Acoustic Tracking of Fish Movements in Two Coral Reef Ecosystems in the U.S. Virgin Islands
Project Status: This project began in January 2006 and is Ongoing
We are monitoring the movement and residence time of reef fish among habitats in two underwater parks under different management strategies in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Our objectives are to document the condition of the fish and their habitat preferences and establish how the habitats are linked through fish movements. Results of this study will help park officials understand the influence of different management strategies on the fish and guide the coordination of management strategies.
Why We Care
Fish in the U.S. Virgin Islands play an important economic and cultural role. Understanding the habitat preferences and the movement of fish is essential to responsibly manage ecosystems and sustain healthy populations of fish. The need is especially critical in places such as underwater preserves and parks, where the movement of fish can affect park size and boundary decisions and management approaches.
What We’re Doing
To date, we deployed an array of 36 underwater hydroacoustic receivers in strategic locations across the bays and coral reefs around the southern shores of St. John. Then we surgically implanted transmitters into 150 fish composed of 18 species and 10 families and recorded their movements. We used the data to analyze the sizes of species’ home range, migratory patterns, and habitat preferences. In Phase 1 of this project we focused on movements of fish along shore. Phase 2, which began in 2012, focuses on the fish movement offshore.
What We’re Finding
Results from this study indicate that lane snappers and blue striped grunts, for example, move from reef habitats during daytime hours to offshore seagrass beds at night. The array of acoustic receivers was located in both near-shore and cross-shelf locations, providing information on fine- to broad-scale fish movement patterns across habitat types and among management units. Based on fish movement results, we are able to examine the strength of ecological connectivity between management areas and habitats.
Phase I of this project was completed in 2008. We began additional studies in 2012 that focus on inshore/offshore movements of fish around St. John. Beginning in 2014, we will move the investigation to the nearby island of St. Croix. This Island has a different arrangement of habitats and management landscape and can be used as a comparison to findings from St. John.
Regions of Study: Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, US Virgin Islands
Primary Contacts: Matt Kendall, John Christensen
Science for Coastal Ecosystem Management (Biogeographic Assessment, Marine Spatial Planning, Protected Species, Coral)
Related NCCOS Center: CCMA
- Diel movements of fishes linked to benthic seascape structure in a Caribbean coral reef ecosystem.2011. Hitt S., S.J. Pittman and R.S. Nemeth. Marine Ecology Progress Series, Vol. 427: 275–291, 2011
- The coupling of St. John, US Virgin Islands marine protected areas based on reef fish habitat affinities and movements across management boundaries. Proceedings 11th International Coral Reef Symposium, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, 7-11 July 2008.
- Friedlander, A.M. and M.E. Monaco. 2007. Acoustic Tracking of Reef Fishes to Elucidate Habitat Utilization Patterns and Residence Times Inside and Outside Marine Protected Areas Around the Island of St. John, USVI. NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 63, Silver Spring, MD. 50 pp.
- Friedlander, A., M.E. Monaco, R.Clark, S.J. Pittman, J. Beets, R. Boulon, R. Callender, J. Christensen, S. Hile, M.S. Kendall, J.Miller, C.Rogers, K. Stamoulis, Lisa Wedding, and Kimberly Roberson. 2013. Fish Movement Patterns in Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument and Adjacent Waters.
NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 172. Silver Spring, MD.
- Pittman S.J., Monaco M.E., Friedlander A.M., Legare B., Nemeth R.S., Kendall M.S., Poti M., Clark R.D., Wedding L.M., and Caldow C. 2014. Fish with Chips: Tracking Reef Fish Movements to Evaluate Size and Connectivity of Caribbean Marine Protected Areas. PLoS ONE 9(5): e96028. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096028
Websites and Data Pages
News and Feature Stories