Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 10:02 am | Overcast with Haze 61º


UCSB Scientists Assist Global Coral Reef Study, Discover Hopeful ‘Bright Spots’

Andrew Brooks Click to view larger
Andrew Brooks (Courtesy photo)

When it comes to coral reefs, there’s good news and bad news, according to one of the largest global studies of these imperiled habitats. While overfishing has led to coral reef degradation, it seems certain reef “bright spots” still manage to flourish.

Researchers from 34 different universities and conservation groups, including the Moorea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research site overseen by UC Santa Barbara, conducted more than 6,000 reef surveys across the globe.

They discovered 15 places where, against all odds, coral reefs were home to more fish than expected based on their exposure to pressures such as human population, poverty and unfavorable environmental conditions.

The researcher’s findings appear in the journal Nature.

“Given the widespread depletion of coral reef fisheries globally, we were really excited to find bright spots that were faring much better than we anticipated,” said Andrew Brooks, deputy program director and science coordinator for the MCR LTER site. “Bright spots are not necessarily pristine reefs but, rather, ones that have more fish than they should, given the pressures they face.”

According to Brooks and his colleagues, coral reefs are in decline, and current strategies for preserving them are insufficient.

“We wanted to know why certain reefs were successful and whether there were lessons we could learn about how to avoid the degradation often associated with overfishing,” said Brooks, who is also a project scientist at UCSB’s Marine Science Institute.

The team’s analysis identified places not previously known to be successful in locations not necessarily untouched by man.

Bright spots were typically found in the Pacific Ocean in places like the Solomon Islands, parts of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Kiribati.

These successful areas shared several things in common: strong local involvement in how the reefs were managed, local ownership rights and traditional management practices.

“These bright spots offer hope and some solutions that could be applied more broadly across the world’s coral reefs,” Brooks said. “Specifically, investments that foster local involvement and provide people with ownership rights can foster the development of creative solutions that help defy expectations of reef fisheries depletion.”

The investigators also identified 35 “dark spots,” where fish stocks were in worse shape than expected. These, too, had defining characteristics: intensive netting activities and easy access to freezers so fish could be stockpiled before being sent to market.

Dark spots were more globally distributed and found in every major ocean basin. However, the researchers noted, dark spots highlight development or management pathways to avoid.

The good and bad news derived from this coral reef data holds the promise of a new approach to conservation. If the lessons learned from the success of bright spot reefs were applied globally, they might promote better habitat conditions worldwide.

While this type of analysis has been used in fields such as human health and wellbeing, this study marks the first time such an approach has been rigorously developed for conservation.

Julie Cohen writes for the UCSB Office of Public Affairs and Communications.


Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >