Restoring and Enhancing Structurally Complex Nursery Habitat to Enhance Reef Fish Populations

Principal Investigator
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Provide baseline biological information on the fishery benefits of creating and enhancing low-relief nursery habitat on the inner continental shelf in the NW Gulf of Mexico. 

The science behind this study will provide critical data on the function and efficacy of low-relief nurseries, which will allow us to more “objectively assess the health and productivity” as well as sustainably manage (“making sound management decisions”) reef fish stocks in the Gulf of Mexico.

The proposed research will provide baseline biological information on the fishery benefits of creating and enhancing low-relief nursery habitat on the inner continental shelf in the NW Gulf of Mexico.  Specifically, we will develop structurally complex nursery habitat using both natural and man-made materials to improve the early life survival and recruitment success of reef-dependent fishes.

Here, we propose to create and enhance low-relief nursery habitat in areas known to naturally contain this type of low-relief substrate (e.g., relic barrier islands or sand shoals/ridges). New recruits (settlers) or early juvenile fishes will be collected and quantified from areas within and away from low-relief nurseries at two inner shelf locations in the NW Gulf of Mexico that contain suitable substrate (e.g., Freeport and Rio Grande banks). 

In addition to characterizing the assemblage structure and monitoring low-relief habitats over time, several life history, dietary, and genetic parameters will be measured for key species utilizing these nurseries including growth, natural mortality, genetic diversity, and recruitment potential (growth-mortality index). 

Data on the movement of potential predators associated with our study sites will be evaluated at one site using acoustic telemetry to assess the home range and foraging strategies of potential predators (sub-adults and adults) in the general vicinity of natural and created low-relief nurseries.

This project is one in a series funded by the state Office of the Governor and administered through the Texas OneGulf Center of Excellence research consortium.