There is global consensus that marine protected areas offer a plethora of benefits to the biodiversity within and around them. Nevertheless, many organisms threatened by human impacts also find shelter in unexpected or informally protected places. For coral reef organisms, refuges can be tourist resorts implementing local environment-friendly bottom-up management strategies. We used the coral reef ecosystem as a model to test whether such practices have positive effects on the biodiversity associated with de facto protected areas.
North Ari Atoll, Maldives.
We modelled the effects of the environment and three human management regimes (tourist resorts, uninhabited and local community islands) on the abundance and diversity of echinoderms and commercially important fish species, the per cent cover of reef benthic organisms (corals, calcareous coralline algae, turf and macroalgae) and the proportion of coral disease. We used multivariate techniques to assess the differences between reef components among the management regimes.
Reefs varied between the management regimes. A positive “resort effect” was found on sessile benthic organisms, with good coral cover and significantly less algae at resort islands. Corals were larger and had fewer diseases in uninhabited islands. Minor “resort effect” was detected on motile species represented by commercial fish and echinoderms.
In countries where natural biodiversity strongly sustains the tourist sector and where local populations rely on natural resources, a balance between tourism development, local extraction practices and biodiversity conservation is necessary. The presence of eco-friendly managed resorts, which practices would need to be certified on the long term, is beneficial to protect certain organisms. House reefs around resorts could therefore provide areas adding to existing marine protected areas, while marine protection efforts in local community islands should focus on improving fishing management.