Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), the Marine Spatial Ecology Lab (MSEL) from the University of Queensland in Australia and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Palau are working together to assess the contributions of MPAs to fisheries production in Palau.  The first meeting was held in Palau from September 24-28, 2018 at PICRC.  The three organizations worked together to create a model for reef fish (specifically groupers) aggregations and movement patterns around Palau. In addition, data on MPAs were analyzed to determine how well different species of fish are protected based on their movement and the size of MPAs.

The workshop was led by Dr. Peter Mumby with other participants from MSEL including Dr. Nils Krueck, Kay Critchell, Carlie Dario, and Mark Priest. PICRC researchers involved in the workshop included Evelyn Ikelau Otto and Marine Gouezo, Research Assistants Dawnette Uli Olsudong and Geory Mereb.  Steven Victor from TNC and Steve Lindfield from CRRF also took part in the meeting, which was supported by the University of Queensland’s Capturing Coral Reef Ecosystem Services project.

During the workshop, the participants looked at the fish data that had been collected over the years through various projects. The participants examined the data and discussed ways to use the information for a model that will show different scenarios and how these scenarios affect the grouper population, travel patterns, and aggregation. In addition, the data was also used to determine whether or not Palau’s protected areas are protecting up to 75% of the fish population, and if so, what species are benefitting from each protected area based on size.

As the workshop ended, the participants were able to understand the roles of MPAs and size in relation to fish species protection. Ms. Evelyn Ikelau Otto reported that about 15 out of 26 of the MPAs in Palau are achieving a high level of protection of reef fishes within their borders, which shows that the protected areas in Palau are doing an excellent job at protecting the fish population. This work is very important to Palau because we are very dependent on our reefs and as we are protecting our marine environment, we have to know whether or not the MPAs are effective in its protective capacity. It is a good sign that about 58% of our MPAs are highly effective in protecting fish populations within their borders.

The purpose of the workshop was to create a model that will show us how the grouper population is affected by different ecological scenarios. This model is still being developed at the present time. Dr. Mumby is confident that the model will be completed by December, by which time, the team will come back to Palau to hold another workshop to show the different scenarios that will influence grouper pattern of behavior.