DOES PROTECTION CULTIVATE MORE RESILIENT REEFS? : ASSESSNG THE LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF BELIZE’S NO-TAKE MANAGEMENT ZONES ON THE POST-DISTURBANCE RECOVERY OF CORALS
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Coral reefs have emerged as one of the ecosystems most vulnerable to climate variation and change. Under the current trends, disturbance events are likely to increase in rate and severity. It is critically important to create management strategies that enhance the ability of coral reefs to absorb shocks, resist phase-shifts, and regenerate after such perturbations. This project assesses the capacity of no-take management zones to foster coral resilience in Belize in the 10 years after a major disturbance. In 1998, the Belize Barrier Reef Complex (BBRC) experienced bleaching and hurricane events that effectively halved coral cover. Using video-based reef quantification, this project builds on a robust dataset describing benthic composition immediately before and at three sampling intervals after these major disturbances. The results of this Master’s Project reveal that protection offered by no-take zones (NTZ) has no detectable effect on changes to benthic composition. Coral assemblages show no long-term recovery on either NTZ or fished reefs. As a result, macroalgae cover increased significantly, perhaps past certain resiliency thresholds. Insufficient protection may be attributed to design factors related to size, proximity to other stressors, and isolation. The results make clear that Belize’s reefs are changing at an increasing rate away from desirable ecological baselines. Conservation and government leaders in Belize are thus urged to look beyond purely spatial options in crafting tools for reef resilience.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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