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Butler an Author of Coral Reef Management Article That Gets High Marks from Online Service

Outside-the-box thinking about coral reef management has helped an international team of scientists including Old Dominion University marine biologist Mark Butler win a top-article citation from the online service "Faculty of 1000 Biology."

The scientists' article, which appeared earlier this year in the journal Coral Reefs, has been named one of the most interesting articles on the topic of biological sciences. "Faculty of 1000 Biology" highlights and evaluates articles based on the recommendations of more than 2,000 of the world's top researchers.

"Thinking and Managing Outside the Box: Coalescing Connectivity Networks to Build Region-Wide Resilience in Coral Reef Ecosystems," is the title of the article. Other than Butler, its authors are Robert Steneck and Suzanne Arnold of the University of Maine, Claire Paris of the University of Miami, A. C. Alcala of Silliman University in the Philippines, L.J. Cook of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Garry Russ of James Cook University in Australia, and P.F. Sale of United Nations University in Canada.

The article focuses on a widely used tool for coral reef management called "no-take reserves" (NTRs) and whether a protected zone-or box, per the reference in the article's title-can promote the health and rehabilitation of marine life in contiguous zones. In other words, how much spillover benefit to an entire coral reef ecosystem comes from the relatively small percentage of the territory protected as NTRs?

"These authors review coral reef decline and management responses over the recent decades and conclude that no-take reserves that were hoped to be able to repopulate degraded reefs are too small and scattered to work well," wrote Georgia Tech oceanographer Mark Hay in the "Faculty of 1000 Biology" evaluation of the Butler article."

The article notes that populations of fish and shellfish typically harvested for food usually are boosted within the NTRs. Corals benefit, too, when they are protected from fishing practices that can damage reefs. It has been commonly thought that thriving populations within NTRs would produce larvae that would be dispersed by currents and other means to restore fish and shellfish stocks and promote the growth of corals outside the NTRs.

But the authors' research and their review of other studies show that a lot of marine larvae are not travelers, and those that do drift outside NTRs often find new locations to be inhospitable. Overfishing, together with climate change, can degrade corals and invite invasions of algae, both of which can prevent the migrating larvae from settling in.

Recent efforts to increase the size and number of NTRs often have met "increased or even insurmountable resistance from local fishing communities who subsist on fishing grounds proposed for closure," the article notes.

The authors suggest new ways to look at the "connectivity"-the complicated network of conditions-that determine whether or not an ecosystem thrives. Their "demographic connectivity" and "social connectivity" calls for the expansion of coral reef management outside the NTRs, but also for new cooperation between scientists, managers and other stakeholders such as fishermen, coastal communities and government officials.

Coral reefs and coastal communities in the Caribbean Sea and Indo-Pacific Ocean are the sites of examples given by the authors.

"Stakeholders must buy-in to the concept. Social connectivity includes management activities that bring communities together, reduce social conflicts, create a conservation ethic and maintain a high compliance" with the NTRs or other management tools, the article states. In some cases, the buy-in is facilitated when fishing communities are shown how reef conservation can promote tourism and improve livelihoods.

Butler is among a group of researchers who was recruited last year for a research program sponsored by the World Bank Global Environment Fund to help improve coral reef sustainability and management. He is applying his experience with Caribbean lobsters, which live on and around coral reefs, to the Coral Reef Targeted Research and Capacity Building program. He and colleagues at the University of Miami are examining the connections among lobster populations throughout the Caribbean based on larval lobster biology and oceanographic modeling.

This article was posted on: June 17, 2009

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