No Reef Is an Island: Integrating Coral Reef Connectivity Data into the Design of Regional-Scale Marine Protected Area Networks

Schill, S.R.; Raber, G.T.; Roberts, J.J.; Treml, E.A.; Brenner, J.; Halpin, P.N.

Plos one 10(12): E0144199

2015


ISSN/ISBN: 1932-6203
PMID: 26641083
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144199
Accession: 058410920

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Abstract
We integrated coral reef connectivity data for the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico into a conservation decision-making framework for designing a regional scale marine protected area (MPA) network that provides insight into ecological and political contexts. We used an ocean circulation model and regional coral reef data to simulate eight spawning events from 2008-2011, applying a maximum 30-day pelagic larval duration and 20% mortality rate. Coral larval dispersal patterns were analyzed between coral reefs across jurisdictional marine zones to identify spatial relationships between larval sources and destinations within countries and territories across the region. We applied our results in Marxan, a conservation planning software tool, to identify a regional coral reef MPA network design that meets conservation goals, minimizes underlying threats, and maintains coral reef connectivity. Our results suggest that approximately 77% of coral reefs identified as having a high regional connectivity value are not included in the existing MPA network. This research is unique because we quantify and report coral larval connectivity data by marine ecoregions and Exclusive Economic Zones (EZZ) and use this information to identify gaps in the current Caribbean-wide MPA network by integrating asymmetric connectivity information in Marxan to design a regional MPA network that includes important reef network connections. The identification of important reef connectivity metrics guides the selection of priority conservation areas and supports resilience at the whole system level into the future.