Mumby, Peter J., Steneck, Robert S., Roff, George, and Paul, Valerie J. 2021. "Marine reserves, fisheries ban, and 20 years of positive change in a coral reef ecosystem." Conservation Biologyhttps://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13738
By 2004, Belize was exhibiting classic fishing down of the food web. Groupers (Serranidae) and snappers (Lutjanidae) were scarce and fisheries turned to parrotfishes (Scarinae), leading to a 41% decline in their biomass. Several policies were enacted in 2009-2010, including a moratorium on fishing parrotfish and a new marine park with no-take areas. Using a 20-year time series on reef fish and benthos, we evaluated the impact of these policies approximately 10 years after their implementation. Establishment of the Southwater Caye Marine Reserve led to a recovery of snapper at 2 out of 3 sites, but there was no evidence of recovery outside the reserve. Snapper populations in an older reserve continued to increase, implying that at least 9 years is required for their recovery. Despite concerns over the feasibility of banning parrotfish harvest once it has become a dominant fin fishery, parrotfishes returned and exceeded biomass levels prior to the fishery. The majority of these changes involved an increase in parrotfish density; species composition and adult body size generally exhibited little change. Recovery occurred equally well in reserves and areas open to other forms of fishing, implying strong compliance. Temporal trends in parrotfish grazing intensity were strongly negatively associated with the cover of macroalgae, which by 2018 had fallen to the lowest levels observed since measurements began in 1998. Coral populations remained resilient and continued to exhibit periods of net recovery after disturbance. We found that a moratorium on parrotfish harvesting is feasible and appears to help constrain macroalgae, which can otherwise impede coral resilience.