Regional Analysis of Seafloor Characteristics at Reef Fish Spawning Aggregation Sites in the Caribbean
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Overfishing of stock and decreasing biodiversity are grave concerns for the U.S. and the rest of the world. Understanding and applying spatial and temporal information of marine species? reproductive ecology and critical life habitat is vital to the development of effective strategies for marine resource management. In the Caribbean, one of the critical science gaps hindering effective management is the lack of information on how environmental factors may make fish spawning aggregation (FSA) sites optimal for spawning. Understanding the patterns of seafloor characteristics of spawning aggregation sites is of great interest to managers who need a means to efficiently design marine protected areas to help rebuild regional fish stocks. The specific goals of the study were: (1) to map the seafloor at historically known grouper and snapper spawning aggregation sites in three different countries, and (2) to characterize quantitatively the geomorphology of the sites including horizontal and vertical curvature profiles of the reefs, bottom depth at spawning sites, distance between spawning sites and shelf-edges/reef promontory tips, and the shortest distance between the spawning sites and 100 m water depth. These data were field-collected with a GPS and single-beam eco-sounder that provided latitude/longitude and depth. The point data were interpolated to surfaces in GIS to determine slope, aspect, curvature, and distance from spawning sites and three-dimensional reef structures. This study revealed that all 12 known Nassau grouper spawning aggregation sites in Belize and 5 known sites in the Cayman Islands were located at convex-shaped seaward extending reefs (reef promontories) jutting into deep water, within 1 km of reef promontory tips. However, spawning aggregations did not always occur at the tips of reef promontories, though all were found along the shelf edges within 1 km of promontory tips. Sixteen sites were multi-species spawning sites. These general characteristics were used to predict an undiscovered multi-species spawning aggregation in Belize. A successful prediction in Belize, together with the compiled data from multiple sites indicate: 1) reef promontories are vital locations for transient reef fish spawning aggregations, and 2) this study provides a potential tool for prediction of unknown spawning sites in the Caribbean.