August 15, 2011

Scientists Study ‘World’s Most Robust Marine Reserve’

A decade-long study of an undersea wildlife part near the southern tip of the Baja peninsula has determined that the location is the "most robust marine reserve in the world," according to an August 12 press release from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Researchers from the Scripps Institution led a 10-year study at Mexico's Cabo Pulmo National Park (CPNP)--a study which discovered that the previously fishing-depleted 27.41-square mile area has experienced a 460-percent increase in total biomass from 1999 to 2009.

Those who worked on the project, which is the topic of a study in the latest edition of the journal PLoS One, were stunned by the way the marine life managed to rebound at CPNP.

"We could have never dreamt of such an extraordinary recovery of marine life at Cabo Pulmo," National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala, who started the study in 1999, said in a statement Friday. "In 1999 there were only medium-sized fishes, but ten years later it's full of large parrotfish, groupers, snappers and even sharks."

Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher, World Wildlife Fund Kathryn Fuller fellow and lead author of the study, called the results "surprising in several ways"¦ A biomass increase of 463 percent in a reserve as large as Cabo Pulmo"¦ represents tons of new fish produced every year. No other marine reserve in the world has shown such a fish recovery."

In their paper, Aburto-Oropeza and his colleagues praised the protection efforts of local enforcement crews, including "the determined action of a few families," for the increase in aquatic life. In addition to the enforcement of no-fishing regulations at CPNP, the Scripps Institution noted the work of "boat captains, dive masters and other locals work" who "share surveillance, fauna protection and ocean cleanliness efforts."

In an August 12 article, Nicola Jones of Nature News shed a little more light on one of the families being credited for the increase in biomass.

The family, which Jones said "campaigned for the reserve's creation in 1995 and is devoted to policing it," were at one time reliant on a fishing income but decided later that it would be better to devote their efforts to "preserve their ecosystem and make a living from tourism"¦ They now watch for boats and head out to deter them from fishing."

Their hard work has reaped rewards.

"The reefs are full of hard corals and sea fans, creating an amazing habitat for lobsters, octopuses, rays and small fish," Brad Erisman, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the article, said in a statement. "During some seasons thousands of mobula rays congregate inside the park and swim above the reef in a magnificent way."

"Top predators such as sharks fared best: their biomass went up more than tenfold, perhaps because they are drawn to the area by all the fish, or perhaps because the reserve is a good breeding ground," Jones added. "The percentage recovery isn't unprecedented"¦ but the density of fish living on the park's reef, at 4 tons per hectare, is the best the authors have seen anywhere on record."


Image 1: Once depleted by fishing, Cabo Pulmo now boasts a healthy mix of wildlife. Image: Octavio Aburto-Oropeza/iLCP

Image 2: Jacks are among the fish species flourishing in Cabo Pulmo. Image: Octavio Aburto-Oropeza/iLCP


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