Assessing coral reef fish population and community changes in response to marine reserves in the dry tortugas, Florida, USA

Jerald S. Ault, Steven G. Smith, James A. Bohnsack, Jiangang Luo, Natalia Zurcher, David B. McClellan, Tracy A. Ziegler, David E. Hallac, Matt Patterson, Michael W. Feeley, Benjamin I. Ruttenberg, John Hunt, Dan Kimball, Billy Causey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The efficacy of no-take marine reserves (NTMRs) to enhance and sustain regional coral reef fisheries was assessed in Dry Tortugas, Florida, through 9 annual fishery-independent research surveys spanning 2 years before and 10 years after NTMR implementation. A probabilistic sampling design produced precise estimates of population metrics of more than 250 exploited and non-target reef fishes. During the survey period more than 8100 research dives utilizing SCUBA Nitrox were optimally allocated using stratified random sampling. The survey domain covered 326km2, comprised of eight reef habitats in four management areas that offered different levels of resource protection: the Tortugas North Ecological Reserve (a NTMR), Dry Tortugas National Park (recreational angling only), Dry Tortugas National Park Research Natural Area (a NTMR), and southern Tortugas Bank (open to all types of fishing). Surveys detected significant changes in population occupancy, density, and abundance within management zones for a suite of exploited and non-target species. Increases in size, adult abundance, and occupancy rates were detected for many principal exploited species in protected areas, which harbored a disproportionately greater number of adult spawning fishes. In contrast, density and occupancy rates for aquaria and non-target reef fishes fluctuated above and below baseline levels in each management zone. Observed decreases in density of exploited species below baseline levels only occurred at the Tortugas Bank area open to all fishing. Our findings indicate that these NTMRs, in conjunction with traditional fishery management control strategies, are helping to build sustainable fisheries while protecting the fundamental ecological dynamics of the Florida Keys coral-reef ecosystem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-37
Number of pages10
JournalFisheries Research
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • Coral reefs
  • Florida Keys
  • Lutjanus analis
  • Marine reserves
  • Mycteroperca bonaci
  • Sustainable fisheries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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