Does Herbivorous Fish Protection Really Improve Coral Reef Resilience? A Case Study from New Caledonia (South Pacific)

Laure Carassou, Marc LĂ©opold, Nicolas Guillemot, Laurent Wantiez, & Michel Kulbicki
Created: 1/04/2021 -

Abstract

Parts of coral reefs from New Caledonia (South Pacific) were registered at the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008. Management strategies aiming at preserving the exceptional ecological value of these reefs in the context of climate change are currently being considered. This study evaluates the appropriateness of an exclusive fishing ban of herbivorous fish as a strategy to enhance coral reef resilience to hurricanes and bleaching in the UNESCO-registered areas of New Caledonia. A two-phase approach was developed: 1) coral, macroalgal, and herbivorous fish communities were examined in four biotopes from 14 reefs submitted to different fishing pressures in New Caledonia, and 2) results from these analyses were challenged in the context of a global synthesis of the relationship between herbivorous fish protection, coral recovery and relative macroalgal development after hurricanes and bleaching. Analyses of New Caledonia data indicated that 1) current fishing pressure only slightly affected herbivorous fish communities in the country, and 2) coral and macroalgal covers remained unrelated, and macroalgal cover was not related to the biomass, density or diversity of macroalgae feeders, whatever the biotope or level of fishing pressure considered. At a global scale, we found no relationship between reef protection status, coral recovery and relative macroalgal development after major climatic events. These results suggest that an exclusive protection of herbivorous fish in New Caledonia is unlikely to improve coral reef resilience to large-scale climatic disturbances, especially in the lightly fished UNESCO-registered areas. More efforts towards the survey and regulation of major chronic stress factors such as mining are rather recommended. In the most heavily fished areas of the country, carnivorous fish and large targeted herbivores may however be monitored as part of a precautionary approach.

Published On

Keywords

Adaptation Phase
Assessment
Scale
National / Federal
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Culture/communities
Fisheries
Research
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate future conditions into natural resources planning and policies
Incorporate climate change into harvest/take policies
Create new refugia / Increase size and amount of protected areas
Capacity Building
Governance and Policy
Create new or enhance existing policies or regulations
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Temperature
Culture / communities
Diseases or parasites
Fishery harvest
Storms or extreme weather events
Water temperature
Habitat/Biome Type
Coastal
Marine
Reef
Region
International