Comparative Study on Artificial Reefs of the Caribbean

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University of Applied Sciences Van Hall Larenstein and Wageningen University and Research recently conducted a comparative study of artificial reefs within the Caribbean. This study provides new insights into the impacts of these structures on local marine life and neighboring ecosystems and highlight the need for comprehensive monitoring and integration into marine management plans. 

Photo credit: Rudy Van Geldere

Since the 1960s, artificial reefs have been placed around the Caribbean for tourism, to aid in improving fish stock, providing coastal protection and for scientific research. Unfortunately, there has been limited research to fully understand these reefs’ impact or compare artificial reefs to their natural neighbors. Researchers debate whether artificial reefs actually improve fish populations by encouraging increased reproduction or whether they are merely attracting fish from nearby reefs. Understanding how artificial reefs affect local fish populations and neighboring reefs will be critical in implementing meaningful conservation strategies in the future.  

 The Study 

 A new study conducted by University of Applied Sciences Van Hall Larenstein and Wageningen University and Research within the AROSSTA (Artificial Reefs on Saba and Statia, www.hvhl.nl/arossta) project aimed to evaluate the ecological effects of artificial reefs within the Caribbean. To do so, 212 different artificial reefs were analyzed based on reef type, location, deployment year, purpose, material, ecological development and fisheries management status.  

 The Results 

The results proved very insightful. It was determined that the three most common purposes for artificial reefs were to serve as new dive sites (41%), for research (22%) and to support ecosystem restoration (18%). In addition, they found metal and concrete to be the most widely used materials. They also found a number of factors which could help bolster fish populations, such as reefs which more complex geometries and those placed in areas of dense seagrass. 

This study also found that of all the artificial reefs, only 38 are located within marine protected areas which prohibit fishing. This means that over 80% of all artificial reefs are fishable. This is especially true for the Southern and Southwestern Caribbean Including Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) where 100% of the reefs are within legal fishing zones. As artificial reefs attract part of their marine organisms from surrounding habitats, intensive exploitation by fishers can adversely affect the fish stocks in the surrounding area and thus counteract any potential ecosystem benefits. 

Photo credit: Mark Vermeij

Future Conservation

Effective marine conservation will require additional information on the impacts of artificial reefs on these local environments. The benefits of increased fish biodiversity and populations could be quickly undone by overfishing within the same area. The authors therefore conclude that the current management status of most artificial reefs in the Caribbean is a threat for its fish stocks. If implemented properly, artificial reefs could be a critical tool for future conservation efforts. Therefore, this study concluded that artificial reefs should be carefully monitored and integrated into future marine management plans.  

To find out more, you can read the full study  by clicking the DCBD link below.

More info in the Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database

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