Marine Protected Areas Can Benefit Coral Reefs

Photo copyright Jim Maragos U.S.-Fish and Wildlife Service

Coral reefs are one of the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. Coral reefs are valued at nearly $30 billion each year because of the multitude of goods and services they provide to more than a billion people including food, income and tourism, and their intrinsic value is priceless.

Marine protected areas and reserves (MPAs) are mostly known for their ability to regulate fishing activities, which in turn can allow fish populations to recover. MPAs can also benefit coral reefs.

By conducting a global analysis of MPAs, marine biologists concluded that protected areas were able to prevent further loss in coral cover. They found that coral cover for reefs located in MPAs remained relatively constant, while coral cover found in unprotected areas were still experiencing declines.

The analysis also showed that the longer corals were protected by MPAs, the better. The scientists observed a continued decline after an MPA was first established, but after a few years of protection, coral cover began to increase. In the Indo-Pacific, coral cover continued to decline during the first 5 years of protection, but after this initial period, it started to increase and even reached an annual growth rate of two percent after 20 years. Although this number may appear small, the long-term effects of prolonged protection for coral cover could be both ecologically and economically significant.

Establishing MPAs now can prevent additional loss of corals and help protect these important ecosystems for future generations.

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