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Aquatic Biology

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AB 14:57-66 (2011)  -  DOI:

Modelling habitat associations of 14 species of holothurians from an unfished coral atoll: implications for fisheries management

L. M. Bellchambers1,*, J. J. Meeuwig2, S. N. Evans1, P. Legendre2,3

1Department of Fisheries, Western Australian Fisheries and Marine Research Laboratories, North Beach, Western Australia 6920, Australia
2The University of Western Australia, School of Animal Biology and Centre for Marine Futures, Oceans Institute, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia
3Université de Montréal, Département de Sciences Biologiques, Montréal, Québec H3C 3J7, Canada

ABSTRACT: Currently there is no commercial or subsistence fishing for holothurians on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and, despite a prominent government presence, no reported cases of poaching or illegal fishing. However, because of recent interest in developing a commercial fishery for holothurians there, a survey was initiated to provide baseline data on the previously unfished local holothurian populations. Fourteen species of holothurians were recorded during the survey, with the most abundant species being Holothuria atra; only 4 other species had relatively high abundances. A total of 20556 holothurians were counted; however, 97% of these were considered to be of low commercial value. The high- and medium-value species found in this survey were all in extremely low abundances, with restricted distributions. The distribution and abundance of holothurians was closely linked with benthic habitats, with 48% of the variation in holothurian populations explained by 13 habitat variables. Several species displayed distinct habitat preferences: H. atra was associated with sand-dominated habitats, Actinopyga mauritiana was associated with relic reefs and soft corals, while Holothuria fuscopunctata and Stichopus herrmanni were both associated with reef flats. The densities recorded in the present study represent the natural abundance and distribution of holothurian populations at this atoll. Given the low numbers of commercially important species, it is highly unlikely that a commercial fishery would be economically viable at the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and it would be more beneficial to maintain the natural holothurian population.

KEY WORDS: Holothurians · Habitat associations · Coral reefs · Exploitation · Unfished populations

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Cite this article as: Bellchambers LM, Meeuwig JJ, Evans SN, Legendre P (2011) Modelling habitat associations of 14 species of holothurians from an unfished coral atoll: implications for fisheries management. Aquat Biol 14:57-66.

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