Coral reef and fish, Credit: NOAA

Photo credit: NOAA

Coral reefs ecosystem are increasingly vulnerable to climate change. With ocean conditions shifting globally, and more stress placed on reefs, management efforts are all the more important. Identifying the ideal locations to implement protection of reef habitats in order to support long-term resilience is critical for the future of coral reefs.

In the past few years there has been unprecedented coral bleaching events which have sparked new conversations about how to protect coral reefs from the most harmful impacts of climate change. Herbivore management areas (HMAs) have been identified as a key strategy for reef recovery and effective management. HMAs take advantage of feeding habits of herbivorous fish, which essentially mow the lawn for coral reefs. As these fish graze algae and remove dead coral, they provide space for coral to settle and survive and increase the long-term resilience of reefs.

Lisa Wedding, Associate Professor in the School of Geography and the Environment, and her team published a new study in Coral Reefs that combines ecological and cultural considerations to identify which HMA locations would be most impactful for coral reef recovery. "Our findings help to identify the key areas where herbivore management could build coral reef resilience," said Lisa Wedding. This work builds on previous collaborative research published this March in Frontiers in Marine Science. These design recommendations, together with maps of potential areas where targeted herbivore interventions will have the most impact in the Hawaiian Islands, provide guidance for effective long-term management strategies.