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Provita: The Venezuelan Coral Reef Monitoring Network

Coral reefs are highly biodiverse ecosystems with the largest number of species per unit area in the oceans. There is striking evidence showing that coral reef health has been declining in response to climate change at unprecedented rates, particularly in the Caribbean.

The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) is an initiative of Provita aimed to join efforts to produce baselines and find proxies of coral reef health across regions. This project aims to activate the VCRMN to joint efforts with the GCRMN to better understand coral reef trajectories in the Southern Caribbean in an era of global climate change.

This project aims to consolidate a coral reef monitoring network in Venezuela with four major goals: (1) to produce baseline data to determine the health status of coral reefs (2) to increase awareness of Venezuelan society people to the problem of coral reef degradation, (3) to help local managers to take decisions based on solid science and (4) to contribute to better understand regional temporal trends of coral reefs across the Caribbean in the future.

Goal 1: A total of three locations (MPAs) will be used to establish a total of 21 reef sites (7 sites per MPA) to represent major reef types found in Venezuela. The ALRNP to represent oceanic-oligotrophic reefs, MNP to represent coastal reefs exposed to a great deal of human impacts and MoNP to represent reefs protected from bleaching events and global warming. At each site the GCRMN will be used to follow reef health once a year for three years. This include: (a) coral community structure, (b) proxies of stress such as disease prevalence and algal abundance and (c) biomass of major reef fishes, particularly herbivores.

Goal 2: At each site a workshop will be organized for different stakeholders including local people (e.g. fisherman, divers and tourism investors) and authorities (e.g. Park rangers). The aim of these workshops is to communicate the status of these systems at each MPA. Also to identify local problems and to explore possible solutions. The idea is to help local people to get closer to local managers. This goal will be funded by the Laboratory of experimental ecology (Universidad Simón Bolívar).

Goal 3: A document with the results from objectives 1 and 2 will be send to local communities and present to the environmental authorities of the central Government.

Goal 4: Data will be shared with the GCRMN data base to contribute with the global coral reef synthesis report scheduled for 2020.

Expected results:

- Data base for benthic and fish communities during three consecutive years within 3 MPAs which a wide range of environmental coastal and oceanic settings in Venezuela.

- Identification of major threats to coral reef biodiversity within each MPA.

- A draft proposal to possible solutions to coral reef conservation.

- Increasing awareness towards the importance of coral reef conservation.

Benefits to ocean conservation:

Coral reefs are the most diverse ecosystems in tropical oceans, thereby their conservation must have an tremendous positive impact in the preservation of marine life in the oceans for future generations. Venezuela represents the southern limit of the Caribbean sea, which is the second largest and most diverse bioregion in the planet. This monitoring program integrates scientific and local knowledge to detect problems and to propose potential solutions in Venezuela. The areas to be monitored include a suite of different environmental scenarios with different sorts of impacts temporal trends. This project should illustrate the natural variability observed in these systems and therefore will greatly contribute to better understand the fate of coral reefs from local to regional and global scales.

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