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Good marine management ensures healthy populations Print E-mail
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Thursday, 12 October 2017 00:00

BELIZE CITY (October 5, 2017)

A new study from Belize’s Glovers Atoll confirms that replenishment zones are an important tool in rebuilding fish populations depleted from overfishing and boosting catch rates for small scale fisheries, according to WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and partners.

When combined with other conservation measures such as size limits and seasonal closures for fishing grounds, replenishment zones can help make fisheries more sustainable for coastal communities that rely on the sea for sustenance and livelihoods.

The study, titled “Benefits of a replenishment zone revealed through trends in focal species at Glovers Atoll, Belize”, appears in the latest edition of the journal, Marine Ecology Progress Series. The authors are: Alexander Tewfik, Janet Gibson, Virginia R. Burns Perez and Samantha Strindberg of WCS; and Elizabeth A. Babcock, of the University of Miami.

“Our study reveals that replenishment zones can be effective tools in managing marine resources and protecting biodiversity, along with the integration of more traditional fisheries regulations and the significant involvement of local resource users,” said Dr. Alexander Tewfik, WCS Belize Program Marine Conservation Scientist and lead author of the study.

The researchers examined the population density of several fish and invertebrate species over a 7-year time period, using independent visual surveys conducted at patch reefs in both the replenishment zone (i.e. fishing prohibited) and a general use zone open to fishing with certain restrictions. Catch data gathered from fishers was also collected over the same time series in order to illustrate the effects of protection in the replenishment zone to the fished areas. The study also included data on the size of species and calculated biomass of populations in patch reefs, which were found to be of similar health in both zones.

The research included the two most economically important fished species, the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) and the queen conch (Lobatus gigas). Fish species in the study included the Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), hogfish (Lachnoaimus maximus), the queen triggerfish (Balistes vetula) and several species of parrotfish which have been banned from harvest in Belize since 2009.

The species that recovered the most in the replenishment zone were lobster, conch, and parrotfish, whereas slower growing species such as snappers and groupers exhibited more limited recovery rates.

Overall, results indicate that fundamental goals for the management of GRMR, including safeguarding sustainability and improving economic benefits within a more general ecosystem-based methodology to fisheries, were attained.

Co-author, Janet Gibson, former Country Director for WCS-Belize Program, said:”This paper is the culmination of many years of work and brings together principle elements that are the essence of WCS’s Belize program, illustrating how science informs management, leading to more comprehensive conservation, particularly within a marine reserve.  The results revealed areas where monitoring can be further enhanced, strengthening and adapting management strategies for potentially even greater benefits of marine reserves in the future.”

This work has also provided support to the managed access system and the replenishment zone expansion, two other major fisheries management efforts. The combined MPA, fisheries management and biodiversity conservation work by WCS in Belize has often provided a positive example for applied and well- considered conservation efforts throughout the region and the world.

Co-author Virginia Burns Perez, WCS Belize Program Technical Coordinator- Marine, added: “The benefits revealed at Glover’s is a microcosm of the impact that a network of effective replenishment zones can have nationally. Belize is currently looking at expanding replenishment zones to represent 10 percent  of our territorial seas, which as demonstrated by the study could result in healthier ecosystems and rebuilding of depleted fish stocks,  enabling a secured fisheries sector and sustained livelihoods for fishers.”

“The work at Glovers Reef Marine Reserve have confirmed the importance and role of replenishment zones in sustaining biodiversity and enhancing biomass in our marine environment. They are thus essential to the long term conservation and functionality of our coastal ecosystems and marine organisms, especially those that are targeted for fisheries” said Belize Fisheries Administrator, Beverly Wade.