By Lina Zubieta
From May 18, 2018
One of the main purposes of the creation of the Soufrière Marine Management Association (SMMA) was to increase the fish stocks near the Soufrière coasts. A study by Hawkins et al observed no difference in the total fish biomass between the current marine reserves and the fishing grounds in 1995 before the SMMA was established (2006). The same study concluded that in 2002, the total fish biomass has quadrupled in the reserves and has tripled in the fishing grounds (Hawkins et al 2006). Since the creation of the SMMA, an increase in fish stocks seems to be the trend observed over the years, demonstrating the effectiveness of the SMMA on meeting one of their main objectives.
To follow up on previous studies, students have been completing fish surveys along with benthic surveys most days during the past two weeks. Together, we completed a total of four fish surveys per dive with our respective group and have spent a countless number of hours studying to be able to correctly identify fish species and their juvenile stages. While conducting fish surveys may sound easy, it involved fighting the current at multiple sites and making sure we input data every night. As a culmination of our effort, each group presented the preliminary results for their respective topic at the end of the second week.
Group 2 presented the preliminary results on the effects of the marine protected areas (SMMA) on reef fish population focusing on four major fish families: grunts, parrotfish, snappers, and groupers. The preliminary results suggest that overall, there are more fish inside the reserves than outside which is consistent with the data obtained by Hawkins in their 2002 census. The results also suggest that snappers and grunts are particularly more abundant inside the reserves than outside. The SMMA seems to be positively affecting fish populations leading to an overall increase of fish abundance within these marine protected areas. While these are only the preliminary results, it is likely that the final results will support other studies that have concluded that marine protected areas have a positive effect on fish populations.
The authors of this blog are students enrolled in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation, field courses run in the Caribbean by the University of South Florida. In 2019, the course went to the Carmabi research station in Curaçao and dived around the island over a 10-day period, for training and to carry out research projects. In 2018, the group went to Soufriere, Saint Lucia, and took part in various projects in partnership with the Soufriere Marine Management Association. In this blog, students will document their activities and how they relate to course material.