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Projects - Fish Population Survey

Eight years of protection and active management within the Statia National Marine Park appear to be having beneficial effects, at least for the fish population.

The Marine Park was opened in 1997 and is comprised of a general use area, which runs from the high water line to the 30m (100ft) depth contour, and two “no-take” reserves at the northern and southern ends of the Statia. To assess the impact of the management strategies implemented in the Marine Park, a study was conducted in 2004 to collect data regarding the fish population; this was a more extensive repeat of a survey performed in 1992 which gathered baseline information about the fish population before the area was given protected status. Interviews with local fishermen and dive operators were also performed in 2004 to determine any changes in fishing practices since the Marine Park was designated, and also to gauge their opinion on the success of the Marine Park with respect to fish catch and the condition of the marine environment. Data was analysed and report completed in 2006 with a project funded by the Caribbean Environmental Programme of UNEP.

Visual fish surveys were conducted by staff and interns at 16 dive sites within the Marine Park, in both the general use area and the two reserves. The abundance and diversity of fish species was recorded at each site, and the lengths of fish were estimated to calculate the overall density of fish present. The results from the 2004 survey were very encouraging; the number of fish species recorded increased dramatically since the initial survey in 1992. On average 20 – 30 species were seen at each site in 2004, compared to less than ten at the same sites in 1992; the site with the greatest number of species was Blair’s Reef, where 35 species were recorded. The number of species currently present at each site is, on average, 4.9 times greater than that reported for the same site in 1992. When different areas within the Marine Park were compared, the Southern Reserve was found to have the highest overall diversity; over 50 different species of fish were observed within its boundaries in 2004.

Fish density of several fish families, namely Grouper, Wrasse and Jack, was found to be greater within the protected reserves than in the unprotected regions of the Marine Park, indicating that they are benefiting from the regulations that prohibit fishing in these areas. These results should be reflected by a “knock-on” effect being witnessed in neighbouring regions of the Marine Park in the future, which will be of benefit to the local fisheries.

The results of the fisherman surveys were quite varied. When asked to comment on changes to the coral reef environment and the fish populations over the past ten years, half of the fishermen indicated that they saw no changes, while the others replied that there were clear improvements, citing more fish and less anchor damage. These positive responses were recorded in spite of fishermen having to alter their fishing practices to comply with Marine Park regulations.

One of the objectives of the Marine Park is to sustain the fish populations and to create a spill-over effect from the marine reserves into the general use areas. The results of this survey show that this is taking place. Regular evaluation of the management strategies of the Marine Park will involve additional fisheries surveys every three years; these studies will continue.


Park staff preparing a survey dive