Slow growth and lack of recovery in overfished holothurians on the Great Barrier Reef: evidence from DNA fingerprints and repeated large-scale surveys

Uthicke, S., Welch, D., and Benzie, J.A.H. (2004) Slow growth and lack of recovery in overfished holothurians on the Great Barrier Reef: evidence from DNA fingerprints and repeated large-scale surveys. Conservation Biology, 18 (5). pp. 1395-1404.

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Abstract

Commercially fished holothurians have important functions in nutrient recycling, which increases the benthic productivity of coral reef ecosystems. Thus, removal of these animals through fishing may reduce the overall productivity of affected coral reefs. To investigate the potential for recovery of overfished holothurian (Holothuria nobilis) stocks on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), we (1) conducted field surveys on 23 reefs after fishery closure, (2) modeled total virgin biomass and compared it with the total amount fished, and (3) estimated individual growth rates with a DNA fingerprinting technique. Two years after fishery closure, no recovery of H. nobilis stocks on reefs previously open to fishing was observed. Densities on reefs protected from fishing since the onset of the fishery in the mid 1980s remained about four times higher than on fished reefs. Based on density estimates and geographic information system data on the habitat area of each reef, we calculated that the virgin biomass (in the main fished area between 12° and 19°S) was about 5500 t and is now about 2500 t. The reduction is on the same order of magnitude as the total amount fished until 1999 (approximately 2500 t). The DNA analysis of repeated samples on three locations indicated high recapture rates of fingerprinted and released individuals of H. nobilis. Fitting growth curves with Francis's growth function indicated that medium-sized individuals (1 kg) grew 35–533 g /year, whereas large animals (2.5 kg) consistently shrank. Small animals (<500 g) were rarely observed. In combination, these data indicate that production of H. nobilis stocks is very low, presumably with low mortality, low recruitment, and slow individual growth rates. Consistent with anecdotal evidence, recovery of H. nobilis stocks on the GBR may take several decades, and we suggest a highly conservative management plan to protect both the stocks and the ecosystem.

Item ID: 6125
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: beche-de-mer; DNA fingerprinting; growth rates; Holothuria nobilis; invertebrate fishery; sea cucumber; trepang
ISSN: 1523-1739
Date Deposited: 04 Feb 2010 03:12
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060204 Freshwater Ecology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 100%
Citation Count from Web of Science Web of Science 44
Downloads: Total: 2
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