Ecosystem-Based and Community-Based Model Integration to Designate Coral Reef No-Take Marine Protected Areas: A Case Study from Puerto Rico


Ecosystem-based management and community-based participation in governance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been identified as key elements to improve management success, local stakeholder support, and compliance with regulations. However, both are often rarely achieved, resulting in poor MPA governance, support and success. A quantitative assessment of the spatio- temporal change (1997-2012) of coral reef fish communities within Arrecifes La Cordillera Natural Reserve in northeastern Puerto Rico was carried out. We also identified community expectations of and support for the designation of a network of small no-take MPAs within the reserve’s boundaries. A holistic approach employing biophysical and socioeconomic methods was used as part of a participatory model to identify priorities for the designation of candidate no-take MPAs. Populations of the most important fishery-targeted species showed a significant temporal decline, particularly in areas subjected to intense recreational activities and spearfishing. Most groupers (Serranidae), snappers (Lutjanidae), barracudas (Sphyraenidae), and some parrotfishes (Scaridae) were nearly absent at most sites. Most individuals belonged to smaller size categories. Herbivores represented the majority of the total fish biomass, suggesting strong fishing impacts on apex predators. Fish declines also occurred after two massive coral bleaching events in 1998 and 2005 that were followed by mass coral mortalities, suggesting combined negative impacts of fishing and climate change. A no-take MPA designation was supported by 80% of the artisanal fishermen, 73% of the concessionaires (i.e., SCUBA diving, charter boats), and 52% of registered vessel operators. Stakeholders agreed that coral reef conditions in the reserve had declined over time, as well as water quality which affected reef health and fisheries. Stakeholders did not recognize climate change and sea surface warming as threats to coral reefs and fisheries. Nonetheless, stakeholder perceptions of candidate no-take MPA sites remarkably matched those identified through fish counts. This study also highlighted the pervasive views held by many stake-holders concerning MPA management and enforcement, and recommended that any no-take MPA designation process considers improving stakeholder participation, understanding of management objectives, actions, and accomplishments, and building stakeholders trust. The integration of ecosystem-based and community-based participatory models may be critical to foster improved support of no-take MPAs and foster a long-term community-based integration to develop and implement mitigation strategies for climate change impacts in novel future scenarios.

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Hernández-Delgado, E. , Shivlani, M. and Sabat, A. (2014) Ecosystem-Based and Community-Based Model Integration to Designate Coral Reef No-Take Marine Protected Areas: A Case Study from Puerto Rico. Natural Resources, 5, 538-560. doi: 10.4236/nr.2014.510049.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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