What Happens after Conservation and Management Donors Leave? A Before and After Study of Coral Reef Ecology and Stakeholder Perceptions of Management Benefits
The coral reefs of Tanga, Tanzania were recognized as a national conservation priority in the early 1970s, but the lack of a management response led to damage by dynamite, beach seines, and high numbers of fishers until the mid 1990s. Subsequently, an Irish Aid funded IUCN Eastern Africa program operated from 1994 to mid 2007 to implement increased management aimed at reducing these impacts. The main effects of this management were to establish collaborative management areas, reduce dynamite and seine net fishing, and establish small community fisheries closures beginning in 1996. The ecology of the coral reefs was studied just prior to the initiation of this management in 1996, during, 2004, and a few years after the project ended in 2010. The perceptions of resource users towards management options were evaluated in 2010. The ecological studies indicated that the biomass of fish rose continuously during this period from 260 to 770 kg/ha but the small closures were no different from the non-closure areas. The benthic community studies indicate stability in the coral cover and community composition and an increase in coralline algae and topographic complexity over time. The lack of change in the coral community suggests resilience to various disturbances including fisheries management and the warm temperature anomaly of 1998. These results indicate that some aspects of the management program had been ecologically successful even after the donor program ended. Moreover, the increased compliance with seine net use and dynamite restrictions were the most likely factors causing this increase in fish biomass and not the closures. Resource users interviewed in 2010 were supportive of gear restrictions but there was considerable between-community disagreement over the value of specific restrictions. The social-ecological results suggest that increased compliance with gear restrictions is largely responsible for the improvements in reef ecology and is a high priority for future management programs.