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Caribbean Reef Fish Studies Demonstrate Importance of Ecological Criteria in Design of Marine Protected Areas

National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) scientists and partners have completed a study, described in an article in the February issue of Fisheries and Management Ecology, of reef fish populations and habitats of the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument (VICRNM) that demonstrates the importance of ecological design criteria for establishing protected areas. The administrative process used to delineate the boundaries of the VICRNM, which was established offshore of St. John by a Presidential Proclamation in 2001, primarily used legal parameters, and did not include a robust ecological characterization of the area. Although the VICRNM prohibits almost all extractive uses, the scientists found that areas outside the monument had significantly more hard corals, greater habitat complexity, and greater richness, abundance and biomass of reef fishes than areas within the monument. Because of reduced habitat complexity within the VICRNM, the enhancement of the marine ecosystem through increases in economically important reef fishes may not be fully realized, or may take longer to detect. This study was based on surveys NCCOS and its partners conducted from 2002-2004 of habitats and fishes both within and outside the VICRNM and received funding from NOAA

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