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      Fish with Chips: Tracking Reef Fish Movements to Evaluate Size and Connectivity of Caribbean Marine Protected Areas


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          Coral reefs and associated fish populations have experienced rapid decline in the Caribbean region and marine protected areas (MPAs) have been widely implemented to address this decline. The performance of no-take MPAs (i.e., marine reserves) for protecting and rebuilding fish populations is influenced by the movement of animals within and across their boundaries. Very little is known about Caribbean reef fish movements creating a critical knowledge gap that can impede effective MPA design, performance and evaluation. Using miniature implanted acoustic transmitters and a fixed acoustic receiver array, we address three key questions: How far can reef fish move? Does connectivity exist between adjacent MPAs? Does existing MPA size match the spatial scale of reef fish movements? We show that many reef fishes are capable of traveling far greater distances and in shorter duration than was previously known. Across the Puerto Rican Shelf, more than half of our 163 tagged fish (18 species of 10 families) moved distances greater than 1 km with three fish moving more than 10 km in a single day and a quarter spending time outside of MPAs. We provide direct evidence of ecological connectivity across a network of MPAs, including estimated movements of more than 40 km connecting a nearshore MPA with a shelf-edge spawning aggregation. Most tagged fish showed high fidelity to MPAs, but also spent time outside MPAs, potentially contributing to spillover. Three-quarters of our fish were capable of traveling distances that would take them beyond the protection offered by at least 40–64% of the existing eastern Caribbean MPAs. We recommend that key species movement patterns be used to inform and evaluate MPA functionality and design, particularly size and shape. A re-scaling of our perception of Caribbean reef fish mobility and habitat use is imperative, with important implications for ecology and management effectiveness.

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          Most cited references 9

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          Designing marine reserve networks for both conservation and fisheries management.

          Marine protected areas (MPAs) that exclude fishing have been shown repeatedly to enhance the abundance, size, and diversity of species. These benefits, however, mean little to most marine species, because individual protected areas typically are small. To meet the larger-scale conservation challenges facing ocean ecosystems, several nations are expanding the benefits of individual protected areas by building networks of protected areas. Doing so successfully requires a detailed understanding of the ecological and physical characteristics of ocean ecosystems and the responses of humans to spatial closures. There has been enormous scientific interest in these topics, and frameworks for the design of MPA networks for meeting conservation and fishery management goals are emerging. Persistent in the literature is the perception of an inherent tradeoff between achieving conservation and fishery goals. Through a synthetic analysis across these conservation and bioeconomic studies, we construct guidelines for MPA network design that reduce or eliminate this tradeoff. We present size, spacing, location, and configuration guidelines for designing networks that simultaneously can enhance biological conservation and reduce fishery costs or even increase fishery yields and profits. Indeed, in some settings, a well-designed MPA network is critical to the optimal harvest strategy. When reserves benefit fisheries, the optimal area in reserves is moderately large (mode ≈30%). Assessing network design principals is limited currently by the absence of empirical data from large-scale networks. Emerging networks will soon rectify this constraint.
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            Ecology. Coral reefs and the global network of Marine Protected Areas.

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              Population characteristics of a recovering US Virgin Islands red hind spawning aggregation following protection.

              Many species of groupers form spawning aggregations, dramatic events where 100s to 1000s of individuals gather annually at specific locations for reproduction. Spawning aggregations are often targeted by local fishermen, making them extremely vulnerable to over fishing. The Red Hind Bank Marine Conservation District located in St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands, was closed seasonally in 1990 and closed permanently in 1999 to protect an important red hind Epinephelus guttatus spawning site. This study provides some of the first information on the population response of a spawning aggregation located within a marine protected area. Tag-and-release fishing and fish transects were used to evaluate population characteristics and habitat utilization patterns of a red hind spawning aggregation between 1999 and 2004. Compared with studies conducted before the permanent closure, the average size of red hind increased mostly during the seasonal closure period (10 cm over 12 yr), but the maximum total length of male red hind increased by nearly 7 cm following permanent closure. Average density and biomass of spawning red hind increased by over 60% following permanent closure whereas maximum spawning density more than doubled. Information from tag returns indicated that red hind departed the protected area following spawning and migrated 6 to 33 km to a ca. 500 km(2) area. Protection of the spawning aggregation site may have also contributed to an overall increase in the size of red hind caught in the commercial fishery, thus increasing the value of the grouper fishery for local fishermen.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                5 May 2014
                : 9
                : 5
                [1 ]U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States of America
                [2 ]Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands
                [3 ]Centre for Marine and Coastal Policy Research, The Marine Institute, Marine Building, Plymouth University, Plymouth, Devon, United Kingdom
                [4 ]Department of Biology, Fisheries Ecology Research Laboratory, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, Hawai'i, United States of America
                [5 ]Texas Parks and Wildlife, Dickinson Marine Lab, Dickinson, Texas, United States of America
                [6 ]Center for Ocean Solutions, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, Monterey, California, United States of America
                The Australian National University, Australia
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: MEM AMF MSK RDC CC. Performed the experiments: SJP MEM AMF BL RSN MSK RDC. Analyzed the data: SJP BL LMW. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: SJP MEM RSN MP. Wrote the paper: SJP BL.


                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Pages: 11
                SJP, MEM, AMF and LMW were supported by U.S. National Park Service, NOAA Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment (CCMA) and NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. BL was supported by University of the Virgin Islands. RSN was supported by the National Science Foundation's Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (0814417) and the University of the Virgin Islands Center for Marine and Environmental Studies (CMES). The UVI acoustic array was supported by grants from Puerto Rico Sea Grant (R-31-1-06), NOAA Saltonstall-Kennedy (NA09NMF4270068), NOAA cooperative agreement (NA08NOS4260348), and USGS State Partnership Program (07ERAG0078). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
                Research Article
                Biology and Life Sciences
                Behavioral Ecology
                Marine Ecology
                Spatial and Landscape Ecology
                Evolutionary Biology
                Marine Biology
                Fisheries Science
                Marine Conservation
                Marine Monitoring
                Marine Technology
                Animal Behavior
                Fish Biology
                Earth Sciences
                Marine and Aquatic Sciences
                Ecology and Environmental Sciences



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