Effects of habitat characteristics and sedimentation on performance of marine reserves in St. Lucia

J.P. Hawkins, C.M. Roberts, C. Dytham, C. Schelten, M.M. Nugues

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This study examines factors affecting the rate and extent of biomass build-up among commercially important groupers, snappers, grunts, parrotfish and surgeonfish in a network of four marine reserves in southwest St. Lucia, Caribbean. Reserves constituted 35% of the total reef area originally available for fishing. Protection was instigated in 1995 after a baseline survey with annual or biennial censuses performed until 2002. Each survey consisted of 114 fifteen minute fish counts in reserves and 83 in fishing grounds, at depths of 5 m and 15 m in a 10 m diameter counting area. Estimates of number and size (cm) of target species were used to calculate fish family biomass. Data were analysed using three-way ANOVA in a before-after-control-impact pairs (BACIP) design. All families increased significantly in biomass over time at nearly all sites. Increases were greater in reserves than fishing grounds, except for grunts, and responses were strongest in parrotfish and surgeonfish. The combined biomass of families more than quadrupled in reserves and tripled in fishing grounds between 1995 and 2002. During this period coral cover declined by 46% in reserves and 35% in fishing grounds. Multiple regression showed that neither habitat characteristics nor habitat deterioration significantly affected rates of biomass build-up. The key factor was protection from fishing, which explained 44% of the variance in biomass growth. A further 28% of the variance was explained by sedimentation, a process known to stress reef invertebrates, significantly reducing the rate of biomass build-up. St. Lucia’s reserves succeeded in producing significant gains to fish stocks despite coral cover and structural complexity falling steeply over the period of the study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)487-499
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2006


  • Coral reef
  • Fishing
  • Groupers
  • Marine protected area
  • Parrotfish

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