Coral reefs count among the world's most severely threatened ecosystems. The pressure of human activities, including overfishing and pollution, is leading to a decline in their biological diversity. The effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for conserving the coral biodiversity has been the subject of many specific studies at local level. Nonetheless, a world-scale assessment remains necessary in order to check if the conservation objectives laid down by the international bodies, which require that 20 to 30% of the world's coral reefs must be under official protection by 2012, are complied with and justified.
The University of Auckland in New Zealand, with the aid of several international institutions including the IRD and its researchers based in New Caledonia, has been focusing its attention on this question. Large-scale databases have been built up for that purpose, covering such aspects as geographical distribution and effectiveness of MPAs, and the extent of coral reefs. They currently embrace 980 MPAs that together cover 98 650 km2 of coral reefs, representing 18.7 % of the total surface area of reef habitats.
The database takes into account many different types of protected area, according to the objectives and management procedures associated with them. Out of all the coral reefs of the world, amounting to about 527 000 km2, 5.3 % are located in marine reserves where fishing is permitted, 12 % in intermediate reserves where fishing, recreational activities and research are accepted, and 1.4 % in strictly controlled reserves where any kind of removal is forbidden. In Australia, 69 % of coral reefs are strictly protected within such protected areas, compared with 7% in the central Pacific and the western Indian Ocean and 2% in the central area of the Indian Ocean.
By considering the poaching rate as an indirect indicator of the management of these marine areas, the research team observed that of the 1.6 % of coral reefs in the world
Contact: Marie GUILLAUME SIGNORET
Institut de Recherche Pour le Dveloppement