-the-ground solutions are likely to focus increasingly on actions that support resilience at finer spatial scales, and that are tightly linked to ecosystem goods and services.
We report a reef ecosystem where corals may have lost their role as major reef engineering species but fish biomass and assemblage structure is comparable to unfished reefs elsewhere around the world. This scenario is based on an extensive assessment of the coral reefs of Farquhar Atoll, the most southern of the Seychelles Islands. Coral cover and overall benthic community condition at Farquhar was poor, likely due to a combination of limited habitat, localized upwelling, past coral bleaching, and cyclones. Farquhar Atoll harbors a relatively intact reef fish assemblage with very large biomass (3.2 t ha(-1)) reflecting natural ecological processes that are not influenced by fishing or other local anthropogenic factors. The most striking feature of the reef fish assemblage is the dominance by large groupers, snappers, and jacks with large (>1 m) potato cod (Epinephelus tukula) and marbled grouper (E. polyphekadion), commonly observed at many locations. Napoleon wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) and bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) are listed as endangered and vulnerable, respectively, but were frequently encountered at Farquhar. The high abundance and large sizes of parrotfishes at Farquhar also appears to regulate macroalgal abundance and enhance the dominance of crustose corallines, which are a necessary condition for maintenance of healthy reef communities. Overall fish biomass and biomass of large predators at Farquhar are substantially higher than other areas within the Seychelles, and are some of the highest recorded in the Indian Ocean. Remote islands like Farquhar Atoll with low human populations and limited fishing pressure offer ideal opportunities for understanding whether reefs can be resilient from global threats if local threats are minimized.
Stylophora pistillata is a widely used coral "lab-rat" species with highly variable morphology and a broad biogeographic range (Red Sea to western central Pacific). Here we show, by analysing Cytochorme Oxidase I sequences, from 241 samples across this range, that this taxon in fact comprises four deeply divergent clades corresponding to the Pacific-Western Australia, Chagos-Madagascar-South Africa, Gulf of Aden-Zanzibar-Madagascar, and Red Sea-Persian/Arabian Gulf-Kenya. On the basis of the fossil record of Stylophora, these four clades diverged from one another 51.5-29.6?Mya, i.e., long before the closure of the Tethyan connection between the tropical Indo-West Pacific and Atlantic in the early Miocene (16-24?Mya) and should be recognised as four distinct species. These findings have implications for comparative ecological and/or physiological studies carried out using Stylophora pistillata as a model species, and highlight the fact that phenotypic plasticity, thought to be common in scleractinian corals, can mask significant genetic variation.
The Line Islands are calcium carbonate coral reef platforms located in iron-poor regions of the central Pacific. Natural terrestrial run-off of iron is non-existent and aerial deposition is extremely low. However, a number of ship groundings have occurred on these atolls. The reefs surrounding the shipwreck debris are characterized by high benthic cover of turf algae, macroalgae, cyanobacterial mats and corallimorphs, as well as particulate-laden, cloudy water. These sites also have very low coral and crustose coralline algal cover and are call black reefs because of the dark-colored benthic community and reduced clarity of the overlying water column. Here we use a combination of benthic surveys, chemistry, metagenomics and microcosms to investigate if and how shipwrecks initiate and maintain black reefs. Comparative surveys show that the live coral cover was reduced from 40 to 60% to <10% on black reefs on Millennium, Tabuaeran and Kingman. These three sites are relatively large (>0.75 km(2)). The phase shift occurs rapidly; the Kingman black reef formed within 3 years of the ship grounding. Iron concentrations in algae tissue from the Millennium black reef site were six times higher than in algae collected from reference sites. Metagenomic sequencing of the Millennium Atoll black reef-associated microbial community was enriched in iron-associated virulence genes and known pathogens. Microcosm experiments showed that corals were killed by black reef rubble through microbial activity. Together these results demonstrate that shipwrecks and their associated iron pose significant threats to coral reefs in iron-limited regions.
A series of surveys were carried out to characterize the physical and biological parameters of the Millennium Atoll lagoon during a research expedition in April of 2009. Millennium is a remote coral atoll in the Central Pacific belonging to the Republic of Kiribati, and a member of the Southern Line Islands chain. The atoll is among the few remaining coral reef ecosystems that are relatively pristine. The lagoon is highly enclosed, and was characterized by reticulate patch and line reefs throughout the center of the lagoon as well as perimeter reefs around the rim of the atoll. The depth reached a maximum of 33.3 m in the central region of the lagoon, and averaged between 8.8 and 13.7 m in most of the pools. The deepest areas were found to harbor large platforms of Favia matthaii, which presumably provided a base upon which the dominant corals (Acropora spp.) grew to form the reticulate reef structure. The benthic algal communities consisted mainly of crustose coralline algae (CCA), microfilamentous turf algae and isolated patches of Halimeda spp. and Caulerpa spp. Fish species richness in the lagoon was half of that observed on the adjacent fore reef. The lagoon is likely an important nursery habitat for a number of important fisheries species including the blacktip reef shark and Napoleon wrasse, which are heavily exploited elsewhere around the world but were common in the lagoon at Millennium. The lagoon also supports an abundance of giant clams (Tridacna maxima). Millennium lagoon provides an excellent reference of a relatively undisturbed coral atoll. As with most coral reefs around the world, the lagoon communities of Millennium may be threatened by climate change and associated warming, acidification and sea level rise, as well as sporadic local resource exploitation which is difficult to monitor and enforce because of the atolls remote location. While the remote nature of Millennium has allowed it to remain one of the few nearly pristine coral reef ecosystems in the world, it is imperative that this ecosystem receives protection so that it may survive for future generations.
