Public Release: 

World's coral reefs left vulnerable by paper parks

Highly protected coral reefs just 2% of world total: Scientists

Dalhousie University

Of the 18.7% of tropical coral reefs that lie within "Marine Protected Areas," less than 2% are extended protection complete with regulations on extraction, poaching and other major threats, according to an analysis published in Science Magazine on June 23.

The research represents the first global assessment of the extent, effectiveness and gaps in coverage of coral reefs by MPAs. The team built a database of MPAs for 102 countries, including satellite imagery of reefs worldwide, and surveyed more than 1,000 MPA managers and scientists to determine the conservation performance of MPAs.

The analysis assesses protection afforded to coral reefs from such threats as resource extraction, poaching, pollution, coastal development and overfishing. It also took account of such factors as MPA size and distances to neighboring protected areas.

"Although coral reefs are declining worldwide, actions to reverse such a crisis are woefully inadequate in most countries," says Dr. Camilo Mora, a scientist at Dalhousie University and lead author of the study. "Clearly, lines on the map are not enough to protect the world's coral reefs."

The authors recommend that protected areas need to be enforced to prevent poaching and should be expanded to include the management of external threats. Furthermore, the authors suggest MPAs should be bigger and linked to other protected areas to be more effective. "The future of coral reefs worldwide relies on countries and conservation agencies seriously embracing these objectives," adds Dr. Mora.

"We were expecting a poor result, but not numbers of this magnitude," adds co-author Dr. Mark A. Costello of the University of Auckland. "This study of protected areas worldwide suggests we are not reaping their potential positive benefits and stemming the current decline of coral reefs worldwide."

"What we found, in essence, is that we are creating paper parks," explains co-author and fellow researcher Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University. "The establishment of Marine Protected Areas is rarely followed by good management and enforcement. And while management of MPAs varies worldwide, it was particularly low in areas of high coral diversity such as the Indo-Pacific and the Caribbean."

"This new study combines a simple approach with detailed large-scale databases to provide the first such global assessment of biodiversity protection," says co-author Dr. Serge Andréfouët, a scientist with the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in New Caledonia. "We lack similar global assessment for other marine habitats, including kelp forests, seagrass beds, and deep-sea corals; but we have no reason to believe these may be better protected than tropical coral reefs."

"This paper is a wake-up call," says Dr. Peter Sale, Assistant Director of the United Nations University's International Network on Water in Canada and a University of Windsor professor. "It reminds us that despite recent successes in protecting coral reefs, our actions to date fall far short of what is required to save these most diverse of all marine habitats."


Contact information for study authors:

Camilo Mora
Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Phone: +354-525-5915 and +354-525-4734 (Iceland until June 26)
Phone: +1-902-494-3910 (Canada after June26)

Ransom A. Myers
Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Phone: +354-525-5915 and +354-525-4734 (Iceland until June 23)
+1-902-494-1755 (o) or +1- 902-492-1403 (h) (after June 23)
E-mail: Ransom.Myers@Dal.Ca

Serge Andréfouët
UR Coreus - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)
(Institute of Research and Development)
BP A5 - 98848 Nouméa cedex - Nouvelle Calédonie
Phone: +687-26-08-00
Email :

Mark Costello
Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Phone: +64-9-373 7599, Extension 83608

For additional comment:

Peter F. Sale
Assistant Director, United Nations University / International Network on Water
Environment and Health; and Professor,
Biological Sciences
University of Windsor, Canada
Phone: +1-705-764-3359

Isabelle Côté
Professor of Tropical Marine Ecology, Department of Biological Sciences
Simon Fraser University, Canada
Phone: +1-604-291-3705 (direct), +1-604-291-4475 (messages)

Callum M. Roberts
Professor, Environment Department, University of York, United Kingdom
Phone: +44 (0)1904 434066

Leigh Marine Laboratory at the University of Auckland, where the study was conducted, has been studying marine reserves for more than 30 years. New Zealand leads the world in that 30 of its 50 MPAs are "no-take" marine reserves.

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