A hawkfish bites at a crown-of-thorns starfish, or sea star, attempting to eat coral in Mexico's Cabo Pulmo National Park. Fish and other marine life (pictured) have rebounded in the reserve, near the southern tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula (map)—making Cabo Pulmo the world's most robust marine reserve, a new study says.
The no-fishing park was established in 1995 to restore the area's heavily overfished waters. Between 1999 and 2009, Cabo Pulmo saw a 460 percent increase in its total amount of fish—or biomass, here gauged by weight and length estimates, researchers say. (Read about ocean threats in Natioanl Geographic's Ocean supersite.)
The reason for the comeback was partly due to the already healthy state of the coral reefs, said marine ecologist Enric Sala, an explorer-in-residence with the National Geographic Society. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)
(Read Sala's commentary on the Cabo Pulmo "miracle.")
But another factor was strong community support and effective enforcement, the study says. For instance, many former fishers have switched to ecotourism—actually a more profitable livelihood, said Sala, also a co-author of the study, published August 12 in the journal PLoS ONE.
"Catching less means getting more out of the ocean—that's the bottom line," he said.
"And if you leave the power to the people—if governments allow local communities to manage their own marine reserves—marine conservation and coastal fisheries would benefit enormously."
(See pictures: "'Pristine' Reefs Part of Planned Marine Reserve .")