From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published December 23, 2011 10:04 AM

Wildlife Protection at Glover's Reef, Belize Falling Short

Belize, the small Central American nation facing the Caribbean Sea on the Yucatan Peninsula, is home to extremely diverse and tropical wildlife. A large stretch of sea surrounding Glover's Reef, an atoll reef lagoon that is home to a beautiful resort, has been placed under government protection. As a result of the fishing ban, populations of barracuda, groupers, snappers, and other predators have rebounded. However, populations of herbivorous fish have only slightly increased. This means trouble for the corals which depend on the herbivorous fish to eat the algae which collects upon and smothers them.

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What officials really wanted to accomplish be placing a fishing ban at Glover's Reef was an increase in parrotfish populations, an important species for improving the corals. The modest recovery so far seen has not been enough to reverse the coral's downward course, which at one point occupied 75 percent of the sea floor, but now take up only 20 percent.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) stepped in to analyze what the impacts of the fishing closure have been and recommend ways in which to improve the reef's health. They concluded that a nation-wide blanket protection of the parrotfish may be the only way to achieve meaningful protection of the coral reefs.

"What happened was a recovery of predatory fish, but not of the herbivorous fish, a finding that is forcing us to come up with a more effective model of reef management and recovery," said Dr. Tim McClanahan, lead author of the study and head of WCS's coral reef research and conservation program. "If the nation-wide ban on parrotfish is successful, then we can see if this type of large-scale management is the only effective solution for protecting coral reefs."

The fishing closure has resulted in unpredictable results. WCS attributes many factors. For instance, the fishers in the area may not have been compliant with the fishing ban. Another reason may be that the size of the protected area may be too small to produce the desired effect. Other environmental factors to consider are warming waters due to climate change and oceanographic oscillations such as El Nino.

The researchers were happy to see the increase in predatory fish, but the lagging herbivorous fish populations are a primary concern. Wildlife conservation and protected no-fishing zones are critical to their recovery. However, conservationists believe a comprehensive ecosystem-based approach across the breadth of the Central American barrier reef, targeting a wide range of species is necessary for their long-term recovery.

For more information: http://www.wcs.org/saving-wild-places/ocean/glovers-reef-seascape-belize.aspx

Image credit: http://www.slickrock.com/gloversreef.html

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