Seattle Aquarium staff members recently traveled to Hawaii to complete their sixth year of monitoring reef fish abundance at seven sites off the northwest coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. The non-invasive monitoring is performed via video sampling done in cooperation with the Washington State University and the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources. “We’re searching for shifting baselines, an ecological indicator of changes in fish abundance and diversity that may correlate with local environmental changes or other factors such as changes in human use activities,” notes Curator of Conservation Research Shawn Larson. Data has already been used for educational and management purposes in Hawaii.
Why is the Seattle Aquarium doing research in Hawaii? “For 30 years, we’ve exhibited animals from Hawaii in our Pacific Coral Reef gallery to inspire and educate the public about that area’s coral reefs and the unique animals that live there,” says Shawn. “Through our work over the past nine years, conducting shifting baseline studies of Washington State bottom fish, we’ve developed a methodology for accurately counting reef fish that works well in Hawaii. We also conduct research in-house on coral growth and reproduction, and our studies of fish and coral cover in Hawaii complement that,” she concludes.
With this year’s research complete, we can now share a key result with you: we’ve documented an upward trend in fish abundance within all the surveyed sites from 2009 through 2013, and we also found a significantly higher percentage of increase in sites that are protected versus those that are open for fishing and collecting.
We look forward to continuing our active conservation role via this research and contributing to the body of knowledge about, and long-term conservation of, tropical reef systems.