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Conserv Biol. 2012 Oct;26(5):799-809. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01894.x. Epub 2012 Jul 19.

Conservation objectives and sea-surface temperature anomalies in the Great Barrier Reef.

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Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811 Australia.


Spatial and temporal dynamics of ecological processes have long been considered important in marine systems, but seldom have conservation objectives been set for them. Climate change makes the consideration of the dynamics of ecological processes in the design of marine protected areas critical. We analyzed sea-surface temperature (SST) trends and variability in Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) for 25 years and formulated and tested whether three sets of notional conservation objectives were met to illustrate the potential for planning to address climate change. Given mixed and limited evidence that no-take areas increase resilience to disturbances such as anomalously high temperatures (i.e., temperatures ≥1 °C above weekly mean temperature), our conservation objectives focused on areas less likely to be affected by such events at extents ranging from the entire Great Barrier Reef to the system of no-take zones and individual no-take zones. The objective sets were (1) at least 50% of temperature refugia (i.e., pixels that had high-temperature anomalies <5% or <7% of the time) within no-take zones, (2) maximum occurrence of high-temperature anomalies is <10%,< 20%, or <30% of total no-take area 90% of the time, and (3) coverage of any single no-take zone by high-temperature anomalies occurs <5% or <10% of the time. We used satellite imagery from 1985-2009 to measure SST to determine high-temperature anomalies. SSTs in the Great Barrier Reef increased significantly in some regions, and some of the conservation objectives were met by the park's current zoning plan. Dialogue between conservation scientists and managers is needed to develop appropriate conservation objectives under climate change and strategies to meet them.

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