Enforcement of strict no-take fishing regs seen as key to recovery
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Conservation efforts have paid big dividends for residents of a small coastal town in Baja, where local no-take fishing regulations have helped sea life make a dramatic recovery in the last 10 years.
Protection of spawning areas for large predators are one of the keys to the recovery, but simple enforcement of the fishing restrictions may be the most important step, according to researchers who studied marine life near Cabo Pulma for 10 years..
The results of the study, published recently in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE journal, show that the total biomass in a marine national park near Cabo Pulma increased by 460 percent between 1999 and 2009. The area was previously depleted from over-fishing.
In 1995, the park was established and locals strictly enforce the no-take restrictions. The Cabo Pulma success story can serve as a model for other locally based conservation efforts, said Exequiel Ezcurra, director of the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States.
“I participated, back in the 1990s, in the studies for the declaration of the marine park. Frankly, we decided to go ahead because the community was so determined but the place at that time was not in good environmental health,” Ezcurra said. “If you visit the place now, you cannot believe the change that has taken place. And all of it has occurred thanks to the determination of a community of coastal villagers that decided to take care of their place and to be at the helm of their own destiny.”
The authors of the research paper said they were startled by how fast a depleted area can recover back to levels comparable to remote and pristine areas that have never been fished by humans.
“We could have never dreamt of such an extraordinary recovery of marine life at Cabo Pulmo,” National Geographic xxplorer-in-residence Enric Sala said in a press release issued by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “”In 1999 there were only medium-sized fishes, but ten years later it’s full of large parrotfish, groupers, snappers and even sharks.”
“The study’s results are surprising in several ways,” said Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study. “A biomass increase of 463 percent in a reserve as large as Cabo Pulmo (71 square kilometers) represents tons of new fish produced every year. No other marine reserve in the world has shown such a fish recovery.”
Strictly enforced marine reserves have been proven to help reduce local poverty and increase economic benefits, the researchers say. Cabo Pulmo’s marine life recovery has spawned eco-tourism businesses, including coral reef diving and kayaking, making it a model for areas depleted by fishing in the Gulf of California and elsewhere.
“The reefs are full of hard corals and sea fans, creating an amazing habitat for lobsters, octopuses, rays and small fish,” said Brad Erisman, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the article. “During some seasons, thousands of mobula rays congregate inside the park and swim above the reef in a magnificent way.”
The scientists have been combining efforts to monitor the Gulf of California’s rocky reefs every year for more than a decade, sampling more than 30 islands and peninsula locations along Baja California, stretching from Puerto Refugio on the northern tip of Angel de la Guarda to Cabo San Lucas and Cabo Pulmo south of the Bahia de La Paz.
In the ten years studied, the researchers found that Cabo Pulmo’s fish species richness blossomed into a biodiversity “hot spot.” Animals such as tiger sharks, bull sharks and black tip reef sharks increased significantly. Scientists continue to find evidence that such top predators keep coral reefs healthy. Other large fish at Cabo Pulmo include gulf groupers, dog snappers and leopard groupers.
“Few policymakers around the world are aware that fish size and abundance can increase inside marine reserves to extraordinary levels within a decade after protection is established; fewer still know that these increases often translate into economic benefits for coastal communities” said Aburto-Oropeza. “Therefore, showing what’s happened in Cabo Pulmo will contribute to ongoing conservation efforts in the marine environment and recovery of local coastal economies.”
Filed under: biodiversity, coral reefs, Environment, Summit County news Tagged: | Baja California, biodiversity, Cabo Pulma, Cabo Pulma national park, Cabo San Lucas, Coral reef, Enric Sala, marine reserves, Scripps Institution of Oceanography