Marine experts are calling for Caribbean countries to pass legislation that will protect fish populations which are vital to the survival of coral reefs.

In a new study published this month in the journal PeerJ, researchers with the University of North Carolina Wilmington, identified fishes that live among the reef as a key factor in keeping sea sponges from destroying corals. The study which surveyed 12 Caribbean islands, including Belize, pointed out that these fish are the natural predators of the sea sponges, making their existence an important part of the reef’s survival.

Lead researcher for the study, Dr Joseph Pawlik said that, “Caribbean nations can now base their fishing policy decisions on the clear connection between overfishing and sponge-smothered corals. Coral conservation requires a healthy population of reef fishes.”

Pawlick noted that while corals have protected status, the fishes are not making their populations susceptible to being diminished by over-fishing.

Representatives from authorities in Belize, such as the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, as well as the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute, have conceded that several critical legislations are still in the pipeline, and that others have yet to be drafted, to ensure greater safeguards for the country’s marine resources.

The Reporter tried to contact Director of the CZMAI, Chantal Clarke-Samuels; however, she was unavailable to comment on whether any more of this type of legislation specifically to protect reef fish was in the working or even contemplated. In 2009 Belize began protecting of the parrot fish, because of its critical role in the reef’s survival.

The recently released Reef Report Card, from health reefs for Health People, gave the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef 2.8 out of five, which is ranked as fair.

The Reporter