Sunday, February 19, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
Annie Opel, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
The Caribbean has seen a dramatic coral loss over the last 30 years causing a decrease in reef three-dimensional complexity as well as corresponding drops in fish abundance and diversity. Over 4,000 fish species depend on coral reefs for nurseries as well as for spawning, feeding, and mating grounds. Coral loss affects fisheries, tourism, and ecosystem function; coral restoration efforts aim to revive reef ecosystems. Acropora cervicornis is one of the main Caribbean reef building species that has been devastated by hurricanes, coral bleaching, disease, algal competition, and anthropogenic factors, and is a major focus of restoration projects. Restoration projects involve collecting coral fragments, growing them in underwater nurseries, and then outplanting them back onto the reef. However, there has been very little research on how outplants affect fish assemblages on reefs. The purpose of this study is to better understand fish colonization and recruitment dynamics at outplant sites. We examined these processes by performing surveys of fish, benthic diversity, and three-dimensional reef complexity on eight experimental and eight control plots (2m x 2m each) with and without outplants, respectively. Experimental plots were outplanted on March 17 and June 6, 2016 off the north shore of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. Fish colonized the experimental plots within the first week and were more abundant in the experimental plots compared to control plots through the entire study. Juvenile fish were more abundant in the experimental plots after outplanting while numbers of adult fish were similar between treatments. These results demonstrate that outplanted corals attract fish within a week and that coral restoration is having an impact on fish populations.