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Recovery potential of the world’s coral reef fishes

Lookup NU author(s): Nicholas Graham, Dr Shaun Wilson, Dr Steve Newman, Professor Nick Polunin, Dr Tim McClanahan



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


Continuing degradation of coral reef ecosystems has generated substantialinterest in how management can support reef resilience1,2.Fishing is the primary source of diminished reef function globally3–5,leading to widespread calls for additional marine reserves torecover fish biomass and restore key ecosystem functions6. Yetthere are no established baselines for determining when theseconservation objectives have been met or whether alternative managementstrategies provide similar ecosystem benefits. Here weestablish empirical conservation benchmarks and fish biomassrecovery timelines against which coral reefs can be assessed andmanaged by studying the recovery potential of more than 800 coralreefs along an exploitation gradient. We show that resident reef fishbiomass in the absence of fishing (B0) averages 1,000 kg ha21, andthat the vast majority (83%) of fished reefs are missing more thanhalf their expected biomass, with severe consequences for key ecosystemfunctions such as predation. Given protection from fishing,reef fish biomass has the potential to recover within 35 years onaverage and less than 60 years when heavily depleted. Notably,alternative fisheries restrictions are largely (64%) successful atmaintaining biomass above 50% of B0, sustaining key functionssuch as herbivory. Our results demonstrate that crucial ecosystemfunctions can be maintained through a range of fisheries restrictions,allowing coral reef managers to develop recovery plans thatmeet conservation and livelihood objectives in areas where marinereserves are not socially or politically feasible solutions.

Publication metadata

Author(s): MacNeil MA, Graham NAJ, Cinner JE, Wilson SK, Williams ID, Maina J, Newman SP, Friedlander A, Jupiter S, Polunin NVC, McClanahan TR

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature

Year: 2015

Volume: 520

Issue: 7547

Pages: 341-344

Print publication date: 16/04/2015

Online publication date: 08/04/2015

Acceptance date: 27/02/2015

Date deposited: 30/03/2016

ISSN (print): 0028-0836

ISSN (electronic): 1476-4687

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1038/nature14358


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