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Marine reserves could save coral reefs

Threatened coral reefs could be given a helping hand by establishing marine reserves, according to a research team led by the University of Exeter. Marine reserves have already proved to be a successful way of protecting marine life against commercial fishing. Now, research published today (15 May 2007) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows for the first time how marine reserves could also help in the recovery of corals, which are already suffering the effects of climate change and over-fishing.

Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the research was carried out on The Bahamas' Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. At 442 square km, this is one of the largest and most successful marine reserves in the Caribbean. The team found that the number of young corals doubled in areas in which native fish, such as parrotfish, were protected from being caught. Young corals are needed to replace older corals that have been killed by storms, disease or other problems. The reserve enabled young corals to survive exceptionally well because marauding seaweeds were controlled by grazing from plentiful numbers of parrotfishes living in the reserve.

Lead researcher Professor Peter Mumby of the University of Exeter said: 'This is the first evidence we have that marine reserves benefit coral. Coral reefs are unique ecosystems that have supported thousands of fish and other marine species for millions of years. We estimate that humans have already destroyed around 30% of the world's coral reefs and climate change is now causing further damage to coral. These findings illustrate the need to maintain high levels of parrotfishes on reefs in order to give corals a fighting chance of recovering. This can either be done using marine reserves or national fisheries legislation that protects parrotfish.'

Marine reserves are areas of the sea that are protected agai
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Contact: Sarah Hoyle
s.hoyle@exeter.ac.uk
01-392-262-062
University of Exeter
14-May-2007


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