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  • Final Report Summary - REEFMANAGERTOOLS (Tools to aid coral reef managers in French Polynesia and other reef regions to build resilience to climate change into management and conservation planning)

Final Report Summary - REEFMANAGERTOOLS (Tools to aid coral reef managers in French Polynesia and other reef regions to build resilience to climate change into management and conservation planning)

In the vulnerability model adopted by the IPCC the vulnerability of a habitat, or ecosystem, or even an industry or community is determined by exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity (see recent review in Marshall et al. 2013). Exposure and sensitivity combine to produce a potential impact – these terms capture what happens to the system, and how the system reacts. The adaptive capacity of the system determines whether those potential impacts have a short or long-lasting legacy. Assessing and reducing vulnerability to climate change is now the hallmark of many conservation programs and is critical to ensuring coral reefs can persist. From the perspective of a coral reef manager, reducing vulnerability equates to reducing sensitivity and supporting the adaptive capacity of coral reefs (Mumby et al. 2013). This involves supporting the natural resilience of coral reef systems – their ability to resist and recover from disturbances and continue to maintain essential functions and processes (Walker et al. 2004). Limiting exposure to disturbances caused by global climate change, like coral bleaching, is well out of the scope of all local coral reef managers (Anthony et al. in revision). Thus, managing to support the resilience of reefs (and reduce vulnerability) requires reducing stress caused by human activities (Anthony and Maynard, 2011).

Marine protected areas (MPAs) zoned for multiple use have become the most popular tool used by coral reef managers to support reef resilience while managing for sustainable use (Edgar et al. 2007). The Nature Conservancy developed a model to frame the concept of resilience in a way that is easy for managers to understand (Obura and Grimsditch 2009). The model has four components: representation and replication, critical areas, connectivity, and effective management. In the first, ensuring that all habitat types are well represented and replicated decreases the risk a catastrophic event will destroy the whole reef system. Critical areas enhance replenishment and recovery of reefs by providing secure sources of larvae. These could include fish spawning aggregation sites, as well as refugia – locations that are far less exposed to disturbances than other sites due to local conditions. Critical areas could also be areas where the coral communities are especially resistant to bleaching or have been shown to recover quickly. Preserving connectivity can enhance recovery by ensuring coral communities can be replenished after disturbances. Lastly, effective management has to ensure threats caused by human activities are actually mitigated or reduced at protected sites.

The focus of this proposal is the identification of critical areas - part 2 of the TNC resilience model. Ensuring critical areas are well represented and replicated (part 1) within MPAs that are effectively managed (part 4) and preserve connectivity (part 3) requires that these areas can be identified. Finding fish spawning aggregation sites (SAGS) can be difficult but in many locations these are well known to the fishing community (Sadovy and Domeier 2005) and SAGS were not the focus here. In contrast, identifying sites in an area that have been especially resilient in the past and identifying refugia is more challenging.

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