Coupled Natural and Human Dynamics in Coral Reef Ecosystems: The Effect of Marine Reserve Network Design and Implementation

This project will integrate theory and data from oceanography, biology, and social sciences to address major questions about the design of marine reserve networks. The researchers plan to establish a general theoretical framework with linked circulation, population, habitat, and socioeconomic submodels.

This structure will allow systematic exploration of several core questions, including: (1) what are the crucial cascades and feedbacks among physical, biological, and social systems that influence how reserve networks function? (2) What are the roles of different stakeholder groups, such as various fisher groups, local residents, tourists, etc, in this network function? and (3) how compatible are network systems based largely on criteria to promote local acceptability of reserves versus those more centrally optimized around biophysical criteria? In all questions, network function will be addressed through the effects on fisheries, biodiversity, and social/cultural systems. In this way, The analyses will be able to directly address and compare a range of common network goals.

The project will revolve around the development of a series of integrated models with increasing spatial complexity and the acquisition of data to parameterize them. The modeling will start with analytical models and will then extend to spatially explicit (e.g., grid-based) and realistic (e.g., map-based) versions. Data collection will initially focus on intensive mining of published literature and databases for existing information, followed by targeted field work, including habitat mapping, surveys of species - habitat relationships, sampling for population genetic structure, and ethnographic studies of stakeholders.

Models and data will eventually be incorporated into a dynamic GIS spatial-simulation tool- allowing users to run network design and management experiments via interactive simulation. This product will be made available to researchers, educators, and managers interested in the analysis of reserve network function. The researchers, distributed among multiple institutions, are adopting the Bahamas as their study system. This country, an archipelago of hundreds of island, is currently in the political process of expanding their set of marine protected areas (MPAs) into an interconnected network of marine reserves (to include up to 40 sites). Because of this, several Bahamas government and conservation agencies are welcoming scientific contributions to their policy-making discussions. In comparison to many other Caribbean countries, marine resources in the Bahamas also remain relatively intact because of the countys large size and relatively small population.

The country's close proximity to Florida also makes it logistically feasible for project researchers to conduct fieldwork while remaining in close contact with their home institutions and other project collaborators. This project, taking advantage of special opportunities in the Bahamas, will develop new understanding about global phenomena- the anthropogenic degradation of reef ecosystems and the paradigmatic turn to marine reserves for better resource management. In exploring these concerns and answering the questions above, we also plan to support ongoing decision-making and educational activities in the Bahamas. This double strategy exemplifies the role of strategic (versus traditionally defined basic or applied) science to elucidate important processes while helping to solve problems.

The proposed work will also have substantial educational spin-offs in both the US and the Bahamas. Informal education products, including multimedia presentations and web-base materials will be produced and disseminated by the museum. In addition, researchers will work with partner organizations in the Bahamas to develop project-related materials for teacher training and college courses.

Lead Investigator: 
spatially explicit and realistic
Temporal Scope: 
Spatial Scope: 
island archipelago
Natural System: 
tropical marine fishery
Human System: 
fishing, tourism