Effective management of highly biodiverse and threatened reefs requires the identification of human activities driving declines on the particular reef to be managed. The island nation of the Comoros is a model setting to investigate effects of human activities on diverse and threatened coral reefs, with abundant and diverse marine life, local dependence on reef resources, and a variety of anthropogenic pressures on reefs rendering the nation vulnerable to coral reef degradation. Using data from 21 sites throughout the Comoros, we evaluated the relative influence of human activities and other natural and anthropogenic factors on benthic cover and fish richness, abundance, and biomass with the goal of providing prioritized management targets. Human activities including fishing, beach sand extraction, and beachfront housing and development had the strongest relationship with degraded reefs but with some seasonal fluctuation, while geographic patterns most consistently predicted reef degradation across seasons. Comparing analyses conducted with and without human activities as predictors, the inclusion of human activities greatly improved explanatory power. Baseline data on reef biotic composition and localized anthropogenic impacts, monitoring over time, and controlled experiments can facilitate an adaptive management approach for protecting fragile reef ecosystems in the Comoros and elsewhere.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/elise_granek/9/