Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Reports

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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 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 Florida reef tract was designed through a joint cooperative effort by scientists at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, NOAA-Southeast Fisheries Science Center and Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center (NSUOC). This report is a synoptic compilation of the two-year data collection from all partner agencies, and includes data from the 234 and 354 sites or Primary Sampling Units (PSUs) sampled in 2012 and 2013, respectively. The majority of the field work was accomplished through funding granted to NSUOC. Significant amounts of data were also collected by multiple partner agencies that were able to dedicate their time and resources to the project. In 2012 funding for the first year of data collection was awarded by Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to NSUOC on July 1st, 2012. Funding for a second year of sampling was awarded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) to NSUOC through the National Coral Reef Institute Cooperative Agreement on June 18, 2013. Field sampling for each year began in May and ran through October. Funding for a third year of data collection (2014) and a final report was awarded by NOAA CRCP to NSUOC.

Over the course of the two-year study period for this interim report, >170,000 individual fish of 266 species were recorded. Total mean density for all sites and strata combined for both years was 162 fishes/SSU. For 2012, mean density was 151 fishes/SSU; in 2013 it was 168 fishes/SSU. However, in general, 2012 counts were higher at most sites. When low vs. high slope strata were compared, the high slope strata showed higher fish density. Likewise, species richness was higher at most sites in 2012 than 2013 and was also significantly higher for both years on sites with high slope. 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, it is 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 will provide a complete regional baseline fishery-independent assessment.

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Project 3B

Publication Title

Coral Reef Conservation Program