Recovery of fish assemblages from ship groundings on coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Abstract:At three areas in the FKNMS where ships ran aground between 1984 and 1989, microtopographic complexity was eliminated in the areas of impact as octocorallians and corals were killed, toppled, and smashed. Remediation was attempted: hard and soft corals were transplanted to part of one impact area shortly after the accident, debris was removed from part of another, and the substrate was repaired with cast concrete forms at the third area. Few fishes are found immediately after such impacts, but fishes should return to impacted sites along with other life, recovering to resemble either assemblages characteristic of complex reefs, or assemblages of simpler hard ground habitat. During 1995 and 1996, fishes were surveyed at five impact sites dispersed among the three impact areas, three spur-and-groove sites, four natural hard ground sites, and a hard ground site where ships had grounded 100 yrs ago. Patterns of species composition were explored through cluster analysis; diversities and overall abundances of fishes were compared among sites, with subsequent comparisons of paired remediated and unremediated sites. Irrespective of initial structural complexity of a grounding site, fish assemblages converged to low diversity, low abundance assemblages with species composition typical of natural hard ground. A preponderance of opportunistic wrasses that eat post-larval invertebrates, combined with a lack of large parrotfishes, may prevent recovery of such structurally impoverished sites to a well-developed spur-and-groove formation by hindering recolonization by corals. The remediation efforts seemed ineffective, except that replacing major topographic features may enhance fish species diversity.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: September 1, 2001
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