Coral reefs. (Photo: icrs2012)
No-take protected areas can help rebuild nearby fish stocks: study
Friday, July 13, 2012, 15:30 (GMT + 9)
The first conclusive evidence that no-take protected areas can help replenish overfished fish stocks on neighbouring reefs was revealed this week at the International Coral Reef Symposium.
The findings are expected to help resolve a long-running worldwide debate about whether areas that ban all fishing help restore fish populations outside marine protected areas (MPAs).
“Using DNA fingerprinting technology, we now can clearly show that the benefits of MPAs spread beyond reserve boundaries, providing a baby bonus to fisheries,” Geoff Jones, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) and James Cook University, who led the study.
The groundbreaking study was conducted in the Keppel Island group on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef by researchers from CoECRS and other research institutions.
“The implications for local fishing communities around the world are huge,” said Leanne Fernandes, Director and Principal Consultant, Marine and Coastal, and former manager of the Representative Areas Programme in Australia that established one-third of the Great Barrier Reef as no-take protected areas. “It’s never easy to protect areas from fishing because, so often, the fished areas are very important for local communities for food, livelihoods and lifestyles. So fishermen need to know for sure it will work.”
Fernandes said the research also shows that MPAs can be effective on small scales. For many communities, particularly in the developing world that depend on small areas of reef for food and income, there are limited options for closing areas to fishing.
“This is great news for local fishing communities around the world because protecting areas about this size might be possible for them; protecting really big areas is just too hard,” she said.
Using DNA samples, the team of scientists tracked the dispersal pathways of juvenile coral trout and stripey snappers larvae from MPAs in the Keppel island group. They found that 65 per cent of juveniles settled in nearby areas that are open to fishing.
Most of the baby fish settled within 1-5 km of reserves but a significant proportion dispersed 10 km or farther.
In addition, the study found that the six marine reserves, covering just 28 per cent of the total reef area of the Keppels, had generated 50 per cent of the total juvenile fish, both inside and outside the reserves.
Fish larvae normally are dispersed in the open ocean living for days or weeks before the survivors make it back to a reef. This poses immense problems for management because it becomes difficult to manage fish populations if the young produced are scattered out to sea.
But Jones showed that these fish babies do return to their home reefs, which means that local actions to protect fish can have direct local benefits, he said.
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