In the framework of BiodivScen, the 2017-2018 BiodivERsA – Belmont Forum Joint Action on Scenarios of biodiversity and ecosystem services, 21 research projects were selected for funding, based on their scientific excellence, their involvement of relevant stakeholders and their promising societal impact.
The REEF-FUTURES project (see description here), funded under BiodivScen and developing scenarios of the impacts of the implementation of Marine Protected Areas on coral reefs services, published its first results in the Science magazine on April 17th.
On the occasion of this release, David Mouillot, Professor at the University of Montpellier and coordinator of the REEF-FUTURES project, gave a short interview presenting the stakes of the research, and summarizing its potential for support to decision-making.
Discover this interview below. We wish you a pleasant reading.
Photo credits: Eva Maire
Coral reefs biodiversity: revisiting local management goals to better conciliate conservation and fisheries
In the framework of the upcoming COP15 and in front of the pressures faced by marine ecosystems, the Convention on Biological Diversity is planning on increasing to 30% the proportion of marine and terrestrial protected areas by 2030. To what extent are these conservation agendas for coral reefs compatible with socio-economic agendas that are vital for populations, like fisheries? Interview with David Mouillot, Professor at the University of Montpellier (MARBEC Laboratory) and coordinator of REEF-FUTURES, project carried out by researchers from France, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, funded under BiodivScen, the joint BiodivERsA – Belmont Forum program on biodiversity scenarios, whose research will be published in Science on April 17th 2020.
In the context of the creation of protected areas, why is it crucial to study possible synergies and trade-offs between conservation agendas and fisheries?
David Mouillot: “Coral reefs are home to some important biodiversity, while representing a revenue stream (fisheries, recreational activities, etc.) for local populations. More and more, creating protected areas is pending on a consensus between institutional and local actors (policy-makers, fishermen, NGOs, etc.), even more so when it comes to sites with economic or food safety-related issues. Strategies for developing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) will therefore have to account for local contexts and better anticipate potential synergies and trade-offs between goals that are necessary for Nature, and for Mankind. However, today there is little information available on the coral reefs’ capacity to reach goals that seem mutually exclusive. This is why we studied 1800 coral reefs worldwide – including 106 in MPAs – and their capacity to achieve simultaneously various goals supported by fish: commercial biomass, herbivory, and functional diversity. Being an international consortium, we could access data on very remote reefs, reefs located near villages inhabited by active fishermen, or near regional capital cities, allowing to study a complete gradient of human impact while defining reference conditions.”
Can coral reefs respond to these goals simultaneously?
D.M.: “We studied the reefs’ capacity to respond simultaneously to three key goals: biomass in terms of commercial fish, relevant to what is locally consumed or sold, the potential for herbivory of these fish on the reef, an essential function for the control of algae and maintenance of coral reef habitat, and the functional diversity (corresponding to the diversity of traits or fish communities found on the reef, essential component of biodiversity). Little correlation was found between those three indicators. The results showed that no more than 5% of the reefs displayed a satisfying level (75% superior to the reference condition) for the three objectives combined. Even the most emblematic MPAs, for example in the Coral Sea between France and Australia, display weak level at least for one of the three indicators, in particular when the reefs are located near human settlements.”
What management types could enhance the reefs’ capacity to reach the combined goals?
D.M.: “With an ambition to assess the potential effects of the creation of an MPA, either with no allowed use of any kind, either partial (Partially Protected Area – PPA) with a limitation on commercial and/or recreational activities, we carried out various simulations on unprotected sites. The scenarios have a horizon of five to ten years, leaving enough time for protection to produce effects, but limiting long-term forecasting ability for these effects on coral reefs.
For reefs that are in poor condition (25% inferior to the reference condition), even with the implementation of a fully protected MPA it is unlikely, according to our simulations, that we reach a satisfying level for the three indicators, on a short-term period. However, for half of the sites the creation of an MPA would allow a correct level (50% superior to the reference condition) for the three indicators. Performances are better with fully protected MPAs implemented for sites remote from human populations, but values are also noteworthy with PPAs (e.g. by regulating the use of fishing gear) implemented in sites not so remote from human activities, in particular when it comes to the indicators of commercial biomass and herbivory.
The implementation of PPAs could thus act as an intermediate first step towards a more ambitious protection of marine ecosystems, aimed at conciliating more efficiently conservation agendas and fisheries agendas.”
How can these results support decision-making for the implementation of MPAs?
D.M.: “Our research underlines the need for MPAs-related objectives, so far usually homogenous for a given territory, to be tailored according to the conditions of a given site (isolated or near human populations). What is at stake is to set goals that are realistic and based on the sites’ characteristic and their socio-economic context, rather than by referring to the best site of the territory, in order to provide better guidance for managers. Another stake for MPAs implementation lies in the adherence by relevant actors. Which is why we strongly endeavor to share knowledge and good practices with these actors.”
What will be the next work of project REEF-FUTURES?
D.M.: “We are currently following-up on our research with a view to elaborate scenarios that would be more complex, encompassing climate change besides socio-economic scenarios (increase of population, enhanced accessibility of the reefs, etc.). This will help identifying options for the management of reef restoration at longer time scales. We will also study a more diversified scope of services provided by coral reefs, in order to identify to what extent the choices we make in terms of MPAs will impact this broadened range in a given context.”
What is the added value of the international dimension of project REEF-FUTURES, which gathers researchers from ten different countries?
D.M.: “The potential for international collaboration provided by programs such as BiodivERsA and the Belmont Forum allowed for the set-up of a broad consortium, hence covering a broader range of coral reefs, and for the sharing of data at a global scale, which turns out to be crucial for the kind of research we are carrying out. Additionally, it provided us with the opportunity to mobilize complementary expertise and to foresee developing a more diverse set of scenarios, which would not have been permitted without an international and multidisciplinary consortium.”
With the release of these first research results of high scientific value, that have been elaborated in contact with stakeholders and aim at support decision-making when it comes to managing Marine Protected Areas, the REEF-FUTURES project is emblematic of the kind of research that BiodivERsA promotes. Indeed, BiodivERsA supports projects demonstrating academic excellence and with a potential high impact on society and policy.
BiodivERsA showcased other relevant emblematic projects, such as BUFFER, funded under the BiodivERsA 2011-2012 call for research projects, that also deals with Marine Protected Areas.
- Cinner et al., Meeting fisheries, ecosystem function, and biodiversity goals in a human dominated world, Science
- Summary of the REEF-FUTURES project: https://www.biodiversa.eu/about-us/strategy/
- Presentation of the BiodivScen call on Scenarios of biodiversity and ecosystem services and 21 funded projects: https://www.biodiversa.eu/about-us/strategy/
- 3-minute video presenting the results of the BUFFER project, another BiodivERsA-funded project on MPAs: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCw0po9oiUGUEEj04VApuWTw