Reserves as tools for alleviating impacts of marine disease

Lamb, J. B., et al., 2016. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Original research (primary data)
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Marine protected areas can prevent over-exploitation, but their effect on marine diseases is less clear. We examined how marine reserves can reduce diseases affecting reef-building corals following acute and chronic disturbances. One year after a severe tropical cyclone, corals inside reserves had sevenfold lower levels of disease than those in non-reserves. Similarly, disease prevalence was threefold lower on reserve reefs following chronic exposure to terrestrial run-off from a degraded river catchment, when exposure duration was below the long-term site average. Examination of 35 predictor variables indicated that lower levels of derelict fishing line and injured corals inside reserves were correlated with lower levels of coral disease in both case studies, signifying that successful disease mitigation occurs when activities that damage reefs are restricted. Conversely, reserves were ineffective in moderating disease when sites were exposed to higher than average levels of run-off, demonstrating that reductions in water quality undermine resilience afforded by reserve protection. In addition to implementing protected areas, we highlight that disease management efforts should also target improving water quality and limiting anthropogenic activities that cause injury.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-152-1
  • Intervention type: Protection
  • Intervention description:

    Marine National Parks (MNP) are no- take reserves (‘reserves’) where extractive activities, including fishing and collecting, are prohibited. (25 years of protection at the time of the surveys)

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Increased incidence/changing distribution of disease  Positive coral disease levels (total and levels of specific diseases: black band disease, skeletal eroding band, brown band disease, white syndromes, atramentous necrosis or growth anomalies) and mean disease prevalence
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    fringing inshore coral reefs in the Palm Islands (188340 S, 1468290 E) and Keppel Islands (238100 S, 1508570 E), both of which are located between approximately 12 and 15 km from the mainland of Australia

  • Country: Australia
  • Habitat/Biome type: Coral reefs |
  • Issue specific term: Not applicable


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: Effectiveness determined by comparing to non-reserves (control)
  • 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: No
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Not reported
  • Ecosystem measures:
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: No
  • Impacts for people: Not reported
  • People measures:
  • Considers economic costs: No
  • Economic appraisal conducted: No
  • 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: