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Report Sheds Light on Marine Protected Area Design and Function in Hawaii

A recent report published by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science links protected areas in Hawaii with greater fish abundance, size and diversity, as well as higher coral species richness, illustrating the effectiveness of the closures. The report, Monitoring Hawaii’s Marine Protected Areas: Examining Spatial and Temporal Trends Using a Seascape Approach, compares four marine life conservation districts with surrounding areas that are not protected and managed.

The report is based on benthic habitat maps and coral ecosystem monitoring studies conducted between 2002 and 2004 at Pupukea, Kealakekua Bay, Honolua Bay and Hanauma Bay. Researchers found that fish biomass increased in three of the four Marine Life Conservation Districts (MLCDs). Other key findings demonstrate that top predators (i.e., sharks and jacks) and important fisheries species were more abundant and larger inside the protected areas. Coral species richness and cover was also higher.

The results clearly show that areas with good habitat quality and management conserve fish populations within their boundaries while areas without protection are in poorer ecological condition and continue to decline over time. The findings from this study greatly contribute to the understanding of marine protected area design and function in Hawaii and can be useful in the development of comprehensive coastal and marine spatial planning.

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