WOD2014: Fish Nursery Areas

This Sunday is World Oceans Day; a day that commemorates the beauty and importance of our oceans which are so integral to our survival. As can be expected for a tropical archipelago, the Galapagos Islands have an especially intimate relationship with the seas. In the run-up to World Oceans Day we shall be posting a series of daily blog articles on the marine wildlife and associated conservation projects in Galapagos. Today’s post focuses on the Fish Nursery Areas Project.

WOD9

It goes without saying that ecosystems are mind-bogglingly complex. In the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago which has been at the centre of decades of research, we have only scratched the surface of what goes on under the waves. Such knowledge is crucial if the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) is to effectively manage the Marine Reserve (GMR), a UNESCO World Heritage site in its own right, as well as the daily interactions that take place between humans and the sea.

There are numerous fish species found within the GMR that play key ecological and socio-economic roles in Galapagos. Some species are the focus of tourism whilst others are targeted by the artisanal fishing community. Despite this, there are currently no management plans in place for specific fish species in the GMR. One reason for this is that many of them have complex, multi-stage life-cycles. In order to provide the best possible protection for a species, each stage of their life-cycle needs to be understood and taken into account.

The Fish Nursery Areas Project focuses on the early life stages of one particular species, the Bacalao (Mycteroperca olfax), which is a key catch for local fisherman. Thanks to earlier research conducted by the Charles Darwin Foundation on growth, reproduction and feeding rates of the Bacalao, we know more about this species than many, but one big gap in the data is where it spends its early stages.

Worldwide, coastal ecosystems like mangroves, sea-grass beds or shallow embayments are frequently used by several commercially important fish species during their juvenile stages, later migrating to other habitats during the adult stage. If the same is true with species in Galapagos, it is imperative that the locations of these fish nursery areas are discovered and protected.

Galapagos does not have any sea-grass beds, but it does have a limited amount of mangrove forest. These fragmented areas are predicted to be of utmost importance to the marine ecosystem and may serve as a critical nursery habitat for Bacalao and other target species.

This study therefore plans to fill this information gap and GCT hopes to provide financial support to this project soon to get it off the ground. Eventually, the project should result in the creation of a map of the Bacalao nursery grounds which can subsequently be used by the GNPD to create no-catch areas for fish population regeneration.

Such research demonstrates that, as humankind continues to place greater stress on the oceans, we can also act to prevent further damage and degradation to the planet. This project is only one of the many efforts that are taking place throughout Galapagos and the world to protect the seas that we depend upon. If you would like to contribute to our conservation efforts in Galapagos, visit our website.

by Jose Hong

edited by Pete Haskell