The Caribbean Spiny Lobster, Panulirus argus, is an essential fishery product for Port Honduras Marine Reserve (PHMR). It has become crucial to study these crustaceans to develop management practices that will lead to sustainable population density and avoid collapse of the fisheries in the surrounding communities.
In order to improve current management practices and aid in the development of future ones, TIDE has launched a new research project to determine ‘recruitment levels’ of juvenile lobsters – a fisheries science term referring to the number of new baby lobsters settling in the reserve. The purpose is to find the areas in Port Honduras Marine Reserve (PHMR) that foster the highest numbers of juvenile post-larval Caribbean Spiny Lobster and to determine if the current Replenishment Zones (RZ) are effective at protecting adult lobsters and allowing larval spill over into the General Use Zone (GUZ). The information from this study will aid in developing future zoning strategies for PHMR, ensuring that placement and sizes of RZs is based on sound science as well as local ecological knowledge.
Texas A&M volunteer Sarah Pruski, visiting researcher Dr. Daryl Smith supervised by TIDE science director James Foley constructed 28 juvenile lobster attraction devices (LADs) that will help determine relative population densities of newborn lobsters throughout the reserve. Each LAD is made from PVC pipe and sheets of air conditioning filter. The air conditioning filters are supposed to imitate the algae that the juvenile lobsters like to live in.
During the last weeks of June, Sarah along with community researchers deployed the LADs in PHMR. They placed 12 around Frenchman’s Caye, 12 around Moho Caye, and 4 around West Snake Caye in one of the RZs. The sites were chosen based on research about juvenile lobster habitat, juvenile lobster studies done in the Caribbean, and consultations with fishermen on local ecological knowledge about juvenile lobster habitat.
In July, Sarah went back and retrieved each LAD and counted the number of juvenile lobsters living in the artificial habitats as well as the location and other environmental factors. The graph shows the highest numbers of juvenile lobsters were found at Frenchman Caye sites and Moho/Seaweed caye. This suggests that these areas are important for the recruitment of post-larval lobster most likely because of their shallow, calm waters and hard, sea grass inhabited bottoms.
This information will be used by TIDE and the Belize Fisheries Department to improve management of this economically important species, which in 2010 was worth US$10.8 million to the Belize economy.