New handbook for coral reef managers

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Bad management is not just something that affects our working environment but is something that is affecting the world's reefs too, experts revealed today.

Dr Peter Jones and Dr Geoff Jones today released a guide for managers of Marine Protected areas (MPAs) urging them to take a new approach to management of the reefs. They claim that reef areas that support the well-being of over half the world's population are compromised by management practices that fail to recognise ecosystem interconnections.

The handbook for coral reef managers is based largely on the results of research at sites in the Caribbean and Pacific by members of the international Connectivity Working Group of the Coral Reef Targeted Research and Capacity Building for Management Project.   

The guide outlines tools and techniques which can be used to assess 'connectivity' ie. management actions which ensure that the larvae of coral, fish , lobster and other coral reef species are able to disperse successfully from spawning sites to the reefs where they will settle and grow. This in turn will effectively sustain biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, as well as coastal fisheries.

Co-author Dr. Peter Sale, Assistant Director of the United Nations University's Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) said:

"Some 40% of all people on Earth live within 50 km of a coast, and our enthusiasm for coastal living is creating ever more environmental damage. The decline of coastal environments is a critical problem for many tropical countries with coral reefs.

"Unfortunately, current management practices in most coastal regions are ineffective, and to continue them endangers coastal economies and ecosystems. We hope this practical handbook will help better manage some of the planet's most critically important resources."

'No-take' fishery reserves and other Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and are often established with little prior knowledge of the connectivity of the key species, the ideal size of the reserves or even where the boundaries should be placed; meaning that it can be very difficult to predict the effects of the reserve on surrounding areas and even biodiversity conservation – the very thing they are aiming to maintain. This guide addresses ways in which patterns of larval distribution can be predicted and in turn how populations are related.

"We have to put in place the best possible local management if we are to provide coral reefs with the capacity to weather global threats," says co-author Dr. Geoff Jones, Professor at the School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville.

"In a world in which climate is changing rapidly, with consequences that are not yet fully apparent, it will be more important than ever to ensure that coral reef and other coastal ecosystems are managed as effectively as possible. Understanding connectivity is an important step to building this effective management."