Do No-Take Reserves Benefit Florida's Corals? 14 Years of Change and Stasis in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

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coral reefs, fknms, florida keys, marine protected areas, montastraea, orbicella

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With coral populations in decline globally, it is critical that we tease apart the relative impacts of ecological and physical perturbations on reef ecosystems to determine the most appropriate management actions. This study compared the trajectories of benthic assemblages from 1998 to 2011 in three no-take reserves and three sites open to fishing, at 7-9 and 15-18 m depth in the Florida Keys. We evaluated temporal changes in the benthic assemblage to infer whether fisheries bans in no-take reserves could have cascading effects on the benthos in this region. Coral cover declined significantly over time at our sites and that trend was driven almost exclusively by decline of the Orbicella (formerly Montastraea) annularis species complex. Other coral taxa showed remarkable stasis and resistance to a variety of environmental perturbations. Protection status did not influence coral or macroalgal cover. The dynamics of corals and macroalgae in the 15 years since the reserves were established in 1997 suggest that although the reserves protected fish, they were of no perceptible benefit to Florida's corals.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Coral Reefs, v. 33, issue 3, p. 565-577