Off the Ningaloo coast of North West Western Australia, Spangled Emperor Lethrinus nebulosus are among the most highly targeted recreational fish species. The Ningaloo Reef Marine Park comprises an area of 4,566 km2 of which 34% is protected from fishing by 18 no-take sanctuary zones ranging in size from 0.08-44.8 km2. To better understand Spangled Emperor movements and the adequacy of sanctuary zones within the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park for this species, 84 Spangled Emperor of a broad spectrum of maturity and sex were tagged using internal acoustic tags in a range of lagoon and reef slope habitats both inside and adjacent to the Mangrove Bay Sanctuary zone. Kernel Utilisation Distribution (KUD) was calculated for 39 resident individuals that were detected for more than 30 days. There was no relationship with fish size and movement or site fidelity. Average home range (95% KUD) for residents was 8.5±0.5 km2 compared to average sanctuary zone size of 30 km2. Calculated home range was stable over time resulting in resident animals tagged inside the sanctuary zone spending ?80% of time within the sanctuary boundaries. The number of fish remaining within the array of receivers declined steadily over time and after one year more than 60% of tagged fish had moved outside the sanctuary zone and also beyond the 28 km2 array of receivers. Long term monitoring identified the importance of shifting home range and was essential for understanding overall residency within protected areas and also for identifying spawning related movements. This study indicates that despite exhibiting stable and small home ranges over periods of one to two years, more than half the population of spangled emperor move at scales greater than average sanctuary size within the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park.
Monitoring changes in coral cover and composition through space and time can provide insights to reef health and assist the focus of management and conservation efforts. We used a meta-analytical approach to assess coral cover data across latitudes 10-35°S along the west Australian coast, including 25 years of data from the Ningaloo region. Current estimates of coral cover ranged between 3 and 44% in coral habitats. Coral communities in the northern regions were dominated by corals from the families Acroporidae and Poritidae, which became less common at higher latitudes. At Ningaloo Reef coral cover has remained relatively stable through time (?28%), although north-eastern and southern areas have experienced significant declines in overall cover. These declines are likely related to periodic disturbances such as cyclones and thermal anomalies, which were particularly noticeable around 1998/1999 and 2010/2011. Linear mixed effects models (LME) suggest latitude explains 10% of the deviance in coral cover through time at Ningaloo. Acroporidae has decreased in abundance relative to other common families at Ningaloo in the south, which might be related to persistence of more thermally and mechanically tolerant families. We identify regions where quantitative time-series data on coral cover and composition are lacking, particularly in north-western Australia. Standardising routine monitoring methods used by management and research agencies at these, and other locations, would allow a more robust assessment of coral condition and a better basis for conservation of coral reefs.
Globally, coral bleaching has been responsible for a significant decline in both coral cover and diversity over the past two decades. During the summer of 2010-11, anomalous large-scale ocean warming induced unprecedented levels of coral bleaching accompanied by substantial storminess across more than 12° of latitude and 1200 kilometers of coastline in Western Australia (WA).
Habitat degradation and fishing are major drivers of temporal and spatial changes in fish communities. The independent effects of these drivers are well documented, but the relative importance and interaction between fishing and habitat shifts is poorly understood, particularly in complex systems such as coral reefs. To assess the combined and relative effects of fishing and habitat we examined the composition of fish communities on patch reefs across a gradient of high to low structural complexity in fished and unfished areas of the Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia. Biomass and species richness of fish were positively correlated with structural complexity of reefs and negatively related to macroalgal cover. Total abundance of fish was also positively related to structural complexity, however this relationship was stronger on fished reefs than those where fishing is prohibited. The interaction between habitat condition and fishing pressure is primarily due to the high abundance of small bodied planktivorous fish on fished reefs. However, the influence of management zones on the abundance and biomass of predators and target species is small, implying spatial differences in fishing pressure are low and unlikely to be driving this interaction. Our results emphasise the importance of habitat in structuring reef fish communities on coral reefs especially when gradients in fishing pressure are low. The influence of fishing effort on this relationship may however become more important as fishing pressure increases.
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