Guy Harvey Magazine

WIN-SPR 2018

Guy Harvey Magazine is focused on fishing, boating, scuba diving, and marine conservation. Portfolios from the world's best fishing photographers, articles on gear, travel, tournaments, apparel, lifestyle, seafood recipes, sustainable fisheries.

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32 | www.GuyHarveyMagazine.com A storm cell passes over Warderick Wells where the ECLSP headquarters are located. This is a single frame from a timelapse that is the final shot of the upcoming short film about the ECLSP. Photo by Colin Ruggiero Over the past several decades, we have seen fewer and fewer big fish, with some species nearly absent from reefs, and a rapidly accelerating decline in the amount of coral on reefs. While we may expect this in areas that have been built up over this time, even less developed places like The Bahamas have seen declines in many places, but there are a few places that remind us of what coral reefs used to be like. Protected by the Bahamas National Trust since 1959, the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP) provides a look back at how coral reefs once were and a glimmer of hope for the future. Seen from the surface, the waters of the park are enchanting, with more shades of blue than Crayola offers. The real magic, however, is under the water where vibrant reefs teem with life. Over 50 years of protection as a marine park, with the last 31 as a fully protected area where fishing and other extractive activities is banned, has allowed marine life to flourish. A recent scientific expedition to monitor the state of coral reefs, fish and other marine life in the ECLSP has shown that reefs there are among the healthiest in The Bahamas. Because the entire area is a sanctuary for fish, populations of many species targeted by fishers elsewhere thrive in the park. Species considered to be endangered, like the Nassau grouper, are not only common in the park, but the abundance of resident large adult Nassau grouper there is greater there than elsewhere in The Bahamas and just about anywhere else in the Caribbean. In fact, Nassau grouper from the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park may account for approximately 25% of spawning fish in the Exuma Sound region and contribute to fished stocks in other areas. Other species like snapper, grunts and parrotfish also abound on reefs within the park. Healthy populations of reef fish have implications that ripple throughout the food chain. The abundance of reef fish in the park supports a healthy resident population of Caribbean reef sharks and attracts widely ranging species like great hammerheads. Lower down on the food chain, the high biomass of grazing herbivores like stoplight parrotfish and queen parrotfish reduce the amount of seaweed on reefs. This grazing is critical for the growth and survival of corals. Because the protection afforded by the park can't reduce high sea temperatures, the spread of disease, and other regional or global issues facing corals, the corals within the park face many of the same threats of unprotected areas, and data collected since the 1990s show a significant decline over at least the past 20 years. But, by maintaining health populations of grazing parrotfish, reefs in the park have less seaweed than many other areas, giving young corals a chance to survive and help the reef recover from mass die-offs experienced by reefs throughout the Caribbean. In addition, the abundance of predatory fish like snapper and grouper in the park may the delicate balance of protection BY CRAIG DAHLGREN Anyone who has spent a lot of time on the water or underwater will tell stories of how things used to be and how things have changed. Nowhere has this change occurred more than on our coral reefs.

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