Capstone Title

Reef Resilience: Using Marine Protected Areas to Mitigate Natural and Anthropogenic Impacts to Coral Reef Ecosystems

Defense Date

2006

Document Type

Capstone

Degree Name

M.S. Coastal Zone Management

First Advisor

Steffen Schmidt

Second Advisor

Jane Dougan

Abstract

Coral reefs are important marine ecosystems that support extraordinary oceanic diversity. These living structures exist in the tropics and survive, in many cases, close to the upper limit of their thermal tolerance. Despite being highly complex ecologically and surviving and evolving for thousands to millions of years, coral reefs are highly susceptible to natural and anthropogenic disturbances.

Two natural disturbances in particular have significant effects on coral reefs. Tropical cyclones routinely impact areas throughout the tropical and subtropical portions of the world’s oceans, and El Nino Southern Oscillation periodically causes anomalous sea surface temperatures in various regions that support coral reefs. While coral reefs can recover from these natural occurrences, the presence of anthropogenic stressors frequently exacerbates the impacts and reduces or prevents recovery. Two events in particular, Hurricane Allen’s impacts to Jamaican coral reefs and the ENSO of 1998, illustrate this point very well.

Because coral reefs may recover from these natural impacts in the absence of additional stressors, mitigation for these events must reduce anthropogenic activities that degrade the recovery ability of coral reefs. One measure, the creation of strategically placed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), can protect regions of high biodiversity to serve as “refugia” to repopulate degraded areas. Other measures include reducing anthropogenic activities like overfishing or coastal development that degrade reefs. Finally, more robust studies and modeling efforts can provide scientific support for enhanced public outreach as well as more strategic creation of MPAs.

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