Alternate Title

A Caribbean-Wide Survey of Marine Reserves: Spatial Coverage and Attributes of Effectiveness

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Fully-protected marine reserves can function at several spatial scales, from a single area encompassing few habitats, to local networks of many habitats, to large-scale networks connected by larval dispersal. However, the amount, spatial distribution, and associated administrative attributes of Caribbean marine reserves are collectively unknown. We compiled information on reserves from 21 countries in order to 1) assemble a spatial framework to aid development of networks of reserves at the most effective spatial scales, and 2) aid policy makers in establishing reserves that are science-based and possess optimal management attributes. Since 1961 there have been over 50 reserves established in the Caribbean (an additional 30 in Bermuda) with the rate of implementation increasing since the mid 1980’s. Most reserves are small (< 1,200 ha) and few contain the range of habitats necessary for protecting species through their ontogeny. Habitats are often not fully characterized, and the role of reserves in protecting and networking different habitats cannot be ascertained. Reserves are distributed throughout the region, with the highest density in Mesoamerica; but significant geographic gaps exist. It is unlikely that reserve-enhanced larval production significantly networks populations on a regional basis, although this may occur subregionally (e.g., Mesoamerica). Less than 20% of the reserves were scored as fully compliant, but half offer potentially significant levels of protection.

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