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Climate Change: Saving Fish is Key to Saving Coral Reefs

First Posted: Sep 07, 2015 04:37 PM EDT

In order to save coral reefs, we may have to pay more attention to the fish. Scientists have found that coral reef diversity "hotspots" in the Indian Ocean rely more on the biomass of fish than where they are located.

The researchers used data gathered over a 12-year period from nearly 270 coral reefs across the southwestern Indian Ocean. They found that protecting fish biomass may actually be the most important thing to do when it comes to conservation.

Experts agree that fishing is a primary cause in the degradation of coral reefs, and needs to be better managed. However, what's more controversial is the various roles of protected areas or fisheries restrictions. Protecting regions containing threatened biodiversity, considered to be largely an attribute of geography, has created a policy focus on the geographic hotspots.

"While geography has often been the main factor that conservation policy has used to establish protected areas, this study shows that protecting fish biomass should be the priority and this can be done with improved fisheries management," said Tim McClanahan, one of the researchers, in a news release. "A hotspot is not a permanent feature and can be lost if the fish and the habitat are not protected."

The researchers also found that protected areas that lacked regular and strong enforcement of fishing bans had nearly as low numbers of fish species as reefs that were regularly fished. This, in particular, shows the importance of regulating areas.

The findings reveal a bit more about how best to focus conservation efforts. As climate change continues to degrade reefs, this is particularly important to note.

The findings are published in the Journal of Biogeography.

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