From St. Louis, Mo., at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Creating protected marine areas in one part of the Caribbean won't replenish distant coral reefs in the region, according to genetic research.
Because free-swimming coral larvae don't appear to spread far from their points of origin, protected "coral gardens" at intervals of more than 100 kilometers would be too far apart to repopulate all depleted reefs in the region in our lifetimes, says Steve Palumbi of Stanford University.
"Coral gardens will need to be on every major island," he says.
He and Steven Vollmer of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama studied the DNA in 262 samples of staghorn coral from the Bahamas to Panama and the Yucatán peninsula to Curaçao. They judged the corals' relatedness by the degree of genetic similarity among the samples.