'Reserve effect' within a temperate marine protected area in the north-eastern Atlantic (Arrabida Marine Park, Portugal)

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Publisher: Inter Research

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Benefits of marine protected areas depend on local ecological and socio-cultural aspects which are critical to the success of the protection measures. In particular, before-after comparisons are indispensable to disentangle the effects of protection from those of different physical and ecological characteristics among areas. Using underwater visual surveys, we assessed whether biomass and abundance of temperate reef fish assemblages and target invertebrates increased inside a no-take area in the Arrabida Marine Park (Portugal) 3 to 4 yr after its establishment. Data were compared to a previous study, conducted 10 yr before protection was effective. Control-effect comparisons after reserve establishment showed a positive response of legal-size demersal fish and below legal-size target invertebrates. The first evidence of protection was found in biomass but not in numbers. Non-target groups and below legal-size demersal fish had a significant interaction among reserve and habitat complexity indices for either density or biomass, suggesting a lack of a reserve effect. Before-after comparisons revealed non-significant patterns of increase in numbers of target species compared to non-target ones. The most important commercial species showed the largest increase in density after protection was established. Significantly higher abundances and proportionally heavier individuals of these species were also found inside the reserve in the control-effect comparisons. These findings are reinforced by an increasing trend in landings which are consistent with the early detection of a reserve effect.