How accessible are coral reefs to people? A global assessment based on travel time

Maire et al. (2016) Ecology Letters, 19:12577. 

The depletion of natural resources has become a major issue in many parts of the world, with the most accessible resources being most at risk. In the terrestrial realm, resource depletion has classically been related to accessibility through road networks. In contrast, in the marine realm, the impact on living resources is often framed into the Malthusian theory of human density around ecosystems. Here, we develop a new framework to estimate the accessibility of global coral reefs using potential travel time from the nearest human settlement or market. We show that 58% of coral reefs are located < 30 min from the nearest human settlement. We use a case study from New Caledonia to demonstrate that travel time from the market is a strong predictor of fish biomass on coral reefs. We also highlight a relative deficit of protection on coral reef areas near people, with disproportional protection on reefs far from people. This suggests that conservation efforts are targeting low-conflict reefs or places that may already be receiving de facto protection due to their isolation. Our global assessment of accessibility in the marine realm is a critical step to better understand the interplay between humans and resources.