The Assessment of Caribbean Reef fish assemblages as an indicator of MPA success

Supervisor: Dayne Buddo (University of the West Indies, Jamaica)
Overfishing continues to be one of the most acute threats to biodiversity within the insular Caribbean, with Jamaica’s near shore resources unable to sustain fisheries at current levels of exploitation. Stocks on Jamaica’s north coast have been so severely depleted that few fish survive for more than a year and fewer still long enough to recruit. In 2010, the Jamaican government designated several coastal areas of ecological and fisheries importance as Special Fisheries Conservation Areas (SFCAs) to alleviate the stresses posed to reefs and facilitate in the recovery of reef fish populations. Data was collected using a series of underwater visual censuses, fisher and management perspectives across locations in St Ann, St Mary and Portland over successive sampling periods in 2011 and 2013. The purpose was to assess the status of reef fish assemblages before and after the establishment of an SFCA and evaluate whether the designation of a protected area can have a direct improvement to local fisheries resources with increased time. Results indicated significant differences between surveys conducted before and after the designation of an SFCA. Increases in fish density, biomass and diversity were clearly identified over time and short term recovery was observed within individual sanctuaries. Several management challenges still need to be overcome before full recovery of reef stocks can be realised. Tougher enforcement, stricter regulation and more engagement with local communities and resources users is required before any viable long term solutions can be implemented. Lessons learnt from Discovery Bay and Boscobel can be used to demonstrate how conservation efforts can be made productive and the effective governance of the country’s SFCAs has the potential to be used as blueprint for the future long term sustainable management of Caribbean reef fisheries.

Keywords: Jamaica, Marine Protected Areas, Fish Sanctuaries, Conservation, Overfishing