Marine Reserve Shows Unique Fishery Recovery

Cabo Pulmo National Park Gains 463 Percent Of Biomass Over 10 Years

The fish population at an area off the southern tip of Baja California rebounded by 463 percent over 10 years since it became a marine wildlife reserve, researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego said Friday.

The 71-square-kilometer Cabo Pulmo National Park, once depleted by fishing, saw the increase between 1999 and 2009, according to a study of the area that appears in the Public Library of Science One journal.

The undersea park is now the most robust marine reserve in the world, showing that depleted fisheries can recover to levels normally seen in pristine areas rarely fished by humans.

"The study's results are surprising in several ways," said Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study.

"A biomass increase of 463 percent in a reserve as large as Cabo Pulmo represents tons of new fish produced every year," Aburto-Oropeza said. "No other marine reserve in the world has shown such a fish recovery."

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala said only medium-sized fish were seen in the reserve in 1999, but 10 years later it had larger varieties like parrotfish, groupers, snappers and sharks.

The authors said local residents have been strictly enforcing restrictions against fishing in the area.

"Few policymakers around the world are aware that fish size and abundance can increase inside marine reserves to extraordinary levels within a decade after protection is established -- fewer still know that these increases often translate into economic benefits for coastal communities," said Aburto-Oropeza.

"Therefore, showing what's happened in Cabo Pulmo will contribute to ongoing conservation efforts in the marine environment and recovery of local coastal economies."