Coral trout in protected zones are not only bigger and more abundant than those in fished zones of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, they are also better able to cope with cyclone damage.
A joint study between the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University combined a vast amount of information from underwater surveys from 1983 to 2012, on reefs spread across approximately 150,000 km2 (more than 40 per cent) of the Marine Park.
Biomass of coral trout—the main target of both commercial and recreational fishers— has more than doubled since the 1980s in the protected zones, with most of the growth occurring since a 2004 rezoning. And reefs in protected zones supported higher numbers of large, reproductively mature coral trout, even after being damaged by cyclones.
"Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is looked upon as a global benchmark for large-scale reserve networks. Unlike many places where coral reefs are found, Australia is a developed country where fishing is fairly light and well regulated. Yet even here we see clear effects of fishing," says co-author Hugh Sweatman, of AIMS.
"Our findings suggest that effectively protected networks of no-take reserves will help reef fishes cope with some present and future stresses, and help maintain coral reef fish populations as we know them."