Responses of herbivorous fishes and benthos to 6 years of protection at the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area, Maui

TitleResponses of herbivorous fishes and benthos to 6 years of protection at the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area, Maui
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsWilliams I.D, White D.J, Sparks R.T, Lino K.C, Zamzow J.P, Kelly E.LA, Ramey H.L
JournalPlos One
Date Published2016/07
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1932-6203
Accession NumberWOS:000381515900026
Keywordsclimate-change; communities; coral-reefs; hawaii; Macroalgae; Marine reserve; phase-shifts; recovery; recruitment; resilience

In response to concerns about declining coral cover and recurring macroalgal blooms, in 2009 the State of Hawaii established the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area (KHFMA). Within the KHFMA, herbivorous fishes and sea urchins are protected, but other fishing is allowed. As part of a multi-agency monitoring effort, we conducted surveys at KHFMA and comparison sites around Maui starting 19 months before closure, and over the six years since implementation of herbivore protection. Mean parrotfish and surgeonfish biomass both increased within the KHFMA (by 139% [95% QR (quantile range): 98-181%] and 28%[95% QR: 3-52%] respectively). Most of those gains were of small-to-medium sized species, whereas large-bodied species have not recovered, likely due to low levels of poaching on what are preferred fishery targets in Hawaii. Nevertheless, coincident with greater biomass of herbivores within the KHFMA, cover of crustose coralline algae (CCA) has increased from similar to 2% before closure to similar to 15% in 2015, and macroalgal cover has remained low throughout the monitoring period. Strong evidence that changes in the KHFMA were a consequence of herbivore management are that (i) there were no changes in biomass of unprotected fish families within the KHFMA; and that (ii) there were no similar changes in parrotfish or CCA at comparison sites around Maui. It is not yet clear how effective herbivore protection might eventually be for the KHFMA's ultimate goal of coral recovery. Coral cover declined over the first few years of surveys-from 39.6%(SE 1.4%) in 2008, to 32.9%(SE 0.8%) in 2012, with almost all of that loss occurring by 2010 (1 year after closure), i.e. before meaningful herbivore recovery had occurred. Coral cover subsequently stabilized and may have slightly increased from 2012 through early 2015. However, a region-wide bleaching event in 2015 had already led to some coral mortality by the time surveys were conducted in late 2015, at which time cover had dropped back to levels recorded in the KHFMA in 2012.

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