Evaluation of coral reef management effectiveness using conventional versus resilience-based metrics
With increasing stressors to coral reefs, defining tools that evaluate their dynamics and resilience is important to interpret system trajectories and direct conservation efforts. In this context, surveys must go beyond conventional monitoring approaches that focus on abundance and biomass of key groups and quantify metrics that better assess ecological processes and ecosystem trajectories. By measuring a variety of conventional (e.g. proportional cover of broad benthic groups, biomass of herbivorous fish) and complementary resilience-based metrics (e.g. algal turf height, coral recruitment rates, juvenile coral densities, herbivorous fish grazing rates), this study evaluated the ecosystem responses to community-based management in Fiji. The study was conducted across three paired tabuareas (periodically closed to fishing) and adjacent fished sites. Conventional metrics reflected no management effect on benthic or herbivorous fish assemblages. In contrast, the complementary metrics generally indicated positive effects of management, particularly within the benthos. Significant differences were observed for turf height (33% lower), coral recruitment rate (159% higher) and juvenile coral density (42% higher) within areas closed to fishing compared to adjacent open reefs. In addition, turf height was inversely related to coral recruitment and juvenile coral density, and longer turfs (≥5 mm) were more competitive in interaction with corals. These results emphasise that conventional metrics may overlook benefits of local management to inshore reefs, and that incorporating complementary resilience-based metrics such as turf height into reef survey protocols will strengthen their capacity to predict the plausible future condition of reefs and their responses to disturbances.