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Comparing fish communities in sanctuaries, partly protected areas and open-access reefs in South-East Africa

JC Currie
KJ Sink
P Le Noury
GM Branch


Fish were surveyed by visual census on offshore reefs in Mozambique and eastern South Africa to compare (a) fully-protected ‘sanctuary’ areas, (b) ‘partly protected’ areas where recreational diving and limited fishing are permitted, and (c) ‘open’ unprotected areas. Community composition differed between coral-dominated reefs and those covered mainly by algae and sponges, but not among treatments. Larger size classes were significantly diminished in unprotected areas compared to protected and sanctuary zones. Within coral-dominated reefs, abundances of indicator taxa showed three patterns: (1) greatest abundance in sanctuaries, intermediate in partly protected and least in open areas; (2) greatest abundance in sanctuaries but equal diminishment in partly protected and open areas; and (3) greater depletion in partly protected than either sanctuary or open areas. We conclude that partial protection does not effectively conserve reef fish, and there are indications that partly protected areas concentrate fishing effort on ‘pelagic’ gamefish. Sanctioned shore-angling and offshore ‘gamefishing’, illegal fishing and diver disturbance may collectively undermine the efficacy of partially protected areas. The depletion of reef fish species inside protected areas and reconsideration of the classification of pelagic gamefish require managerial attention. Partly protected areas in Mozambique need to be supplemented with no-take zones.

Keywords: conservation, coral reef fish, fishing, marine protected area, Mozambique, no-take reserve, South Africa

African Journal of Marine Science 2012, 34(2): 269–281
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eISSN: 1814-2338
print ISSN: 1814-232X