Community involvement in management for maintaining coral reef resilience and biodiversity in southern Caribbean marine protected areas

Camargo, C., et al., 2009. Biodiversity and Conservation

Original research (primary data)
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Climate change is posing new challenges to conservation because management policies on protected coral reefs are less effective than they were before the current ecosystem degradation. Coral reefs, the most diverse and complex marine ecosystem provide economic services for millions, but are seriously threatened worldwide because reef-building corals are experiencing bleaching phenomena and a steady decline in abundance. The resources of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Cartagena, Colombia, are in constant decline, despite a current management plan and on-site staff, urging new conservation actions. A multidisciplinary team gathered to evaluate management effectiveness including biophysical, socioeconomic and governance indicators. Coral cover and fish diversity and abundance were low both inside and outside the MPA, which suggests a limited efficiency of management. Currently, the MPA is a reef with low coral cover and high algae cover as well as large dead coral areas, which are generally signs of highly degraded reef habitats. Live coral cover in the MPA was represented by pioneer coral species such as Agaricia tenuifolia and Porites astreoides. Nonetheless, 35% of the scleractinian species sampled in the area harbored more than one zooxanthellae symbiont, which suggests potential resistance and resilience against coral bleaching. Maintenance of trophic structure and functional diversity is an important endeavor that should be a priority for management in order to allow ecosystem resilience. Social and governance indicators showed low-income levels and few opportunities for communities living in and around the park, low governability, weak communication among stakeholders and with authorities at different levels. As a result, problems related to over exploitation of resources were commonplace in the MPA. These results reflect low adaptive capacity of communities to comply with restrictive conservation rules, showing that establishment of a protected area is a necessary but insufficient condition to guarantee conservation goals. Ignoring the role of local communities only will exacerbate the problems associated with natural resources. Involvement of communities in strategic ecosystems management appears to be a requisite to improve effectiveness of protected areas, and participatory strategies, such as co-management, offer opportunities to improve governability while letting communities adapt to MPA needs.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-130-1
  • Intervention type: Protection
  • Intervention description:

    established in 1977, presents an extensive MPA

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Loss of food production  No effect Abundances of economically important focal fish families (Lutjanidae, Scaridae, and Serranidae)
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    National Natural Park Rosario and San Bernardo Corals (NNP-RSBC; 10°15 and 9°35 N, 75°47 and 75°50 W) Controls: eight reef sites outside the protected area in the proximity of Barú island

  • Country: Colombia
  • Habitat/Biome type: Coral reefs |
  • Issue specific term: Community-based (general)
    Not applicable


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: Effectiveness determined by comparing to fished area outside MPA (control) “Comparison of biophysical indicators within the MPA to those of unmanaged nearby coral reefs suggested that management actions have limited eVectiveness. Currently, reefs in the MPA have low coral cover, high algae cover, and large areas of dead coral resulting from the mass mortality of Acropora spp.; these are signs of highly degraded reef habitats”
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: No
  • Impacts on GHG: Not applicable
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: Yes
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: No-effect
  • Ecosystem measures: number of colonies of the four coral species, Community composition and structure of coral reefs
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: Yes
  • Impacts for people: Mixed
  • People measures: Qualitative/anecdotal: conflict between fishers in and outside the MPA and conflict over allowed fishing practices. Contributions to adaptive capacity. Benefits of natural resource production + tourism activities
  • Considers economic costs: Yes
  • Economic appraisal conducted: Yes
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Quantitative
  • Is it experimental: Yes
  • Experimental evalution done: In-situ/field
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Study is systematic: