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The Bahamas are an archipelago of 700 islands and 2000 cays spread across 5000 miles2 (13 000 km2) of tropical water. Research is trying to determine if dispersing marine larvae connect these widely separated islands or whether each island has genetically isolated populations of the same species. The findings of this study could result in a series of interconnected marine parks spread throughout the Bahamas. This could provide a sustainable source of fish for the whole archipelago.
Many young marine organisms disperse widely, but they don’t travel far once they mature. This is especially true of marine organisms, like coral and sea anemones, which live fixed in place as adults. Many larvae can potentially disperse far enough to reach other islands in the Bahamas, but ocean currents, a marine organism’s lifecycle, and other factors can affect how far they actually travel and where they end up. Researchers hope to determine if dispersing larvae connect different Bahamian populations of the same species.
Marine parks protect reefs from interference. Fish in these areas grow large and produce many times more offspring than smaller fish (see “Big fish” for more information. Large, high quality fish spill into the surrounding area where they can be caught. The marine park acts as a source of fish for the surrounding area, improving fishing and tourism nearby.
Eggs and larvae also spread from the marine park. These larvae can potentially travel great distances. If they do they can repopulate reefs around other islands.
Establishing how far larvae disperse can help us understand how far the benefits of marine parks spread throughout the Bahamas. If larvae travel short distances, only areas close to a marine park would benefit from increased fishing, tourism and diversity. See “Why protect your own reef” for more information.
However, if larvae disperse between islands then a network of marine parks could be established that would benefit coral reefs across the Bahamas. This network would increase diversity, ecosystem resilience, and productivity throughout the Bahamas.
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