Reef and Fisheries Assessment of Navassa Island National Wildlife Refuge (2002-9)

Haitain fishermen at Navassa Island
Typical Haitian fishing boat with Navassa Island in the background
Photo Credit: SEFSC

elkhorn coral at Navassa Island
Underwater landscape with elkhorn coral in the clear, oceanic waters of Navassa
Photo Credit: SEFSC

Navassa is a small oceanic island (5.2 km2 in size) located ~30 km west of the southwest tip of Haiti, 160km south of the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in the heart of the Windward Passage. It is claimed by the US and under the jurisdiction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but is also claimed by Haiti. Though uninhabited, the island is frequented, and reef fisheries are exploited, by transient Haitian fishers. The lack of local land-based anthropogenic pollution at Navassa provides an important comparison of Caribbean reef condition and trends under fishing and global stressors, but without local land-based stressors. Approximately biennial reef assessment cruises were conducted by SEFSC between 2002 and 2009. Unfortunately, little if any ecological baseline information is available on Navassa reef condition prior to the turn of the 2st century.

Despite its remoteness, Navassa corals have been subject to similar catastrophic declines as observed in other Caribbean reefs. Coral disease outbreaks and thermally induced mass bleaching events have both been characterized at Navassa and have contributed to an overall decline in live coral cover from ~34% to ~8% averaged over randomly selected sites along the southwest coast. In contrast to this declining pattern for corals overall, the imperiled elkhorn coral is apparently thriving at Navassa with an expanding population and generally good colony condition observed over the survey period. Fishing effort appears to vary over time, with apparently higher levels of effort and impact in 2004 and some evidence of increasing fish abundance and size for at least some fishes observed between 2006 and 2009 (Karnauskas et al, in review).

This project is not currently funded, but in the past has been supported by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, the National Wildlife Service, and the John G. Shedd Aquarium's R/V Coral Reef II.


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