Research scientists from the University of Exeter in the UK have provided the first evidence that that reducing levels of fishing is a viable way of protecting coral reefs from some of the damage caused by climate change.

Increases in ocean surface water temperatures subject coral reefs to stresses that lead quickly to mass bleaching. The problem is intensified by ocean acidification, which is also caused by increased carbon dioxide. This decreases the ability of corals to produce calcium carbonate, which is the material that reefs are made of.

Coral bleaching in the Maldives

Coral bleaching in the Maldives

Approximately 2% of the world’s coral reefs are located within marine reserves, where human activity, like dredging and fishing. is prohibited.

The researchers conducted surveys of ten sites inside and outside marine reserves in the Bahamas which had been severely damaged by bleaching and then by hurricane Frances in the summer of 2004.

After two and a half years, coral cover in protected areas had increased by an average of 19%, while reefs in non-reserve sites showed no recovery.

According to Professor Peter Mumby of the University of Exeter, “In order to protect reefs in the long-term, we need radical action to reduce CO2 emissions. However, our research shows that local action to reduce the effects of fishing can contribute meaningfully to the fate of reefs. This sort of evidence may help persuade governments to reduce the fishing of key herbivores like parrotfishes and help reefs cope with the inevitable threats posed by climate change.”