A rationale is presented here for a primary role of bleaching in regulation of the coral-zooxanthellae symbiosis under conditions of stress. Corals and zooxanthellae have fundamentally different metabolic rates, requiring active homeostasis to limit zooxanthellae production and manage translocated products to maintain the symbiosis. The control processes for homeostasis are compromised by environmental stress, resulting in metabolic imbalance between the symbionts. For the coral-zooxanthella symbiosis the most direct way to minimize metabolic imbalance under stress is to reduce photosynthetic production by zooxanthellae. Two mechanisms have been demonstrated that do this: reduction of the chlorophyll concentration in individual zooxanthellae and reduction of the relative biomass of zooxanthellae. Both mechanisms result in visual whitening of the coral, termed bleaching. Arguments are presented here that bleaching provides the final control to minimize physiological damage from stress as an adversity response to metabolic imbalance. As such, bleaching meets the requirements of a stress response syndrome/general adaptive mechanism that is sensitive to internal states rather than external parameters. Variation in bleaching responses among holobionts reflects genotypic and phenotypic differentiation, allowing evolutionary change by natural selection. Thus, reef corals bleach to resist stress, and thereby have some capacity to adapt to and survive change. The extreme thermal anomalies causing mass coral bleaching worldwide lie outside the reaction norms for most coral-zooxanthellae holobionts, revealing the limitations of bleaching as a control mechanism.
This study assesses the biogeographic classification of the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) on the basis of the species diversity and distribution of reef-building corals. Twenty one locations were sampled between 2002 and 2011. Presence/absence of scleractinian corals was noted on SCUBA, with the aid of underwater digital photographs and reference publications for species identification. Sampling effort varied from 7 to 37 samples per location, with 15 to 45 minutes per dive allocated to species observations, depending on the logistics on each trip. Species presence/absence was analyzed using the Bray-Curtis similarity coefficient, followed by cluster analysis and multi-dimensional scaling. Total (asymptotic) species number per location was estimated using the Michaelis-Menten equation. Three hundred and sixty nine coral species were named with stable identifications and used for analysis. At the location level, estimated maximum species richness ranged from 297 (Nacala, Mozambique) to 174 (Farquhar, Seychelles). Locations in the northern Mozambique Channel had the highest diversity and similarity, forming a core region defined by its unique oceanography of variable meso-scale eddies that confer high connectivity within this region. A distinction between mainland and island fauna was not found; instead, diversity decreased radially from the northern Mozambique Channel. The Chagos archipelago was closely related to the northern Mozambique Channel region, and analysis of hard coral data in the IUCN Red List found Chagos to be more closely related to the WIO than to the Maldives, India and Sri Lanka. Diversity patterns were consistent with primary oceanographic drivers in the WIO, reflecting inflow of the South Equatorial Current, maintenance of high diversity in the northern Mozambique Channel, and export from this central region to the north and south, and to the Seychelles and Mascarene islands.
The Chagos Archipelago designated as a no-take marine protected area in 2010, lying about 500 km south of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, has a high conservation priority, particularly because of its fast recovery from the ocean-wide massive coral mortality following the 1998 coral bleaching event. The aims of this study were to examine Symbiodinium diversity and distribution associated with scleractinian corals in five atolls of the Chagos Archipelago, spread over 10,000 km(2). Symbiodinium clade diversity in 262 samples of seven common coral species, Acropora muricata, Isopora palifera, Pocillopora damicornis, P. verrucosa, P. eydouxi, Seriatopora hystrix, and Stylophora pistillata were determined using PCR-SSCP of the ribosomal internal transcribed spacer 1 (ITS1), PCR-DDGE of ITS2, and phylogenetic analyses. The results indicated that Symbiodinium in clade C were the dominant symbiont group in the seven coral species. Our analysis revealed types of Symbiodinium clade C specific to coral species. Types C1 and C3 (with C3z and C3i variants) were dominant in Acroporidae and C1 and C1c were the dominant types in Pocilloporidae. We also found 2 novel ITS2 types in S. hystrix and 1 novel ITS2 type of Symbiodinium in A. muricata. Some colonies of A. muricata and I. palifera were also associated with Symbiodinium A1. These results suggest that corals in the Chagos Archipelago host different assemblages of Symbiodinium types then their conspecifics from other locations in the Indian Ocean; and that future research will show whether these patterns in Symbiodinium genotypes may be due to local adaptation to specific conditions in the Chagos.
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