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Revealed: reef fish and coral habitat patterns, Bird's Head, Indonesia

Lombana, A., Fox, H., Haisfield, K., Hidayat, N., Huffard, C., Lazuardi, M., Pada, D., Muhajir, A., Sumolang, K., Allen, M. and Purwanto, (2012) Revealed: reef fish and coral habitat patterns, Bird's Head, Indonesia. In: 12th International Coral Reef Symposium, 9 - 13 July, Cairns, Australia.


The Bird's Head Seascape in West Papua, Indonesia is recognized globally for its unparalleled marine biodiversity. However, scientific investigation of the region begun recently and is still in its infancy, as evidenced by findings of new species with each expedition. The burgeoning network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the region poses an opportunity to measure the effects of protection on coral cover and fish density and diversity. Here, we synthesize results from ecological assessments coordinated across conservation organizations (Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, and WWF-Indonesia, along with key local institutions) to better understand underlying ecological patterns, as well as inform efforts to protect these threatened ecosystems. We examined habitat cover and condition, along with fish abundance, density, biomass, and diversity in 6 MPAs over a five-year period, providing a strong baseline. Multi-pronged methods for fish surveys target different taxa of interest. Hard coral cover averages 20-40% across the seascape, varying by MPA and also by survey method: estimates are consistently lower for manta tow swims when compared with point intercept transects. Although the monitoring program is well-designed and well-funded, scaling up from site-level analysis to region-level analysis remains challenging. Looking ahead, the region would benefit from stronger data coordination and inclusion of study sites outside the boundaries of MPAs to serve as controls for these policy experiments. This system would allow better understanding of which characteristics of protected areas design and governance are most influential in conserving ecosystem function and biodiversity.

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