[Coral-List] NOAA marine reserve shows increasing numbers, size of fish

Cheva Heck Cheva.Heck at noaa.gov
Tue Jun 20 19:43:35 EDT 2006

June 20, 2006

Contact:    Cheva Heck             
                  Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary   
                 305.292.0311, Ext. 26
                 305.304.0179 (cell)


    As its fifth anniversary approaches, researchers find confirmation 
that the country’s largest marine reserve, part of the Florida Keys 
National Marine Sanctuary, is fulfilling its goal of protecting the 
region’s marine life.

    Three studies examining the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, protected 
from fishing since July 2001, documented increasing numbers and sizes of 
commercially and recreationally important species of fish and other 
marine life. Because the Tortugas region is upstream from the Florida 
Keys reef tract, improvements in the reserve’s fish populations may help 
sustain fish stocks in the Keys and further north, as more and larger 
fish produce larvae that are carried away from the reserve on ocean 
currents. Adult fish may also move to areas outside the reserve as 
competition for space increases within. These fish then become available 
to the fishery, an effect known as spillover.

    Encompassing 151 square nautical miles in two sections, the Tortugas 
reserve is the largest of the sanctuary’s groundbreaking network of 24 
areas set aside for special protection. Tortugas North protects the 
extensively deep coral reefs of Tortugas Bank and Sherwood Forest. 
Tortugas South protects Riley’s Hump, a low profile reef that is a 
spawning site for grouper, snapper, and valuable deepwater habitat found 
nowhere else in the sanctuary that supports commercially important 
golden crab, tilefish, and snowy grouper.

    In the journal, Bulletin of Marine Science, analyzing data collected 
between 1999 and 2004, Drs. Jerald Ault and Steven Smith of the 
University of Miami and James Bohnsack of NOAA Fisheries Service found 
increases in size and abundance inside the reserve compared to outside, 
including key species such as black grouper. “Although the recovery 
process is still in an early stage, our results after three years are 
encouraging and suggest that no-take marine reserves, in conjunction 
with traditional management, can help build sustainable fisheries while 
protecting the Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem,” said the group in 
their latest journal publication.
    In the journal, Fisheries Bulletin, Michael Burton of NOAA Fisheries 
documents the reformation of a spawning aggregation of mutton snapper at 
Riley’s Hump. In 2001, the year the reserve was established, divers 
surveying Riley’s Hump observed a group of 10 mutton snapper in an 
apparent spawning aggregation. By 2004, this number had increased to 
300. “We conclude from behavior, timing and location that we are 
observing spawning aggregations of mutton snapper beginning to re-form 
on Riley’s Hump following more than two decades of intensive 
exploitation,” wrote Burton and coauthors Kenneth Brennan, Dr. Roldan 
Munoz, and Richard Parker, Jr.

    A NOAA technical memorandum documents evidence of the recovery of 
shrimp habitat in the former shrimping grounds included in the reserve. 
“Collections of marine animals from bottom habitat near the northern 
boundary of Tortugas North strongly suggest that relaxation of trawling 
pressure has increased the amount and diversity of bottom dwelling 
marine animals in this region,” wrote Dr. Mark Fonseca, NOAA National 
Ocean Service principal investigator. “The Tortugas Ecological Reserve 
may act as a refuge for the large pink shrimp targeted by the fishery, 
with samples from the reserve showing a higher density of these 
crustaceans than samples from areas open to fishing.”

    A final report to the sanctuary from the same researchers noted a 
significant increase in the abundance of large fish in the reserve 
relative to sites in Dry Tortugas National Park and unprotected areas. 
“These increasing trends within the Tortugas Ecological Reserve are 
surprisingly evident among a variety of prominent species exploited by 
fisheries, including white grunt, yellowtail snapper, hog fish, and red 
grouper,” the researchers stated.

    In a consensus process that became a model for other efforts 
worldwide, a 25-member working group including commercial and 
recreational fishermen, divers, conservationists, researchers, agency 
representatives, and other concerned citizens designed the reserve.

    The Tortugas reserve boasts the highest water quality and the 
healthiest coral communities in the sanctuary.  But prior to designation 
as a reserve, even these remote reefs faced threats of overfishing, plus 
damage from fishing gear and boat anchors. The ecological reserve now 
fully protects all marine life including fish, coral and other 
invertebrates, such as shrimp and lobster. Tortugas North remains open 
to diving, and the sanctuary has installed mooring buoys to protect the 
fragile coral reefs from anchor damage. Tortugas South is open only to 
vessels in transit and to researchers and educators holding a sanctuary 

    The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,896 square 
nautical miles of critical marine habitat including coral reef, hard 
bottom, seagrass meadows, mangrove communities, and sand flats. NOAA and 
the state of Florida manage the sanctuary.

    NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase public 
awareness of America’s marine resources and maritime heritage by 
conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration, and educational 
programs. Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine 
sanctuaries and one coral reef ecosystem reserve that together encompass 
more than 150,000 square miles of America’s oceans and Great Lakes.

    NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to 
enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction 
and research of weather and climate-related events and providing 
environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. 
Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), 
NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and 
the European Commission to develop a global network that is as 
integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.
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On the Web:
NOAA: http://www.noaa.gov
NOAA National Ocean Service: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/
NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program: http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov
NOAA National Ocean Service NCCOS: http://ccmaserver.nos.noaa.gov/

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