Major losses for Caribbean reef fish in last 15 years

Mar 19, 2009

By combining data from 48 studies of coral reefs from around the Caribbean, researchers have found that fish densities that have been stable for decades have given way to significant declines since 1995. The study appears online on March 19th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

"We were most surprised to discover that this decrease is evident for both large-bodied species targeted by fisheries as well as small-bodied species that are not fished," said Michelle Paddack of Simon Fraser University in Canada. "This suggests that overfishing is probably not the only cause."

Rather, they suggest that the recent declines may be explained by drastic losses in coral cover and other changes in coral that have occurred in the Caribbean over the past 30 years. Those changes are the result of many factors, including warming ocean temperatures, coral diseases, and a rise in sedimentation and pollution from coastal development. Overfishing has also led to declines of many , and now seems to also be removing those that are important for keeping the reefs free of algae.

"All of these factors are stressing the reefs and making them less able to recover from disturbances such as hurricanes, which also seem to be occurring more frequently," Paddack said.

Scientists had previously documented historical declines in the abundance of large Caribbean reef fishes that probably reflect centuries of . However, effects of recent degradation of reef habitats on had not been established before now.

In the new study, the research team compiled data on reef fish densities from 48 studies representing 318 reefs across the Caribbean from 1955 to 2007. Their analysis found that overall reef fish density has been declining significantly for more than a decade, at rates that are consistent across all sub-regions of the . Specifically, they show losses in fish density of 2.7 to 6 percent per year.

Paddack said her study, which involved a very large team of scientists from around the globe, should serve as a call to action.

"If we want to have in our future, we must ensure that we reduce damage to these ecosystems," she said. "On a personal level, this may mean not buying wild-caught aquarium fish and corals, not eating reef fish species that are declining, taking care not to anchor on reefs, and reducing our carbon emissions to help control climate change. But importantly, we need to let lawmakers and resource managers know that we care about these ecosystems and we need to push for changes in how they are managed."

Source: Cell Press (news : web)

Explore further: Genetically tracking farmed fish escaping into the wild

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Corals facing 'biggest impact in history'

Jun 19, 2006

A new study has found that the damage caused by human activity to some of the world's iconic coral reefs in the past 30 years is greater than at any time in the last 220,000 years.

Coral reef was untouched by tsunami

Feb 23, 2006

Scientists say they've discovered a large coral reef off Thailand that was apparently undisturbed by the catastrophic December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Ongoing collapse of coral reef shark populations

Dec 04, 2006

Investigators have revealed that coral reef shark populations are in the midst of rapid decline, and that "no-take zones" -- reefs where fishing is prohibited -- do protect sharks, but only when compliance with no-take regulations ...

Recommended for you

Genetically tracking farmed fish escaping into the wild

7 hours ago

European sea product consumption is on the rise. With overfishing being a threat to the natural balance of the ocean, the alternative is to turn to aquaculture, the industrial production of fish and seafood. ...

France fights back Asian hornet invader

10 hours ago

They slipped into southwest France 10 years ago in a pottery shipment from China and have since invaded more than half the country, which is fighting back with drones, poisoned rods and even chickens.

Tide turns for shark fin in China

10 hours ago

A sprawling market floor in Guangzhou was once a prime location for shark fin, one of China's most expensive delicacies. But now it lies deserted, thanks to a ban from official banquet tables and a celebrity-driven ...

Manatees could lose their endangered species status

23 hours ago

About 2,500 manatees have perished in Florida over the last four years, heightening tension between conservationists and property owners as federal officials prepare to decide whether to down-list the creature to threatened ...

User comments : 0