Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Decline and recovery of coral reefs linked to 700 years of human and environmental activities

Date:
October 3, 2011
Source:
Stony Brook University
Summary:
Changing human activities coupled with a dynamic environment over the past few centuries have caused fluctuating periods of decline and recovery of corals reefs in the Hawaiian Islands, according to a new study. Using the reefs and island societies as a model social-ecological system, a team of scientists reconstructed 700 years of human-environment interactions in two different regions of the Hawaiian archipelago.

This photo shows Hawaiian chubs (Kyphosus species) and other reef fish swimming near the healthy Acropora cytherea species coral reefs found at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Credit: Jamison Gove, JIMAR/NOAA CRED

Changing human activities coupled with a dynamic environment over the past few centuries have caused fluctuating periods of decline and recovery of corals reefs in the Hawaiian Islands, according to a study sponsored in part by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University. Using the reefs and island societies as a model social-ecological system, a team of scientists reconstructed 700 years of human-environment interactions in two different regions of the Hawaiian archipelago to identify the key factors that contributed to degradation or recovery of coral reefs.

"Historical reconstruction reveals recovery in Hawaiian coral reefs," which was published online October 3 in the journal PLoS ONE, concludes that historical changes in human societies and their relationships with coral reef ecosystems can explain whether these ecosystems exhibit patterns of sustainability and resilience or decline and degradation. Dr. John N. Kittinger, lead author of the study, was a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa when the reconstruction was conducted. He is now an Early Career Social Science Fellow at Stanford University's Center for Ocean Solutions.

"Our reconstructed ecological changes included an intensive review and assessment of archaeological deposits, historical observations of ecosystem conditions, and modern ecological and fishery data," said Dr. Kittinger. "Using these data sets, our findings demonstrate that we can't always view environmental degradation solely through the lens of simplistic cause-consequence relationships. In the historical recovery periods we uncovered, we found that human agency is partly responsible for environmental recovery, which shows that not all human-environment interactions lead to irreversible deleterious outcomes and that degraded ecosystems may still retain the adaptive capacity and resilience to recover from human impacts."

"This reconstruction shows that human-environment interactions need to be included when considering the factors that contribute to the degradation of an ecosystem," said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Science and Professor at Stony Brook University. "Understanding past interactions can be crucial in determining best practices for present-day management of coral reef ecosystems."

The analysis suggests that in the Main Hawaiian Islands marine exploitation was highest in the early period after Polynesian settlement more than 700 years ago. By 1400, however, reef-derived protein sources became less important than those derived from domesticated animals, and a suite of coral reef resource conservation strategies was implemented by Native Hawaiian societies, allowing reefs to recover. This recovery continued as traditional reef-fishing subsistence practices were abandoned through the post-European contact period after 1778 due to the introduction of epidemic diseases to the Native Hawaiian population. By the early to mid-1800s, however, reefs again went into decline due to overexploitation, land-based pollution, and other factors associated with changes in demography, economic systems, and new technologies. The analysis shows that negative impacts continued and intensified to the present day, exhibiting only a brief reprieve in the 1940s due to the closure of nearshore marine areas during World War II.

"Reefs in the Main Hawaiian Islands have been declining for more than 150 years, and similar degradation that has occurred in other reef ecosystems indicates that we may be approaching a tipping point or threshold, beyond which recovery is doubtful," said Dr. Kittinger. "If we look at historical ecosystem recoveries, reversing this decline will require protection of a broad range of habitat types over large areas, such as marine no-take reserves. Additionally, appropriate institutions and policies will need to be in place to effectively engage the diverse community of ocean-users in Hawai'i in collaborative marine ecosystem stewardship."

Unlike the Main Hawaiian Islands, researchers found that coral reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) have long functioned as a geographic refuge due to their isolation and limited human population. They also benefited from cultural protection as a sacred ancestral homeland in Native Hawaiian society. The analysis shows that they did, however, suffer from some of the same negative impacts of the post-European contact period as coral reefs in the Main Hawaiian Islands. After World War II, however, reefs in this region began to recover from historical impacts due to human depopulation in the area, conservation efforts, and decreases in commercial activities involving the reefs. NWHI reefs are now among the most diverse and abundant coral reef ecosystems in the world, and provide an example of how healthy reefs that have recovered from human impacts can look.

"The substantial resilience and adaptive capacity of coral reefs demonstrated in this study provide reason for hope and suggest that we should not dismiss the possibility of bringing even the most degraded reefs back to health," said Dr. Pikitch.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Stony Brook University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. John N. Kittinger, John M. Pandolfi, Jonathan H. Blodgett, Terry L. Hunt, Hong Jiang, Kepā Maly, Loren E. McClenachan, Jennifer K. Schultz, Bruce A. Wilcox. Historical Reconstruction Reveals Recovery in Hawaiian Coral Reefs. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (10): e25460 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025460

Cite This Page:

Stony Brook University. "Decline and recovery of coral reefs linked to 700 years of human and environmental activities." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111003180425.htm>.
Stony Brook University. (2011, October 3). Decline and recovery of coral reefs linked to 700 years of human and environmental activities. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111003180425.htm
Stony Brook University. "Decline and recovery of coral reefs linked to 700 years of human and environmental activities." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111003180425.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) An out-of-control Northern California wildfire has nearly 2,800 people from their homes as it continues to grow, authorities said Thursday. Authorities said a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson for starting the fire on Saturday. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins