Applying Habitat Maps and Biodiversity Assessments to Coral Reef Management


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Applying Habitat Maps and Biodiversity Assessments to Coral Reef Management

The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is conducting a five year Global Reef Expedition (GRE) to map, characterize and assess coral reefs and develop tools and information to assist local managers in their conservation and coral reef management activities. Measurements of coral demographics, mortality and recruitment are combined with assessments of benthic cover types, biomass of algal functional groups, population structure of commercially-valuable and ecologically-relevant reef fishes, and environmental resilience indicators using a standardized, rapid, quantitative survey protocol. Concurrent groundtruthing is used to define the bathymetry, identify habitat classes and their spatial distribution and extent, characterize dominant species assemblages, substrate types, and underlying geomorphology, and create high resolution habitat maps. The assessments provide information on 1) the status of coral reefs and species that create and help maintain the health of the reefs and associated habitats; 2) local and regional threats, causes, impacts, and potential mitigation strategies; and 3) patterns of recovery from past disturbances. Coral reef data are compiled into a Geographic Information System (GIS) database with satellite imagery, habitat maps, and other physical and oceanographic GIS data layers, resulting in a landscape-scale tool useful for marine spatial planning. Following completion of the Red Sea, Caribbean and Eastern Pacific (June 2012), the GRE will focus on the Indo-Pacific, with research in the coral triangle beginning in 2013. The potential use of this information to identify sites of high resilience for inclusion into MPA networks is presented using an example from Al Wajh Bank, Saudi Arabia.


A recent focus of applied coral reef research involves an examination of coral reef health and resilience, in attempt to identify strategies that could be incorporated into management to enhance the ecological resilience of these ecosystems (Hughes et al. 2005). Ecological Resilience describes the capacity of a system to respond to disturbance while still retaining essentially the same function, structure, identity and feedbacks. After a mass mortality of corals, a resilient coral reef should exhibit the ability to maintain or restore its pre-disturbance structure and
function without undergoing a permanent shift to a less preferred (e.g. algal dominated) state (Obura and Grimsdith (2009). Since 1998, many Indo-Pacific reefs have sustained high levels of damage from bleaching events and other acute disturbances, many of which appear to be increasing in frequency and severity. Unfortunately, coral reef managers have little control over these and other stressors associated with climate change. Furthermore, sites with chronic human impacts are less likely to resist mortality during acute disturbances, and subsequently recover
from these large-scale events may be delayed or prevented. By addressing localized human impacts, coral reefs may be better able to cope with stressors associated with climate change, and recover quickly
from both natural and anthropogenic impacts (Jennings and Kaiser 1998; Worm et al. 2006; Knowlton and Jackson 2008).

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