Baseline Survey of Fish and Habitat in Bluefield Bay, Jamaica

The southwest coast of Jamaica is being adversely affected by poor water quality in runoff released from coastal communities and inland watershed areas. The problem is particularly acute on the Bluefields Bay where the chronic effects of excessive nutrient inputs and sedimentation are degrading coastal fisheries and coral reef resources. Moreover, these stresses on the coastal ecology are being amplified by other human activities including overfishing, other bad fishing practices, and deleterious domestic and commercial practices. In combination, these impacts threaten the basic environmental conditions necessary to support healthy communities and a stable local economy. While the threats have been generally identified, the distribution and extent of pollution sources within the watershed is not well understood. Failure to fully understand the causes, their linkages and impacts will result in a situation where fishing livelihoods are severely impacted and the coastal area and its prospects for community tourism are damaged beyond repair.

A recent development in Bluefields Bay directed at improving coastal fisheries and related economic development was the declaration of the bay as a fish sanctuary by the Agriculture Minister in 2009 (it is one of only 9 sanctuaries in Jamaica). It is anticipated that the no-fishing zone will gradually increase fish populations. It has been scientifically proven that the establishment of fish sanctuaries can improve fish stocks by 3 to 21 times it original biomass. Furthermore, due to the ‘spill over’ effect, adjacent marine areas benefit as excess fish from the reserves will migrate into these areas where fishing is allowed. As a conservation tool, the sanctuaries will maintain genetic diversity of marine species within Jamaica’s water – reducing the probability of extinction. The habitats provide the marine species the opportunity to reach full sexual maturity therefore increasing their egg producing/spawning potential and survival of the species overall.

The Jamaican government stated that one of the first steps toward better management and the ultimate success of the fish sanctuary program is to perform baseline surveys of fish populations, habitat conditions, and environmental threats within the bay. The main purpose of the baseline survey is to establish existing conditions so that the effectiveness of protection measures can be assessed over time. The baseline survey will also be instrumental in the development of the long-term monitoring programs in Bluefields Bay by helping managers to identify and test the feasibility of monitoring selected indicators. The baseline surveys and subsequent monitoring program will enable the fish sanctuary managers to obtain information on resources and threats for use in project planning; implement adaptive management; and assess the effectiveness of management, to demonstrate results and thereby generate support. The baseline surveys will support preparation of management plans.

The specific objectives of this project are:

  1. Perform a baseline survey of fish and habitat;
  2. Partner with the Bluefields Bay Fishermen’s Friendly Society (BBFFS) to use their boats, benefit from their knowledge of local bay conditions, and increase community awareness for marine resource conservation;
  3. Provide total/partial funding to support the MS thesis research for one or two graduate students from MSU;
  4. Pilot the methods for use of a marine video camera to do fish surveys. This unit has already been purchased by MSU for use by Dr. Beckman;
  5. Use a GPS digital camera to create a photograph log of the coast of Bluefields Bay to document beach conditions and water quality threats. This camera is being purchased for $1,400 by Dr. Pavlowsky. These pictures will be displayed on the website of the Ozarks Environmental and Water Resources Institute (Pavlowsky is director); and
  6. Publish and share the results of the baseline survey with the local community and government agencies.

View the Bluefields Bay Fish Sanctuary Map