[ASC-media] ICRS 2012 press briefing: DNA proves no-take-zones supply fisheries with more fish

Melissa Lyne mlyne_99 at yahoo.com
Wed Jul 11 23:40:52 CEST 2012

Press Release: For Immediate Release, July 12, 2012
Innovative DNA-Fingerprinting Technology Proves
Marine Protected Areas Provide Baby Bonus to
CAIRNS, Australia—The first conclusive evidence that
no-take protected areas can help restock exploited fish populations on
neighbouring reefs was presented at the International Coral Reef Symposium
The findings are expected to help resolve a long-running
debate worldwide about whether areas closed to all forms of fishing help
replenish fish numbers outside the marine protected areas (MPAs).
“Using DNA fingerprinting technology, we now can clearly
show that the benefits of MPAs spread beyond reserve boundaries, providing a
baby bonus to fisheries,” Geoff Jones, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for
Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) and James Cook University, who led the study.
Jones presented his team’s findings as part of a media
briefing on fish larval dispersal and the connectivity between reefs entitled
“Reef Connections.” Held every four years, the International Coral Reef Symposium is the premier
global coral reef conference and a hotbed of the latest advances in coral reef
science. The research and
findings presented at ICRS2012 are fundamental in informing international and
national policies and the sustainable use of coral reefs globally.
Jones was joined by Leanne Fernandes, Director and Principal
Consultant, Marine and Coastal
Resource Management, Earth to Ocean, Australia; Stephen D. Simpson, Marine Biologist & NERC KE Fellow, School of Biological
Sciences, University of Bristol, United Kingdom; and Bob Warner, Professor of Marine Biology at the University of
California, Santa Barbara.
A full video of the briefing, with each panelist’s
discussion of the current science presented at ICRS and management applications
of fish larval research, is available online at www.icrs2012mediaportal.com.
The groundbreaking study was carried out in the Keppel
Island group on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef by researchers from the ARC
Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS), in conjunction with other
leading research institutions. 
“The implications for local fishing communities around
the world are huge,” said Fernandes, who was the manager of the Representative
Areas Program in Australia that established one-third of the Great Barrier Reef
as no-take protected areas. “It’s never easy to protect areas from fishing
because, so often, the fished areas are very important for local communities for
food, livelihoods and lifestyles. So fishermen need to know for sure it will
Fernandes said that Jones’ research also shows that MPAs
can be effective on small scales, which has implications worldwide. For many
communities, particularly in the developing world that depend on small areas of
reef for food and income, there are limited options for closing areas to
“The MPAs weren’t tens of kilometres across. Some were
about two kilometres cross or even 800 meters across, and they still worked,”
she said. “This is great news for local fishing communities around the world
because protecting areas about this size might be possible for them; protecting
really big areas is just too hard.”
Using DNA samples, the team of scientists tracked the
dispersal pathways of juvenile coral trout and stripey snappers larvae from
MPAs in the Keppel island group. They found that a very large proportion of
juveniles, 65 percent, settled in nearby areas that are open to fishing. Most
of the baby fish settled within one to five kilometres of reserves but a
significant proportion dispersed 10 kilometres or more to find a new home.
In addition, the study found that the six marine
reserves, which cover only 28 percent of the total reef area of the Keppels,
had generated 50 percent of the total juvenile fish, both inside and outside of
the reserves. “So 28
percent of the area protected equals 50 percent of the baby fish produced. This
means there would have been a lot less fish if the no-take areas weren’t
there,” Fernandes said.
Warner said that research into fish larvae behavior is
tremendously important to developing successful management approaches. Fish
larvae, which are microscopic fish babies, normally are dispersed in the open
ocean after they are born, living for days or weeks, before the lucky survivors
make it back a reef.
“This poses immense problems for management. How do you
manage fish populations if the young produced are scattered out to sea like
dandelion puffs drifting in the wind?” he said. But Jones has addressed this
critical issue by showing that these fish babies do return to their home reefs,
which means that local actions to protect fish can have direct local benefits,
he said. 
Simpson added that recent research has shown that fish
larvae have highly developed senses, included smell and hearing, and can
actively swim back to their home reefs. But that means the reef habitat and
adult fish populations need to be intact for them to find their way home.
That’s exactly what MPAs can provide, with spillover benefits for neighboring
“This research is the strongest support for management
strategies that adopt marine protected areas as a fundamental tool for
sustaining fish populations,” Simpson said.
The paper “Larval
Export >From Marine Reserves and the Recruitment Benefit for Fish and Fisheries”
byHugo B. Harrison, David H.
Williamson, Richard D. Evans, Glenn R. Almany, Simon R. Thorrold, Garry R.
Russ, Kevin A. Feldheim, Lynne van Herwerden, Serge Planes, Maya Srinivasan,
Michael L. Berumen and Geoffrey P. Jones appears in the May online issue of
Current Biology.
Melissa Lyne, Australia Media, melissa.lyne at gmail.com,+ 61415 514 328
Jackie Marks, International Media, jmarks at seaweb.org, + 61 451 148 542
Cindy Yeast, US Media, cyeast at seaweb.org, + 1 (720) 542 9455

Melissa Lyne 
Australia and New Zealand Media Co-ordinator
12th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS 2012)
9-13 July 2012, Cairns, Australia
P: +61 415 514 328W: www.icrs2012.com
F: http://www.facebook.com/ICRS2012
T: http://www.twitter.com/ICRS2012
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