Humans have been overfishing Caribbean reefs for decades or even centuries. And you don’t have to be a scientists to have noticed. Countless reefs once dominated by vertebrate predators are now nearly devoid of large fish.
Sharks and large grouper and snapper are a rarity on most Caribbean reefs. The reason isn’t a mystery; we simply removed them for sport, profit or sustenance. But the spatio-temporal patterns of predatory fish loss-where and when it happened-and how it was related to factors like proximity to people is largely unknown.
A new study just published in PLoS One by Dr. Chris Stallings sheds some light on the issue by documenting the dissapearence and reduction in size of predatory fish across the Caribbean. The study is based on a publicly accessible, fisheries-independent database of 38,116 reef surveys conducted between 1994 and 2008. Chris examined 20 species of top-level predators, including sharks, groupers, snappers, jacks, trumpetfish and barracuda, from 22 Caribbean nations. He found that nations with more people have reefs with far fewer large fish because as the number of people increases, so does demand for seafood.
Across the region, as human population density increases, presence of large-bodied fishes declines, and fish communities become dominated by a few smaller-bodied species.