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PeerJ. 2014 Feb 20;2:e274. doi: 10.7717/peerj.274. eCollection 2014.

Evidence for protection of targeted reef fish on the largest marine reserve in the Caribbean.

Author information

1
Centro de Investigaciones de Ecosistemas Costeros , Cayo Coco , Morón , Ciego de Ávila , Cuba.
2
Department of Studies for Sustainable Development of the Coastal Zone, University of Guadalajara , Jalisco , Mexico.
3
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute , Tequesta , FL , USA.
4
Department of Biology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill , Chapel Hill , NC , USA.

Abstract

Marine reserves can restore fish abundance and diversity in areas impacted by overfishing, but the effectiveness of reserves in developing countries where resources for enforcement are limited, have seldom been evaluated. Here we assess whether the establishment in 1996 of the largest marine reserve in the Caribbean, Gardens of the Queen in Cuba, has had a positive effect on the abundance of commercially valuable reef fish species in relation to neighboring unprotected areas. We surveyed 25 sites, including two reef habitats (reef crest and reef slope), inside and outside the marine reserve, on five different months, and over a one-and-a-half year period. Densities of the ten most frequent, highly targeted, and relatively large fish species showed a significant variability across the archipelago for both reef habitats that depended on the month of survey. These ten species showed a tendency towards higher abundance inside the reserve in both reef habitats for most months during the study. Average fish densities pooled by protection level, however, showed that five out of these ten species were at least two-fold significantly higher inside than outside the reserve at one or both reef habitats. Supporting evidence from previously published studies in the area indicates that habitat complexity and major benthic communities were similar inside and outside the reserve, while fishing pressure appeared to be homogeneous across the archipelago before reserve establishment. Although poaching may occur within the reserve, especially at the boundaries, effective protection from fishing was the most plausible explanation for the patterns observed.

KEYWORDS:

Coral reefs; Marine reserves; Overfishing; Target reef fish

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