A new study by researchers in the Galapagos Islands has shown that the mangroves act as a huge nursery, providing food and safety to nearly 100 different species of fish.
The study, which is the first archipelago-wide study about fish diversity and abundance in the mangrove ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands, shows the vital role they play in replenishing fish stocks.
It was conducted by researchers from the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of the University of California, San Diego, together with the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD).
In a statement obtained by Real Press, the foundation said it was “the first archipelago-wide study about fish diversity and abundance in mangrove ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands. It is well known that mangroves provide ideal habitat to fish throughout their life cycle, including during their juvenile stage.
“Mangroves in the Galapagos are no exception and are home to a great variety of fish species, some of which have local socio-economic importance.”
The foundation also said that the researchers “sampled 28 mangrove bays across islands of the Archipelago using a combination of two sampling methods, baited remote underwater stereo-video stations (s-BRUVS) and underwater visual censuses.”
The scientists recorded over 35,000 fish from 92 different species. The foundation added that “at least 30 of the species identified, such as snappers and the sailfin grouper, are of importance to local artisanal fisheries. Several species of sharks and rays were also found in mangrove areas, which are charismatic species that have great importance to the local tourism industry.”
The foundation said that the mangroves “do more than just provide important habitat to fish, they also provide a variety of ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration and coastal protection.”
Denisse Fierro Arcos, a marine scientist at the CDF who is the lead author on this latest study, said: “Thanks to this study we can conclude that mangroves not only play an important ecological role in local marine ecosystems, but they are also of great socio-economic importance to the human communities living in the Galapagos Islands, so we must ensure their long-term protection so the resources they provide can continue to be used in a sustainable manner.”
The CDF added that the “Galapagos are the only volcanic islands in the Eastern Pacific where mangroves occur naturally. Scientists at the CDF used satellite imagery to map the distribution of these trees across the archipelago, and they estimated that mangroves are present in about a third of all coastal areas.
“Even though mangroves are relatively widespread, there was limited information about the fish species that depend on them, and their role as nursery areas for fish species of socio-economic interest.”
Dr Pelayo Salinas de Leon, senior scientist at FCD and the coordinator of the study, said that during their juvenile phase, fish from several species, including young sharks, “are vulnerable to become lunch for a larger predator. The complex mangrove root systems not only provide an excellent hiding place” for these young fish, “but also plenty of food during this critical stage of their life cycle”.
The CDF lamented that “despite their ecological and socio-economic importance, only 5 percent of mangroves are fully protected against extractive activities under the 2001 zoning plan of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
Fierro Arcos added: “The level of protection given to mangroves must be re-evaluated when new zoning plans are drafted to ensure these habitats receive an appropriate level of protection that will allow them to continue supporting the local tourism industry and artisanal fisheries.”
The study has been published in the academic journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.
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