Coral connectivity between equatorial eastern Pacific marine protected areas: A biophysical modeling approach

TitleCoral connectivity between equatorial eastern Pacific marine protected areas: A biophysical modeling approach
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsLequeux, BD, Ahumada-Sempoal, M-A, López-Pérez, A, Reyes-Hernández, C
KeywordsCentrality, Cocos, Coral reefs, Costa Rica, Islands, larvae, Marine conservation, Panama

There are many marine protected areas (MPAs) containing coral reef aggregations in the eastern Pacific region. However, the connectivity of corals between MPAs is still poorly known, especially in the Marine Conservation Corridor of the Eastern Tropical Pacific (MCCETP). Here, we assess the potential connectivity of corals across equatorial eastern Pacific MPAs through a Lagrangian particle-tracking algorithm coupled offline with an ocean-circulation numerical model. Connectivity metrics and graph theory were used to analyze the networks and highlight those MPAs that are critical for maintaining the connectivity of corals across the region. Our results show that the equatorial eastern Pacific MPAs form a relatively well-connected network, at least 40% of coral larvae released per year end up within the boundaries of an MPA. MPAs like Malpelo and Gorgona islands included in the MCCETP were found to be critical for connectivity of corals because of their high betweenness centrality and potential role as stepping-stones between coastal MPAs and offshore MPAs such as the Galapagos Islands. Two pelagic larval duration (PLD) scenarios (40 and 130 days) indicate a quasi-unidirectional larval flow from coastal MPAs toward oceanic MPAs, where the only resilient MPAs (Coiba and Malpelo islands) depend mostly on subsidiary recruitment from MPAs located along the coast of Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. In the two PLD scenarios, Cocos Island maintains a very low resilience potential. Our results indicate the imperative need to include coastal MPAs in the MCCETP network initiative, since connectivity and resilience of coral reefs in the equatorial eastern Pacific region rely heavily on coastal MPAs.