Parrotfish Conservation Status & Community Awareness in Colombian Protected Coral Reefs
Herbivores play a key role in coral reef ecosystems, as they control the overgrowth of algae over corals. The process of herbivory is crucial for the health of reefs, especially in ecosystems that are suffering the effects of pollution and overfishing. This project aimed to evaluate the conservation status of parrotfish, a family of herbivorous fish. The project also had a social component directed at increasing the awareness of importance of parrotfish in local communities living inside the Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo marine protected area.
Underwater surveys showed parrotfish were the dominant fish species in the reefs, yet there was clear evidence of exploitation of large adults by selective fishing. Surprisingly, we found that parrotfish are sold to tourists as ‘red snapper’, to fulfil a high seafood demand, as commercially valuable fish are now scarce. We developed an intense awareness raising campaign that included: workshops with fishermen, informal talks at schools, theatrical plays, painting competitions, talks in tourist boats, parrotfish identification guides and workshops, sport events, concerts, and launched “the parrotfish song” performed by popular artist Charles King. Following these activities, the community has started to recognise the vital ecological role of parrotfish in coral reef, and are suggesting a redrafting of fishing legislation by the environmental authorities, in order to recognise and incorporate their traditional fishing rights.
Lobbying for the protection of parrotfish and inclusion of local communities in decision-making will take time, but this project represents the crucial first steps towards sustainable practice and cooperative alliances in the Colombian Caribbean.
This research would not have been possible without the support of the Conservation Leadership Programme, IDEAWILD Project AWARE Foundation, the Caribbean Unit of Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia and all the staff of Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo national park. We acknowledge the wide participation and interest of local communities of Isla Grande, Múcura & Islote in the project.
Check out the blog of the project here:
Glovers Reef Stingray Ecology Project
The project set out to improve our understanding of southern stingray ecology – a species listed on the IUCN red list as “data deficient”. Stingrays, like sharks are slow growing, long-lived and hence extremely vulnerable to overfishing. The rays cousins the skates offer an unfortunate lesson in the deleterious effects of overfishing, with the ‘common’ skate, now being anything but common throughout its range.
Our study generated new knowledge on the behaviour and movement of stingrays: specifically their use of coral patch habitats for refuge and orientation; we calculated the total stingray population size and density for the atoll (the first and only population estimate for southern stingrays); and produced the first understanding of stingray dietary niche (what they feed on and how variable it is) compared to nurse and reef sharks inhabiting the same system.
This study greatly enhanced our understanding of stingrays, allowing for more informed and accurate conservation management of the species in areas where they are targeted by fishing. Crucially it also allows us to more accurately model the effects of coral reef decline on mesopredators, as well as the direct effects of their removal on communities in shallow coral reef ecosystems.
See our three publications from this project here.