Fauna Flourishes Where Fishing Forbidden: Protected zones benefit marine life in the northern Great Barrier Reef

Fauna Flourishes Where Fishing Forbidden: Protected zones benefit marine life in the northern Great Barrier Reef

A new PLOS ONE study demonstrates the benefits of preventing fishing in even lightly fished areas of the Australian Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest network of marine reserves in the world, and includes protected no-fishing zones as well as fished areas. The northernmost regions are the most lightly fished and it was previously unclear if such policies were necessary or effective.

Carolina Castro-Sanguino and colleagues measured, counted and calculated the biomass of commonly-fished species found at 31 northern, central and southern reefs in the area north of Cooktown, as well as assessing the seabed habitat at these sites.

They found that protection did appear to be effective: fish biomass was up to five times greater in protected zones. The remote northern reefs had greater fish biomass than more southern areas, regardless of the zones’ policies, and the authors speculate that poaching may be common in southern reserves. They also found evidence that fishers may frequently operate at reserves’ boundaries to exploit the increased fish biomass in these reserves.

Despite this region being generally fished relatively lightly, fish biomass was significantly different between protected and unprotected areas. The authors state that this illustrates the high sensitivity to fishing of many species, reinforcing the case for their protection.

Research Article: Castro-Sanguino C, Bozec Y-M, Dempsey A, Samaniego BR, Lubarsky K, Andrews S, et al. (2017) Detecting conservation benefits of marine reserves on remote reefs of the northern GBR. PLoS ONE 12(11): e0186146. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0186146

Image Credit: Sarah_Ackerman, Flickr

Author

Beth works at PLOS as Journal Media Manager. She read Natural Sciences, specializing in Pathology, at the University of Cambridge before joining PLOS in 2013. She feels fortunate to be able to read and write about the exciting new research published by PLOS.

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