[Coral-List] NOAA marine reserve shows increasing numbers, size of fish
Cheva.Heck at noaa.gov
Tue Jun 20 19:43:35 EDT 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 20, 2006
Contact: Cheva Heck
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
305.292.0311, Ext. 26
AFTER FIVE YEARS OF PROTECTION, NOAA MARINE RESERVE SHOWS INCREASING
NUMBERS, SIZE OF FISH
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 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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