Magazine article Oceanus

The Marine Reserve Goldilocks Problem

Magazine article Oceanus

The Marine Reserve Goldilocks Problem

Article excerpt

To protect coral reefs, governments and conservationists are looking to establish networks of marine reserves, where fishing is prohibited. But for the reserves to work, they need to be the right size and distance apart from one another.

If a reserve is too small, it can't accommodate enough newly hatched fish larvae to sustain populations. If it's too big, larvae will simply stay within the reserve and not disperse to surrounding areas, including other reserves, and replenish fish stocks there, said Simon Thorrold, a biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

A key unknown is how far newly spawned fish travel away from their parents. To find out, Thorrold and colleagues from Australia, France, and Saudi Arabia undertook the most comprehensive study ever conducted of larval dispersal on coral reefs. In 2009 and 2011, they collected DNA samples from thousands of adult and juvenile clownfish and butterflyfish throughout Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea, across 3,000 square miles of the ocean--an area the size of Yellowstone National Park. The 30-person science team spent thousands of man-hours scuba diving over many weeks each year.

Their analyses matched up the DNA fingerprints of juveniles and their parents, Thorrold said. …

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