The Effect Of Coral Outplant Sites On Local Fish Communities
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 spawning, feeding and mating grounds, effecting fisheries, tourism and ecosystem function. 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. Globalcoral restoration efforts aim to revive reef ecosystems and A. cervicnornis is a main focus of these projects. Restoration projects include collecting corals and growing them in underwater nurseries to then be outplanted back onto the reef. However, there has been very little research on how outplanting affects fish assemblages on reefs.
The purpose of my research is to better understand fish colonization and recruitment dynamics at outplant sites. We examined these processes by performing fish, benthic diversity and three-dimensional reef complexity surveys on experimental plots (with outplants) and on control plots (without outplants) 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. Overall, juvenile fish were more abundant in the experimental plots after outplanting while numbers of adult fish were similar between treatments. These results inform coral restoration efforts, showing that outplanted corals attract juvenile fish within a few days and that coral restoration is having an impact on fish populations.