Exploited reefs protected from fishing transform over decades into conservation features otherwise absent from seascapes

December 24, 2009 by  

The second paper incorporating RLS data in a continental analysis of Marine Protected Areas recently featured in Ecological Applications.

Tasmanian reef communities within ‘‘no-take’’ marine protected areas (MPAs)
exhibited direct and indirect ecological changes that increasingly manifested over 16 years,
eventually transforming into communities not otherwise present in the regional seascape. Data
from 14 temperate and subtropical Australian MPAs further demonstrated that ecological
changes continue to develop in MPAs over at least two decades, probably much longer. The
continent-scale study additionally showed recently established MPAs to be consistently
located at sites with low resource value relative to adjacent fished reference areas. This
outcome was presumably generated by sociopolitical pressures and planning processes that
aim to systematically avoid locations with valuable resources, potentially compromising
biodiversity conservation goals. Locations that were formerly highly fished are needed within
MPA networks if the networks are to achieve conservation aims associated with (1)
safeguarding all regional habitat types, (2) protecting threatened habitats and species, and (3)
providing appropriate reference benchmarks for assessing impacts of fishing. Because of long
time lags, the ubiquity of fishing impacts, and the relatively recent establishment of MPAs, the
full impact of fishing on coastal reefs has yet to be empirically assessed.

Ecological Applications 19 pp. 1967–1974 (2009).

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