The sustainability of coastal marine ecosystems is of global concern given a variety of anthropogenic disturbances, including exploitative fishing practices, destructive coastal development, alterations to hydrological and nutrient regimes, and climate change. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are areas where fishing is not allowed, and they are valuable conservation tools. These closed areas can help restore and conserve important fish species and protect the environment from damage.
In Everglades National Park a marine protected area called the Crocodile Sanctuary has been completely closed to public access since 1980, over 30 years! Our goal is to figure out how the absence of humans has benefited the fish communities in this area. We are using Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems (BRUVS) to monitor fish populations inside and outside the Crocodile Sanctuary. These video systems allow us to watch what goes on underwater without harming fish or the environment.
So far we have found that there are a lot more baby sharks living in the MPA than outside, suggesting that the lack of human access may have allowed this MPA to become a sanctuary for top predators. Information about fish communities within MPAs is really important for management, and our research will help Everglades National Park make decisions about using MPAs as management tools in the future.
Find more information on this program on the Rehage Lab website.