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ACIAR Fish Project

Baseline Monitoring and Evaluation of Long-Term Impacts on Fish Stocks from Coral Restoration

Funding Agency: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

Project Duration: June 22, 2018 to June 30, 2021

Lead Researchers: Prof. Peter Harrison, Southern Cross University

Dr. Ian McLeod, James Cook University

Dr. Patrick Cabaitan, University of the Philippines –

Marine Environment and Resources Foundation

Researchers and

contributors: Rickdane Gomez

This project aims to define the longer-term impacts and returns on investment of the current ACIAR coral restoration work; and Provide essential information for evaluating ecological and socio-economic impacts of coral restoration on fish communities in other degraded reef systems including the Great Barrier Reef (and other Australian reefs that have been severely impacted by recent mass bleaching events and longer-term coral declines.

Monitoring long-term impacts of coral restoration

Coral reefs from the Philippines form part of the Coral Triangle, an area in the world with the highest diversity of corals and fishes in the world. However, coastal and marine ecosystems continue to be threatened by detrimental human activities, resulting to reef degradation and eventual decline in fisheries. Reef degradation jeopardizes essential fish populations and other food resources, thereby affecting food security, livelihoods and incomes for hundreds of millions of people that directly depend on healthy reefs. The global coral crisis has demonstrated that traditional passive reef management approaches are inadequate, hence active coral restoration techniques that can be effective at larger reef scales are urgently needed.

Building on the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) funded project Restoring damaged coral reefs using mass coral larval reseeding (2015 – 2021), this small-research activity (SRA) entitled Baseline monitoring and evaluation of long-term impacts on fish stocks from coral restoration (2018-2022), also funded by ACIAR, established long-term monitoring and evaluation of the impacts on fish communities and other reef resources of coral restoration in the northern Luzon region, Philippines.

The project paid attention to monitoring of reef fish communities as impacted by coral larval restoration. Long-term monitoring for fish and benthic communities revealed increase in fish species richness and abundance in larval-enhanced plots compared to control plots where no restoration was conducted. The presence of now large and reproductively mature coral colonies grown from single coral larvae provided new habitat and food for small reef fishes in the experimental plots. Fishes in larval-enhanced plots were also closely comparable to fishes in the remaining healthy reefs in Magsaysay compared to degraded control plots. Monitoring for changes in fish and benthic communities were also undertaken for new larger-scale coral restoration trials.

Attempts at establishing baseline monitoring for effects of coral restoration on fisheries was initiated by the project. At present, quantitative data on the direct and significant effects of coral restoration to fisheries is severely lacking. The project conducted collection of baseline fisheries information in Brgy. Tondol, Anda, Pangasinan where the last remaining good reefs and coral restoration sites are located. Data on fish catch trends (volume, effort, composition) and fisheries household information were collected in 2019 and 2020. Perceptions of fishers were also investigated which revealed perceived declines in fish catch linked to overharvesting, improvement in coral condition due to alleviation of destructive fishing practices, and overall positive perceptions on the impacts of coral restoration. Fishers’ perceptions also illustrated how seeing improvements in coral condition influenced their willingness to support coral restoration more than the urgency of perceived declines in fish catch or coral reef status.

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