Using Systematic Conservation Planning to Increase Herbivore-driven Reef Resilience in Hawaii: Phase 1

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The 2014-2015 mass coral bleaching event across the globe, spurred by high ocean temperatures, severely impacted reefs in West Hawaii and Maui and highlighted the need for building reef resilience and increasing the region’s ability to deal with global stressors such as climate change. Herbivorous fish play a critical role in the resilience of reefs to climate stressors by helping to balance algae and coral competition, and by creating space for new coral growth to aid in recovery after a bleaching event. Mapping areas that would maximize herbivore contributions while minimizing displacement of ocean users requires extensive spatial analysis and collaboration from stakeholders through a systematic conservation planning approach.


This work is the first phase of a project to prioritize coral areas for specific actions to achieve conservation goals regarding herbivore management and reef resilience. The Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative partnered with the University of California at Santa Barbara, McClintock Lab and Stanford University, Center for Ocean Solutions to engage with stakeholders and identify priorities for management using spatial planning and decision-support tools such as Marxan and SeaSketch. Marxan software performs spatial analyses to identify high-priority areas and balance conservation objectives, while SeaSketch supports collaborative and science-based refinement of Marxan outputs. Marxan relies on input parameters that identify conservation features and targets to develop solutions, as well as existing spatial data sets that define the characteristics of the region. This project identified and synthesized Marxan input data and developed a SeaSketch platform for sharing spatial data and collaborating with stakeholders.


The development of Marxan conservation features and targets and SeaSketch tools guide the analysis and selection of priority areas for herbivore management. The creation of these unique parameters balances conservation needs with the needs of ocean resource users, supporting transparent management actions to address reef resilience. (2018)

The Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative uses spatial planning and decision-support tools such as Marxan and SeaSketch to identify priorities for management
Herbivorous yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) on a reef in the West Hawaii region following the 2014-2015 global mass coral bleaching event. (Credit: Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative).