Reef fishes are important biologic, ecologic, and economic resources of the marine ecosystem which must be managed for sustainability. Until recently, there was no long-term monitoring program in place to assess the condition of reef fish resources of the northern Florida Reef Tract (FRT) (northern Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Martin counties). An assessment/monitoring plan for the northern portion of the Florida reef tract was designed through a joint cooperative effort by scientists at the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) and Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center (NSUOC). This report is a synoptic compilation of a three-year data collection from all partner agencies, and includes data from the 232, 324, and 308 sites or Primary Sampling Units (PSUs) sampled in 2012, 2013, and 2014, respectively. The majority of the field work was accomplished through funding provided to NSUOC by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP), with supplementary funding provided by FDEP-CRCP. Significant amounts of data were also collected by multiple Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI) partner agencies that were able to dedicate their time and resources to the project. Field sampling for each year began in May and ran through October.
During the three-year study period, >560,000 individual fish of 289 species were recorded. Total mean density for all sites and strata combined for all three years was 170 fishes/SSU (Second-Stage Sample Unit = SSU or site, 177 m2). For 2012, mean density was 151 fishes/SSU; in 2013 it was 168 fishes/SSU; and in 2014 it was 186 fishes/SSU. When low vs. high slope strata were compared, the high slope strata showed higher fish density. Multivariate analyses showed patterns in the reef fish communities associated with benthic habitats. Water depth was a primary determinant of fish distribution with differences in assemblages between shallow and deep sites. Also most of the surveys in the southern regions (Broward-Miami, Deerfield, and South Palm Beach) clustered tightly together indicating high similarity between communities in the deep habitats within these regions. Conversely, fish communities in North Palm Beach and Martin were much more variable and mostly separated in disparate areas of the plot. This suggests that the Martin and North Palm Beach fish communities are distinctly different from the southern regions.
The dataset, in its entirety, provides the opportunity for further mining to examine individual species and reef fish assemblage correlations with a host of abiotic and biotic variables. Thus, from both management and ecological-sciences perspectives, these data are a valuable resource. It is already clear there are significant differences in the geographic distribution of reef fishes at local and regional scales. There are interacting strata and latitudinal differences in total reef fish abundance, species distribution, sizes, and assemblage structure. The combination of data from all three years provides a complete regional baseline fishery-independent assessment.
2012-2014 Summary Report
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Conservation Program
Kilfoyle, K., Walker, B.K., Fisco, D.P., Smith, S.G., and R.E. Spieler. 2015. Southeast Florida Coral Reef Fishery-Independent Baseline Assessment – 2012-2014 Summary Report. Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 129 pp.