"Outside the protected areas, we're seeing the ecosystem collapse," O'Leary said. "When you look at the effects of fishing, you can't just think about the species that are being removed. You have to look at how the effects are carried down through the ecosystem."
Most of the young corals found in the surveys were growing on crustose coralline algae. Juveniles of four common coral families were more abundant on coralline algae than on any other settlement substrate. The results suggest that fishing can indirectly reduce coral recruitment or the success of juvenile corals by reducing the abundance of settlement-inducing coralline algae.
"The loss of crustose coralline algae has huge implications for regeneration of coral reefs," O'Leary said. "In our surveys, we found no difference between gear-restricted areas and fully fished areas, so gear restrictions are not working to keep urchin populations down. We need to consider ecosystem-wide effects as we develop new management strategies."
Potts said he hopes the new study will raise awareness of the role that coralline algae play in the health of coral reefs, especially in developing countries. "Most managers and conservationists, and even many scientists, are unaware of the existence, abundance, and importance of coralline algae, so management regimes intended to enhance the health of reefs may actually be detrimental," he said.
|Contact: Tim Stephens|
University of California - Santa Cruz