In 2004, the Fisheries Service of French Polynesia and the CRIOBE a monitoring program surveying eight Marine Protected Area sites (MPA—no-take zones) and five non Marine Protected Area sites (non-MPA—no fishing restriction) was set up around Moorea Island, French Polynesia33. A total of 13 sites were selected to monitor coral reef biodiversity around Moorea: eight Marine Protected Areas (MPA sites) and five non-Marine Protected Areas (non-MPA sites). Each MPA or non-MPA site extends from the shore to beyond the reef crest and out to the 70 m isobath on the outer reef slope. Three distinct reef habitats are thus surveyed at each site: the shallow reef flat (or fringing reef), the barrier reef, and the outer slope. On the shallow reef flats of the 13 sites, three permanent 25 m linear transects placed at the center of a 2 m-wide belt were located using a handheld global positioning system (GPS) receiver and some stakes fixed onto the reef. Since 2004, the 13 shallow reef flat sites had the same disturbance histories: a crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) Acanthaster cf. solaris outbreak from 2006 to 2009, a cyclone in 2010, and weak bleaching events in 2016 and 2019. Stegastes nigricans are mainly found on shallow reef flats (i.e., reefs contiguous to the coast—less than 400 m from the coastline) around Moorea32,3941. Therefore, within each site (eight MPA and five non-MPA sites), only shallow reef flats were considered this study (Fig. 1). The surveys were done between 8:00 and 11:00am, once per year (in February—warm and wet season).

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