Abstract

The coral reefs located off the north coast of the Jamaican mainland are some of the best and most studied reefs in the world. Coral reefs of Pedro Bank, Jamaica were assessed in March, 2012 as part of the KSLOF Global Reef Expedition using a modified Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) protocol. The main objectives were to: 1) characterize the distribution, structure and health of coral reefs; and 2) evaluate the population status of commercially important reef fishes and invertebrates. This work was conducted to assist in characterizing coral reef habitats within and outside a proposed fishery reserve, and identify other possible conservation zones. Within 20 reefs, live coral cover ranged from 4.9% to 19.2%. Coral communities were dominated by small corals (esp. Agaricia, Porites and Siderastrea) although many sites had high abundances of large colonies of Montastraea annularis and M. faveolata, and these were generally in good condition. A single area, within the proposed fishery reserve, had extensive Acropora cervicornis thickets, and several shallow locations had small, but recovering A. palmata stands. Macroalgal cover at all sites was relatively low, with only three sites having greater than 30% cover; crustose coralline algae (CCA) was high, with eight sites exceeding 20% cover. Fish biomass at all sites near the Cays was low, with a dominance of herbivores (parrotfish and surgeonfish) and a near absence of groupers, snappers and other commercially important species. While parrotfish were the most abundant fish, these were all extremely small (mean size= 12cm; <4% over 29cm), and they were dominated by red band parrotfish (Sparisoma aurofrenatum) followed by striped parrotfish (Scarus iseri). While coral communities remain in better condition than most coastal reefs in Jamaica, intense fishing pressure using fish traps (main target species: surgeonfish) and hookah/spear fishing (main target: parrotfish) is of grave concern to the future persistence of these reefs. The proposed fishery reserve encompasses some of the best coral reef habitat near the Cays, but this MPA should be expanded to encompass other habitats and MPAs should be considered for bank reefs at the northwestern end, as well as Banner Reef and Blowers Rock. Rev. Biol. Trop. 62 (Suppl. 3): 11-24. Epub 2014 September 01.
Keywords: Pedro Bank, Jamaica, coral reef health, fish community structure, marine protected areas