How Protecting Predatory Fish Could Keep Reefs More Vibrant

by Owen James Burke

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Very little is known about Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) aside from the facts that they travel hundreds of miles each year to spawn and that their numbers seem to be dwindling in many places around the world.

Dr.’s Michelle Schärer and Michael Nemeth of the University of Puerto Rico are working with the Caribbean Ocean Conservation and studying various grouper species on the Bajo e Sico Seamount off Puerto Rico — the only place in the U.S. Caribbean where Nassau grouper still aggregate to spawn.

But why bother to study and preserve something that may well already be gone? Sure, fishermen have other fish to catch, and tourists will still have clownfish (‘Nemo’) to goggle at, but the sign of an apex predator disappearing from an ecosystem is never a good one, and moreover, fishermen don’t make the kind of money they do off parrotfish like they do grouper.

Schärer and Nemeth are using acoustic transmitters and hydrophones (underwater microphones) to pinpoint exactly where and when spawning is occurring. What they’ve concluded is that by finding out exactly where and when the fish will be schooling, they can directly protect the reef from fishing pressure, and hopefully allow the species to regenerate. That way, tourists can still visit the beautiful reefs in full spirit, while fishermen can go back to making the money they deserve.

Learn more on The Pew Charitable Trusts — OB

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