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December 07, 2011

Cabo Pulmo: Marine Protected Area Success Story.

Research shows Marine Protected Area (MPA) worked in Cabo Pulmo, now fish are flourishing.
Image provided by Octavio Aburto-Oropeza. Cabo Pulmo Marine Reserve, Baja California Sur.

Research Shows Fish are Flourishing in Marine Reserve.

By Deborah Sullivan Brennan for the North County Times.

Fish are flourishing in a Mexican marine reserve, offering a glimpse of what similar sanctuaries could do off the coast of California, says a scientist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Octavio Aburto Oropeza, a postdoctoral researcher with the institution, studied Cabo Pulmo National Park, a 27-square-mile reserve in the southern end of the Gulf of California, where a "no-take" policy on fishing has allowed groupers, sharks and other top predators to grow bigger and more plentiful.

Oropeza published those findings in the online science journal PLoS One, and will discuss the study Jan. 9 as part of Birch Aquarium's winter lecture series.

The study found that the area's biomass ---- the overall mass of marine life ---- increased by 463 percent between 1999 and 2009. The biomass of top predators, such as large groupers, bull sharks, tiger sharks, and black-tipped and white-tipped reef sharks, grew by 1,067 percent.

"That means that the area has recovered, including the large marine predators," Oropeza said.

Reef areas within the reserve also developed a richer diversity of species during the study period, whereas reefs elsewhere in the gulf remained the same or declined.

The reserve's success depended on the support of the local community, where residents helped enforce fishing restrictions, Oropeza said. Although he said the local economy struggled at first under fishing restrictions, it has rebounded with small-scale tourism and now supports multiple dive shops.

"It's a very good example of how many benefits can be produced by coastal communities once you pick an area and leave it to that point that the recovery ... produces other benefits," he said.

Another beneficiary of the reserve is the Gulf grouper, a species that has been overfished throughout the region.

"It's classified as one of the most endangered species worldwide," Oropeza said.

Outside the reserve, the average size of the fish is 23 to 28 inches, he said, because anglers catch them before they reach sexual maturity. Within Cabo Pulmo, he said, the groupers grow about twice that size.

"This is one of the most important stories about Cabo Pulmo," Oropeza said. "The population of that species is recovering. And these individuals are reaching sizes that they can reproduce and replenish their populations."

He said the study's next phase will look at whether the thriving fish populations within Cabo Pulmo are spilling over into unprotected areas, revitalizing fisheries outside the reserve.

That question may lend insight into the function of marine protected areas created last year in California.

The preserves, created by the California Fish and Game Commission, limit fishing and other activities on about 16.5 percent of Southern California's offshore habitat, and aim to restore marine life throughout the region. The Southern California reserves, delayed by legal challenges and regulatory setbacks, are set to open Jan. 1.

"This is very important to show that if we create bigger areas, and maintain or protect them for all these years, the benefits will be huge," Oropeza said of the Cabo Pulmo research. "You can apply these same theories to other parts of the world, including the network of marine reserves that has been implemented in California."

For view original article please click here. 

Join us January 28th, 2012 at the Tijuana Estuary for a free lecture by Octavio Aburto talking about his research in Cabo Pulmo, and introducing you to our new MPAs here in San Diego. More information on the event is yet to come.