No-take marine reserves represent a global approach to coastal marine conservation and fisheries management. The increase in the number, size and reproductive potential of many marine species inside protected areas is widely appreciated. Such effects can readily be observed in the inshore “green zones” of the Great Barrier Reef. However, no-take reserves have also been established in the belief that they contribute to the protection of marine biodiversity within their boundaries, as-well as contribute to the sustainable exploitation of species beyond their boundaries. The extent to which they can achieve either or both of these goals depends on where the offspring of protected organisms actually end up. That is, do they stay in green zones or disperse to blue zones? When most marine organisms such as coral reef fishes breed, they produce numerous tiny larvae only a few millimeters in length. These larval stages, which may last from days to several weeks, are assumed to disperse among reefs on oceanic currents. However, exactly where marine larvae go has been shrouded in mystery.
Professor Jones, along with colleagues and students, has been trying to unlock the secrets of larval fish dispersal, looking at the connections between parents and offspring, between isolated reefs, and between green and blue zones. His research group has developed and applied new tools to trace the origins of juvenile fishes, including the chemical tagging of larvae and genetic parentage analysis. For the first time, they have been able to investigate how far juvenile coral reef fishes, from Nemo to coral trout, move away from home. The results will surprise you and they offer new insights into how networks of marine protected areas can work