Can private management compensate the ineffective marine reserves in China?
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Marine reserves (MRs) have emerged as a preferred method to protect coral reefs from overfishing and human disturbance. However, due to ineffective enforcement by governments, many MRs have been reduced to mere “paper parks” which fail to achieve conservation goals. This is especially true in countries such as China where compliance is low and resources dedicated to enforcement may be scarce. Privately managed marine reserves (PMMRs) may be effective in areas where government enforcement is lacking. To determine if PMMRs are a viable alternative strategy to protect coral reefs, we surveyed and compared fish assemblages and coral coverage in national MRs in Sanya, China to areas of reef privately leased to and managed by dive operators and hospitality industries. We found higher fish abundances and fish sizes in PMMR sites than in MR sites. However, while PMMRs are protected from fishing, other human impacts such as marine debris and illegal coral collection were evident in most tourist sites. Despite protection, long-term monitoring data of PMMRs revealed that in recent years, fish abundances have slightly recovered but species richness has not, indicating the need for a more comprehensive coral reef management plan. We strongly recommend coupling PMMRs with expertise supported regulations as an alternative coral reef management strategy in China.
KeywordsCoral Reefs Marine protected areas Privately managed reserves South China Sea
Funding of this study was provided by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (U1301232, 41306144, 41476134), the Public science and technology research funds projects of ocean (Grant 201305030-3), Chinese Postdoctoral Funding (129474), and Taiwanese Visiting Scholar Fellowship. We are grateful to many people, who assisted in fieldwork and sample collection, especially Siobhan Heatwole and Nathaniel Maynard for the English proofreading.
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