Science says no-take reserves in the Great Barrier Reef are working

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The expansion of no-take marine reserves in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park more than a decade ago is working just as experts had hoped it would, say researchers who have been monitoring via underwater surveys.

The findings, reported in the journal Current Biology, is encouraging news for Australia’s largest reef and for similar projects around the world.

Park reserves couldn’t protect the reef from extensive physical damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Hamish in 2009 but the protected areas helped in the recovery.

“The sheer size of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park ensured there were adequate areas unaffected by the cyclone that should serve as larval sources of fishes and coral to aid recovery in affected areas,” says Michael Emslie of the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park includes a large-scale network of no-take areas which extends over 2,000 kilometers along the coast.

In 2004, the no-take reserves, which made up less than 5% of the park, were expanded to cover more than one-third of the area.

In the latest study, researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University relied on data collected by underwater surveys.

They investigated effects on fish numbers and sizes, species diversity and the impact of disturbance from the severe tropical cyclone.

The numbers and size of coral trout, the most commercially important fishery species in the area, were consistently greater in no-take areas than on fished reefs.

David Williamson of James Cook University said: “Pollution, sedimentation, coastal development, and the escalating effects of climate change all act at regional and global scales. The establishment of highly connected networks of NTMRs (no-take marine reserve) can contribute to a secure future for coral reefs, but effective measures to reduce land-based threats and to mitigate climate change will also be essential.”

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