World-class protection boosts Australia's Great Barrier Reef

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Washington, Feb 23 (ANI): A new study has determined that Australia's Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is showing an extraordinary range of benefits from the network of protected marine reserves introduced there five years ago.

The scientific team, comprising Australian coral reef scientists, describes the findings as "a globally significant demonstration of the effectiveness of large-scale networks of marine reserves".

"Our data show rapid increases of fish inside no-take reserves, in both reef and non-reef habitats," said Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

"Critically, the reserves also benefit overall ecosystem health and resilience", said lead study author Dr Laurence McCook of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

"Outbreaks of coral-eating, crown-of-thorns starfish are less frequent on no-take reefs, which consequently have a higher abundance of healthy corals after outbreaks," he said.

"In concert with other measures, the reserve network is also helping the plight of threatened species like dugongs and marine turtles", said Dr McCook.

"There is now very strong evidence that no-take zones benefit fish populations within those zones. The numbers of coral trout doubled on some reefs within two years of closure to fishing," said Dr Hugh Sweatman, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Overall, the team concluded, "With 32 percent of GBR reef area in no-take reefs, and fish densities about two times greater on those reefs, fish populations across the ecosystem have increased considerably."

The researchers predict that as protected fish inside no-take areas grow larger and larger, they will contribute many more larvae to the whole ecosystem.

Therefore, the benefits of no-take areas are expected to extend far beyond the no-take boundaries, replenishing surrounding areas that are open to fishing.

Larger, more mobile species, such as sharks, have benefited less than residential fishes, but nevertheless show clear effects of protection, as grey reef sharks are much more abundant on highly protected reefs than on fished reefs.

According to the researchers, "Given the major threat posed by climate change, the expanded network of marine reserves provides a critical and cost-effective contribution to enhancing the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef."

"In summary, the network of marine reserves on the GBR has brought major, sustained ecological benefits, including for target fish and sharks," they said. (ANI)

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