Vulnerability, resilience and conservation strategies for Thailand’s coral reef marine protected areas in a changing climate




Manopawitr, Petch

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In 2010, Thailand’s Andaman Sea experienced unprecedented mass coral bleaching. Between 50% to 90% of corals suffered bleaching along the Andaman coast both inside and outside Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). This dissertation examines the implications of climate change for these coral reef ecosystems in MPAs. The study explores the potential and effectiveness of conservation management strategies using MPAs and resilience building to address this global challenge in the context of Thailand. This dissertation examines how resilience-based management can be enhanced in Thailand’s MPAs on the Andaman coast in the face of climate change. In particular, the research: 1) Identifies resilient reefs in the Andaman bioregion, 2) Assesses coral reef resilience in a specific MPA to identify management interventions, 3) Examines current MPA coverage and suggests strategies to improve coverage, and 4) Illustrates the potential of social media to enhance coral reef resilience in Thailand. The study employs a mixed methods approach consisting of literature review, a review of available secondary data, workshops, field surveys and social media data tracking. Twenty-two resilience indicators were selected and used to assess reefs at 62 survey stations across the eastern Andaman bioregion. A review of existing Andaman MPA coverage, spacing and design was conducted to determine the gaps and opportunities for expanding the MPA network. A science communication campaign focused on the importance of parrotfish in saving coral reefs using online social media was launched and monitored. The study sites were classified into high (28), moderate (23) and low (11) resilience based on resilience scores. The results provide the first comprehensive resilience assessment of coral reefs in the Andaman sea. The identified resilient reef areas serve as cornerstones in developing a more resilient MPA network and provide a conservation-based platform for long-term marine spatial planning in the eastern Andaman region. Resilience scores for Mu Ko Surin National Park were analyzed in more detail to provide an example of the process for undertaking a finer scaled analysis with a localized weighting system. Management interventions were developed accordingly including strict protection areas and recovery zone designations aiming to improve coral resilience. Expanding MPA coverage and developing MPA networks is an urgent priority for Thailand to reach the CBD target of at least 10% of marine and coastal habitat protected by 2020. This study suggests three important areas for consideration: 1) Expanding MPAs by prioritizing resilient areas and incorporating other types of conservation areas; 2) A ‘bottom-up’ approach that incorporates adaptive and flexible governance; and 3) Implement biological corridors to address key shortcomings of current MPAs. The findings from the parrotfish campaign highlighted the importance of science communication and the usefulness of social networks for conservation. The campaign demonstrated that social media, when used properly and effectively, is powerful for public engagement and helps create an enabling environment for change in public policy and practice for marine conservation. This dissertation offers insights into opportunities to improve the management of large tropical marine ecosystem and how coral reef resilience can be enhanced by developing MPA networks in the face of climate change.



Coral Reef, Marine Protected Area, Climate Change, Conservation, Resilience, Thailand