Ecological assessment of the marine ecosystems of Barbuda, West Indies: Using rapid scientific assessment to inform ocean zoning and fisheries management

Ruttenberg, B, Caselle JE, Estep AJ, Johnson AE, Marhaver KL, Richter LJ, Sandin SA, Vermeij MJA, Smith JE, Grenda D, Cannon A.  2018.  Ecological assessment of the marine ecosystems of Barbuda, West Indies: Using rapid scientific assessment to inform ocean zoning and fisheries management. Plos One. 13

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caribbean coral-reefs, conch strombus-gigas, density, fish abundance, panulirus-argus, queen conch, region-wide declines, spawning aggregations, spiny lobster, US-VIRGIN-ISLANDS


To inform a community-based ocean zoning initiative, we conducted an intensive ecological assessment of the marine ecosystems of Barbuda, West Indies. We conducted 116 fish and 108 benthic surveys around the island, and measured the abundance and size structure of lobsters and conch at 52 and 35 sites, respectively. We found that both coral cover and fish biomass were similar to or lower than levels observed across the greater Caribbean; live coral cover and abundance of fishery target species, such as large snappers and groupers, was generally low. However, Barbuda lacks many of the high-relief forereef areas where similar work has been conducted in other Caribbean locations. The distribution of lobsters was patchy, making it difficult to quantify density at the island scale. However, the maximum size of lobsters was generally larger than in other locations in the Caribbean and similar to the maximum size reported 40 years ago. While the lobster population has clearly been heavily exploited, our data suggest that it is not as overexploited as in much of the rest of the Caribbean. Surveys of Barbuda's Codrington Lagoon revealed many juvenile lobsters, but none of legal size (95 mm carapace length), suggesting that the lagoon functions primarily as nursery habitat. Conch abundance and size on Barbuda were similar to that of other Caribbean islands. Our data suggest that many of the regional threats observed on other Caribbean islands are present on Barbuda, but some resources-particularly lobster and conch-may be less overexploited than on other Caribbean islands. Local management has the potential to provide sustainability for at least some of the island's marine resources. We show that a rapid, thorough ecological assessment can reveal clear conservation opportunities and facilitate rapid conservation action by providing the foundation for a community-driven policymaking process at the island scale.






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