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NCCOS Research Project

Mangrove Function as Nursery Habitat for Fish in Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve

This project began in May 2018 and will end in May 2019.

May 2018 juvenile fish trap deployments in Salt River Bay, St. Croix, USVI. Credit: Matt Kendall, NOAA

We are studying how juvenile fish use mangrove habitat within a marine protected area in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Our goals are to compare juvenile fish communities between natural and restored mangrove habitats, and compare the current fish community to results from 25 years ago. Results of this study will help us understand the importance of this protected area in supporting fish populations, by providing critical habitat for juvenile fish.

Why We Care

Survival of juvenile fish is critical to supporting adult fish populations, which are important recreationally, commercially, and ecologically in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In many areas, mangroves serve as a nursery habitat for juvenile fish. However, the role of mangroves as nursery habitat in Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve (St. Croix, USVI) has not been assessed in 25 years, and thus merits re-investigation. Understanding how this protected area functions in promoting survivorship of juvenile fish is critical in determining its influence on local adult fish populations.

What We Are Doing

Fish caught in one fish trap in May 2018 in Salt River Bay, St. Croix, USVI. Credit: Bethany Williams, NOAA

We are assessing the juvenile fish assemblage in Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve using traps deployed in both natural and restored mangrove habitats. Juvenile fish are sampled every other month for a year. We will compare natural vs. restored mangrove habitat function for juvenile fish. Additionally, we will compare our results to a study in Salt River Bay 25 years ago to assess how the community has changed over time.

Impacts of our Work

Our work will help understand how this protected area functions in supporting fish populations by providing critical habitat for juvenile fish. It will also help us understand how 25 years of impacts, such as hurricanes, development, and restoration, influence juvenile fish assemblages.

Next Steps

This work began in May 2018, and sampling of juvenile fish will continue for a full year.

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources, in direct support of NOS priorities, offices, and customers, and to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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