In the first global snapshot of its kind, a team of researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography has shown how overfishing has impacted seaweed-eating fish that are vital to coral reef health. Study leader Jennifer Smith says there are many species of fish and invertebrates that act as lawnmowers in these fragile ecosystems.
If you take away the lawnmower or the weed whackers in your own yard, you know what happens. You get the weeds growing and they will grow over, out-compete the plants that you are trying to cultivate. The same things happens on a coral reef where, if you don’t have the lawnmowers, these weeds can overgrow and out-compete the corals, which are the ecosystem engineers.
Smith says their study found that populations of plant-eating fish declined by more than half in areas that were overfished.
One of the goals is to help many places develop better management and conservation strategies for their coral reef ecosystem across the Pacific and Caribbean.