Linking Human Impacts to Recent Declines in Coral Reef Fish Communities in the Bay Islands
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The Bay Islands of Honduras are home to hundreds of species of fishes, and vast areas of coral reefs, seagrass, and mangroves. While protection for the area was nationally established in 2003 and in 2010; numerous anthropogenic impacts persist (e.g., fishing, coastal development, land-based pollution, and tourism) and a decline of -44 to -56% of reef fish biomass was reported by the Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI) in 2020. Underwater visual surveys on SCUBA (n = 4,101) were used to assess reef fish biomass and community composition in shallow coral reefs (0 – 30 m), across 83 sites in the Bay Islands from 2006 to 2021. Anthropogenic impact (fisheries, coastal development, changing population and demographic, land-based pollution, tourism, and climate change) were assessed. Both the rates of declines in reef fish biomass and intensity of anthropogenic impacts differed across the four subregions of Cayos Cochinos, Guanaja, Roatan, and Utila. Our results highlight declines in total and herbivorous reef fish biomass, as well as low quantities of commercially valuable reef fish (e.g., snappers and groupers). Fish assemblages in the Bay Islands are dominated by herbivorous fishes, and contributions from targeted fish species is very low (<5%). To mitigate further losses of reef fish biomass and address ongoing human impacts, four recommendations are provided including: i) begin government-led enforcement; ii) implement size and catch restrictions and record-keeping; iii) reduce sedimentation and land-based pollution; and iv) increase capacity for local organizations. Amplified initiatives to reduce human impacts that are degrading coral reef fish communities are integral to allow the recovery of fish populations and to sustain communities in the Bay Islands for years to come. Keywords: biomass decline, marine management, community structure, Meso-American reef, reef fishes, Western Caribbean
Krysiak, F. 2021. Linking human impacts to recent declines in coral reef fish communities in the Bay Islands. [graduate project]. Halifax, NS: Dalhousie University.