Coral reefs seem to be having a bad century, with global bleaching events and the Great Barrier Reef fading away before our eyes.

But there’s a bright spot, folks! Actually, there are 15 of them, according to a new study published in Nature.

A group of marine researchers has identified places where reef ecosystems are thriving despite environmental and human pressures. These “bright spots” are rays of hope for future conservation efforts, which may use them to apply better practices to less lucky places.

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The study drew data from 2,500 reefs in 46 countries. The 15 reefs with unexpectedly robust fish populations were not necessarily in the most remote areas with low fishing activity. In fact, most of them included “localities where human populations and use of ecosystem resources is high,” the study notes. They are also typically found in the Pacific Ocean, in places like the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and parts of Indonesia.

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The bright spots, it turns out, tend to benefit from responsible local management and traditional customs. For example, on Papua New Guinea’s Karkar Island, locals have the right to prevent outsiders from fishing in their particular plot of ocean. They also practice a rotational fishing system where, as in farming, they leave off fishing a part of the reef to allow populations to recover.

On the flip side are the 35 “dark spots” the study identified, where fish stocks aren’t faring too well. These are places like Hawaii and Australia where locals tend to have greater access to fishing technologies — such as nets and freezers for stockpiling fish — that aid and abet intensive exploitation. Dark spots also were more likely to be suffering from recent environmental shocks, like bleaching.

Experts hope to use the bright spots as blueprints for more creative conservation efforts.

“We believe that the bright spots offer hope and some solutions that can be applied more broadly across the world’s coral reefs,” says Josh Cinner, the lead author on the study. “Specifically, investments that foster local involvement and provide people with ownership rights can allow people to develop creative solutions that help defy expectations of reef fisheries depletion.”

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