Whether or not marine protected areas (MPAs) can help mitigate the effects of multiple stressors and promote coral reef resilience around the world remains controversial. This study investigates community resistance both within MPAs and in areas which experienced a change in their protection status on reef communities on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). In using models for data analysis, it was found that fish and benthic assemblages were more stable on reefs inside MPAs despite experiencing a higher frequency of disturbance than reefs in non-MPA areas. While spatial and environmental characteristics were found to be similar across both MPAs and non-MPAs, non-MPA sites demonstrated highly variable assemblages of fish and benthic communities. There was a clear stabilization of these assemblages after a site was granted increased levels of protection. MPAs were found to be further advantageous as stressors were found to have limited influence on community composition and communities were able to recover faster than those in non-MPA sites. It is concluded that MPAs have increased both the resistance and recovery of coral reef communities in the shallow areas of the GBR. While MPAs are widespread around the world, they remain controversial in some areas. Knowing that these areas of increased protection can help increase reef resilience and perhaps slow the decline of coral cover in cases of disturbance, MPAs should receive continual support as utilization as effective management tools in the promotion of coral reef resilience.

Author: Mellin, C., M.A. MacNeil, A.J. Cheal, M.J. Emslie, and M.J. Caley
Year: 2016
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Email for the full article: resilience@tnc.org

Ecology Letters 19(6): 629–637. doi: 10.1111/ele.12598

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