To address overfishing and maintain sustainable fisheries, the Caribbean Fishery Management Council (CFMC) established MPAs at Grammanik and Red Hind Banks, south of St. Thomas, USVI, where multi-species spawning aggregations of economically important reef fish are known to occur. There is general agreement that the effectiveness of these actions, since their implementation in 2005, should be evaluated based upon analysis of biophysical data collected from the region. Additionally, a more comprehensive understanding of larval recruitment pathways and region-wide habitat connectivity is required as adaptive management strategies are developed for the future.
Building upon our collaborative on-going work in the region, AOML/PhOD (OAR) and SEFSC/ELH (NMFS) seek to quantify ichthyoplankton flux from spawning aggregation sites south of St. Thomas into Vieques Sound east of Puerto Rico and through Virgin Passage to the banks north of the US Virgin Islands (USVI) and British Virgin Islands (BVI) for a 12-month period. Our partners in this endeavor include the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) Center for Marine and Environmental Studies (CMES), which will participate in field operations and scientific analysis of in situ data, and the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) which will provide high resolution North Eastern Caribbean Circulation model simulations (Baums et al. 2006, Cherubin and Richardson 2007, Cherubin et al., submitted) for comparison and analysis with data gathered from the field. Using moored instrumentation deployed across sections between Vieques and Culebra (the eastern entrance to Vieques Sound), and Culebra and St. Thomas (Virgin Passage) together with repeat biophysical surveys and surface drifter deployments conducted throughout the year, we will quantify and characterize the flow regime in these passages. Operations will be conducted via the NOAA Ship NANCY FOSTER and from a UVI small boat. Larval flux across these passages will be calculated by combining these new biological and physical results with existing data sets collected during our annual surveys of the region over the past three years (USVI Larval Reef Fish Distribution and Supply Study). These historical data include ichthyoplankton frequency and distribution, surface current velocity, physical station data (temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll concentration), and surface drifter trajectories.