Just add water: New paper sheds light on estuarine marine reserves

A new scientific paper released this month seeks to evaluate estuarine marine reserves in the Moreton Bay Marine Park, shedding light on the ability of protected areas to support healthy populations of harvested fish species.

Healthy Land and Water scientists worked with experts from the University of the Sunshine Coast to understand how nature reserves can be better placed in our estuarine marine environment to enhance fish biodiversity.

The paper titled Enhancing the performance of marine reserves in estuaries: Just add water was published in the journal Biological Conservation. It argues that the effectiveness of reserves can be improved by conserving deeper estuaries, with diverse habitats for fish and strong connections to the open sea.

Principle scientist at Healthy Land and Water Dr Paul Maxwell said estuarine reserves in the Moreton Bay Marine Park may be located in areas of low habitat value and hence have not significantly increased the abundance of harvested fish species.

“While the benefits of marine reserves for enhancing fish stocks are well documented, the performance of estuarine reserves in the Moreton Bay Marine Park has been limited because they’ve been located to protect unique spatial features, or to conserve narrow estuaries with weak connections to mangroves and the open sea,” Dr Maxwell said.

“This research really highlights the fundamental biological truth that reserves seeking to enhance fish must contain plenty of water. This means deeper channels and easy access to the ocean.”

South East Queensland contains a large diversity of estuarine fish species that underpin a vibrant recreational and commercial fishing sector but these fish communities are under pressure due to loss of estuarine habitat.

Download the paper here

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