May 28, 2019

Story: New study identifies management solutions for Hawaiian coral reefs

Header Image Credit: NOAA

Coral reefs worldwide provide resources to humans and the environment. They are also an ecosystem increasingly vulnerable to climate change. With ocean conditions shifting and more stress placed on global reefs, management and conservation efforts are all the more important. Choosing the right locations for protecting reef habitats and supporting long-term resilience is critical for the future of coral reefs.

In 2014 and 2015, unprecedented coral bleaching events in the main Hawaiian Islands sparked new conversations about how to protect coral reefs from the most harmful impacts of climate change. Protections for herbivorous fishes, or those that eat algae, are a top recommendation to increase climate resilience. Creating herbivore management areas (HMAs), areas that protect herbivorous fishes while allowing for fishing activities, take advantage of feeding habits of herbivorous fish, which essentially mow the lawn for coral reefs. As these fish graze algae and remove dead coral, they provide space for coral to settle and survive and increase the long-term resilience of reefs.

A new study published today in Coral Reefs combines ecological and cultural considerations to identify which HMA locations would be most impactful for Hawaiian reef recovery. “The idea of this study was to take global guidance on coral reef resilience and distill it into specific recommendations for local managers looking to improve resilience in Hawai'i,” said Anne Chung, a recent graduate of the Marine Biology Program at UH Manoa and lead author on the paper.

"Our spatial approach helped to prioritize locations that have great potential for applied resilience-based management solutions," said Oxford University geography professor and former research associate Lisa Wedding.

This work builds on previous collaborative research published this March in Frontiers in Marine Science. These design recommendations, together with locations of maps of potential areas where targeted herbivore interventions will have the most impact in the Hawaiian Islands, provide guidance for effective long-term management strategies. 

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