Building sustainable fisheries in Florida's coral reef ecosystem: Positive signs in the dry tortugas

Jerald S. Ault, Steven G. Smith, James A. Bohnsack, Jiangang Luo, Douglas E. Harper, David B. McClellan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


In a series of synoptic research cruises including 4000 research dives, we surveyed reef-fish populations and habitats before and 3 yrs after 2001 implementation of no-take marine reserves covering approximately 566 km 2 in the Dry Tortugas, Florida. Species richness and composition of 267 fishes remained stable between 1999-2000 and 2004 within the overall survey domain. Reef-fish biodiversity was highest in the more rugose habitats. Domain-wide abundances of several exploited and nonexploited species increased; no declines were detected. In the Tortugas Bank reserve, we found significantly greater abundances and shifts in length composition toward a higher proportion of exploited-phase animals in 2004 than in 1999-2000 for some species. Consistent with marine reserve theory, we detected no declines in exploited species in the reserve, whereas we detected both increases and declines in nontarget species, but the increases in exploited populations may also have been influenced by factors other than protected status. Although the recovery process is still in an early stage, our results after 3 yrs are encouraging and suggest that no-take marine reserves, in conjunction with traditional management, can help build sustainable fisheries while protecting the Florida Keys coral-reef ecosystem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)633-654
Number of pages22
JournalBulletin of Marine Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


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