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A rapid ecological assesment (REA) of coral reefs and reef fishes of barrier islands within central Belize barrier reef complex utilizing the mesoamerican barrier reef systems (MBRS) protocol Public Deposited

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  • Rapid assessments are essential to establish baseline information of ecosystems that can be used to design management plans such as marine protected areas. A rapid ecological assessment was conducted to determine the conditions of coral reefs and reef fish around barrier islands that occur within the central Belize Barrier Reef Complex. The reefs adjacent to these barrier islands are very important for commercial and artisinal fishing. Both cruise-ship tourism and the export of marine products from these areas are increasing rapidly. Utilizing the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Systems Protocol for assessing coral and reef fish assemblages, underwater surveys were conducted within the shallow, back-reef region of these barrier islands during the summer of 2003. These surveys revealed reefs with an overall low mean percent coral cover (<20%), mainly composed of the most robust coral species: M. annularis, and P. astreoides. The reefs at three cays displayed recent incidence of coral mortality. Coral bleaching was substantial at all reefs except at Rendezvous Cay, and diseases affected corals at Goff's Cay and Sergeant Cay. Adult reef fish populations were of a low density (<60/100m2), composed mainly of herbivores (Scaridae & Acanthuridae) than carnivores. Goff's Cay and Rendezvous Cay were identified as priority sites for preserving coral health and productivity. Cay Chapel and Gallow's Point were identified as critical areas that have been degraded due to observed anthropogenic impacts, which have altered their ecosystems. Management incentives need to focus on protecting the valuable and vulnerable ecosystems of these impacted islands to promote the protection, restoration and sustainable use of barrier island resources and enhance their significance to the fishing and tourism industries.
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