Effects of SCUBA bubbles on counts of roving piscivores in a large remote marine protected area
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Effects of SCUBA bubbles on counts of roving piscivores in a large remote marine protected area
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    PLOS ONE, 14(12), e0226370
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    This study examined the effects of SCUBA bubbles on fish counts in underwater visual surveys conducted in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM). Specifically, paired fish surveys were conducted at each survey site, utilizing two different gear types: open-circuit SCUBA (OC) and closed-circuit rebreather (CCR). Bubble exhaust released from the OC equipment is a potential source of bias for in-situ fish observations, as the associated audio and visual disturbances could either attract or repel fishes depending on whether their behavior is more driven by curiosity or caution. The study area, is a large (~1.5 million km2) and extremely remote marine protected area in which the response of coral reef fishes to divers represent natural behavior of naive fishes with little or no previous contact with humans. Historically, surveys conducted on OC in this area have shown an abundance of large roving piscivores and this study set out to determine the extant, if any, the audible and visual disturbances of OC bubbles have. The species typically seen in these prior surveys were Caranx ignobilis, Caranx melampygus, Aprion virescens, and a couple of species of sharks. We found differences in counts for some roving piscivores, including significantly more jacks observed on OC than CCR (Caranx ignobilis 57% more, and Caranx melampygus 113% more). Instance of first encounter, i.e. the time when a fish was first observed during a survey, also varied for some species. Higher numbers of Aprion virescens (p = 0.04), and C. melampygus (p = <0.001) were observed in the first 5-minutes of counts by divers on OC (i.e. when they were using breathing apparatus that produced noises that could be heard over long distances). Although not the focus of the study, we also assessed differences between OC and CCR counts for other groups of fishes. Estimated abundance of benthic damselfish was higher on OC than CCR, and counts of butterflyfish were lower on OC; but there were no significant differences for the other groups considered. This is an important control study that documents the natural responses of coral reef fishes to SCUBA bubbles generated by in-situ surveys.
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