Date of Award

Spring 6-23-2016

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Marine Biology

Advisor

Robert Steneck

Second Committee Member

Teresa Johnson

Third Committee Member

Christine Beitl

Additional Committee Members

Lee Karp-Boss

Douglas Rasher

Abstract

Antigua’s coral reefs are among the most degraded in the Caribbean, having low coral cover, few herbivores and abundant harmful macroalgae. Low fish biomass suggests that overfishing may have contributed to this degradation and lack of recovery to a coral dominated state. Marine resource management has failed to stem the degradation of these marine ecosystems. Community-Based Marine Reserves (CBMR), which delegate full responsibility to the stakeholders, are expected to reverse degradation by increasing herbivore abundance, reducing macroalgae and increasing juvenile coral abundance, which, with time, should increase coral cover. This in turn can be beneficial to fishermen and other stakeholders through spillover effects of adult fish to adjacent fishing areas, and through enhancement of tourism, which is a significant income generator in Antigua and Barbuda. However, CBMRs, which require strong stakeholder buy-in to be effective marine management systems, have had very little success in the Caribbean region.

As part of this study, a demonstration CBMR was created on the southern end of Antigua. This is the first no-take marine reserve in the study area. The objective of the reserve was to allow the fishing community to see the effects, and gain a better understanding of the functioning, of a healthy coral reef ecosystem.

In 2014, prior to the establishment of the demonstration CBMR, I conducted 10 interviews with fishermen to explore local perceptions of marine resource problems and solutions. In 2015, I conducted 10 additional interviews to explore fishermen’s perspectives on the demonstration CBMR and to explore the possibility of CBMR being a suitable alternative to existing management systems in Antigua and Barbuda. I found that members of the fishing community were aware of the degradation of the marine resources and were willing to make changes to their practices. Fishermen recognized the positive effects a reserve could provide through fishing and tourism. However, the highly dispersed nature of the fishermen group is likely to provide difficulties for CBMR establishment. Further, the issue of distrust between stakeholders and the governmental institutions responsible for management is problematic for long-term success.

I used Atlantic Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment to survey the effect of the demonstration CBMR on the coral reef ecosystem. In particular, I focused on species targeted by the fishing community, parrotfish (the dominant herbivores on Caribbean reefs) and macroalgae. Targeted species are more likely to demonstrate an effect due to a reduction in fishing pressure, particularly within a short time span, while parrotfish and macroalgae are two of the primary indicators of reef health. After one year, biomass increased significantly (p=0.002) in the reserve for all targeted fish species and for non-target species (p=0.029). Parrotfish biomass also increased significantly (p=0.023), and I observed a marginally significant decrease in macroalgal abundance (p=0.063).

While from an ecological perspective this demonstration CBMR exhibits signs of success, I am unable to assess its success from a human and social dimension. I caution that long-term monitoring and future research involving all relevant stakeholders are needed to evaluate CBMR management in the island of Antigua and Barbuda.

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