Ban Spurs Dramatic Fish Recovery in Australia

June 24, 2008

Australia's coral trout have thrived under a fishing ban on the Great Barrier Reef, showing that no-take reserves can spur dramatic comebacks in overfished ocean habitats, new research suggests.

But the bold move to ban fishing to save fish would be hard to replicate along most other coasts, said the Australian study's lead author.

Coral trout is the common name of about a half-dozen fish species from the grouper and cod family targeted by commercial and recreational hook-and-line fisheries in Australia.

Scientists behind the new study found that the fish bounced back within two years after no-take reserves were established.

(Related Geographic Magazine Photos: "Still Waters, The Global Fish Crisis" [ April 2007])

Garry Russ, a marine biologist at James Cook University who led the research, said his team was "surprised" to find coral trout population increases of up to 68 percent in such a short period of time.

"This represents a positive and unprecedented response to reserve protection," he said.

The study appears in today's issue of the journal Current Biology.

Largest No-Fish Zone

Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park generates about five and a half billion U.S. dollars annually from tourism and fisheries.

Four years ago the Australian government rezoned the park, placing nearly one-third of it into the world's largest network of no-take marine reserves. They cover more than 62,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers).

To monitor the new reserves, researchers used underwater imaging techniques to survey coral reefs inside and outside protected areas, where fishing was still allowed.

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