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Acoustic tracking of reef fishes to elucidate habitat utilization patterns and residence times inside and outside marine protected areas around the island of St. John, USVI
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  • Description:
    This technical memorandum describes a developing project under the direction of NOAA's Biogeography Branch in consultation with the National Park Service and US Geological Survey to understand and quantify spatial patterns and habitat affinities of reef fishes in the US Virgin Islands. The purpose of this report is to describe and disseminate the initial results from the project and to share information on the location of acoustic receivers and species electronic tag ID codes. The Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument (VICRNM), adjacent to Virgin Islands National Park (VIIS), was established by Executive Order in 2000, but resources within the monument are poorly documented and the degree of connectivity to VIIS is unknown. Whereas, VICRNM was established with full protection from resource exploitation, VIIS has incurred resource harvest by fishers since 1956 as allowed in its enabling legislation. Large changes in local reef communities have occurred over the past several decades, in part due to overexploitation. In order to better understand the habitat utilization patterns and movement of fishes among management regimes and areas open to fishing around St, John, an array of hydroacoustic receivers was deployed while a variety of reef fish species were acoustically tagged. In July 2006, nine receivers with a detection range of ca. 350 m were deployed in Lameshur Bay on the south shore of St. John, within VIIS. Receivers were located adjacent to reefs and in seagrass beds, inshore and offshore of these reefs. It was found that lane snappers and bluestriped grunts showed diel movement from reef habitats during daytime hours to offshore seagrass bed at night. Timing of migrations was highly predictable and coincided with changes in sunrise and sunset over the course of the year. Fish associated with reefs that did not have adjacent seagrass beds made more extensive movements than those fishes associated with reefs that had adjacent seagrass habitats. In April 2007, 21 additional receivers were deployed along much of the south shore of St. John (ca. 20 km of shoreline). This current array will address broader-scale movement among management units and examine the potential benefits of the VICRNM to provide adult 'spillover' into VIIS and adjacent harvested areas. The results from this work will aid in defining fine to moderate spatial scales of reef fish habitat affinities and in designing and evaluating marine protected areas.

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