[Coral-List] Big fish gone before we even knew they were there
jeremymarkkemp at yahoo.co.uk
Mon Feb 8 17:56:40 EST 2010
Your observations about the big fish going first, and early, struck a chord with me.
>From the early '90s to the late-00s I spent the best part of 15 years doing reef and reef fish surveys in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (in every country of those coasts except for Israel, Jordan, and Puntland). It wasn't until I'd already been doing that work for five years that I realised that, even in actively managed Parks such as the Egyptian protected areas in the Gulf of Aqaba, the reef fish communities are probably pale shadows of what they once were.
This was brought pretty forcefully to my attention when I carried out a series of EIA baseline surveys within the boundaries of a high-security area on the central Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. Twenty years of inadvertent but highly effective protection by large numbers of soldiers and coastguards with guns had resulted in a total fisheries exclusion zone covering about 20km of fringing and patch reefs. The result was such impressive changes in the fish community that it was almost like swimming in an alien sea. Huge numbers of huge fish, including many species of serranids, lethrinids and lutjanids with numerous individuals of sizes I've never seen before or since. That single two-week job transformed my view of human impacts on Arabian reef systems.
All of this in a region where reef fisheries are remarkably low intensity, in comparison to much of the world (and on top of that, bear in mind that I've been lucky enough to work extensively in some very remote areas, as well as close to population centres).
Unfortunately my observations will remain anecdotal, as it wasn't possible to carry out fish surveys during that work, which was purely benthic and was closely observed / circumscribed by the aforementioned security forces, as well as the usual too-much-to-do-and-not-enough-time-to-do-it consultancy situation. I wasn't even allowed to take camera equipment into the area.
That was in 1998, and the state of the Red Sea has not improved since. The last extensive survey work I did there was in Sudan in 2006 & 2007, and so far as large fish are concerned it was pretty depressing.
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