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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 594:119-133 (2018)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12547

Spatial distribution, density, and habitat associations of queen conch Strombus gigas in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands

Jennifer C. Doerr*, Ronald L. Hill

NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service/Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Galveston Laboratory, Galveston, TX 77551, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Conventional stock assessment methods have been ineffective for determining the status of queen conch throughout the Caribbean, mainly due to a lack of available fishery-independent data. We examined queen conch populations on the northeastern coast of St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, using a 10 m radial survey sampling technique with sample sites stratified by water depth, habitat type, and management regime, encompassing both open and closed fishing areas. We completed 503 radial surveys and located 4773 queen conch, representing an overall density of 302 conch ha-1. Densities of juvenile and adult queen conch were higher within Buck Island Reef National Monument (BIRNM) boundaries compared to open fishing areas. Densities of juvenile and adult queen conch were highest in habitats characterized as 50-90 and 10-50% patchy seagrass, respectively. Shell length data suggest that the seagrass beds south of Buck Island are functioning as valuable nursery habitat for juvenile conch, and the presence of multiple juvenile cohorts indicates that larval recruitment in the area has been successful in recent years. Comparisons of data from this and previous studies indicate that the queen conch population in St. Croix is potentially stable under the current management approach and that BIRNM is providing the spatial protection required for the population to continue to recover. Given the spatial and temporal patchiness of queen conch distributions, standardized fishery-independent monitoring surveys should be repeated regularly to provide data sufficient to assess stock conditions and the efficacy of management measures.


KEY WORDS: Queen conch · Habitat use · Population structure · Marine protected area · Radial survey · St. Croix · US Virgin Islands


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Cite this article as: Doerr JC, Hill RL (2018) Spatial distribution, density, and habitat associations of queen conch Strombus gigas in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 594:119-133. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12547

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