Spatial and temporal effects of management on the reef seascape of a marine protected area in the Mexican Caribbean
Ecological degradation on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) still occur as a result of anthropogenic pressure and environmental variation. Considering that protected areas can be restrictive to human activities, it is essential to assess their effectiveness. In this study, we evaluated the spatial and temporal effects of management on the seascape of the Cozumel Reefs National Park (CRNP) in the Mexican Caribbean. Quantitative estimates of the percentage of coverage of benthic substrates, and the location of coral reefs, were used to construct benthic habitat maps based on the supervised classifications of high resolution satellite images. Using spatially explicit analyses, the variation of seascape metrics for the period 2004–2015, was compared between two adjacent areas (inside and outside the protected area). Habitat β-diversity and connectivity between the Marine Protected Area (MPA) and the adjacent uncontrolled area, suggest that the CRNP is having an effect over time on the coral reef seascape (p < 0.05). These metrics decreased over time, but change was reduced inside the protected area. The shape complexity of patches and benthic habitat coverage also changed over time, but with no relation to the MPA. In general, with the exception of the habitats dominated by sand over rock, sandy beds with minimum or no vegetation, and dominated by macroalgae, patches became less compact. Management in the CRNP limits the physical damage to benthic habitats and the protected area has characteristics that have been recognised as important on effective MPAs. However, our results indicate that the ability of this MPA to counteract change at a seascape scale is limited. Furthermore, funding on MPAs in the country has been consistently reduced over the last decade. Considering the importance of sufficient funding on effectiveness and the necessity to maintain ecological services provided by coral reef systems in the region, this needs to be re-considered.