Herbivores play a critical role in balancing coral reef ecosystems. In the Caribbean, this role is mostly filled by parrotfish, surgeonfish, and sea urchins. Parrotfish take their important role one step further in that their constant scraping of algae growing on rock and dead coral results in a lot of poop, which is effectively the nice white sand found on beaches. A single parrotfish can generate up to 700 pounds of sand a year. Parrotfish are also a favorite food fish, and unfortunately their populations have been heavily depleted in many areas. In an effort to spread awareness of the importance of leaving parrotfish on the reef, The Nature Conservancy and partners have launched the #PassOnParrotfish campaign. Because of REEF’s 25-year history in the region, REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project database is a valuable resource in evaluating the status and trends of this important family of fishes.

As part of an independent undergraduate study, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) student, Mateusz Kramarz, is currently using the Volunteer Fish Survey Project database to evaluate trends in parrotfish populations over the last two decades (1998 - 2018) from four areas with high survey effort: the Florida Keys, Cozumel, Cayman Islands, and Bonaire. Species evaluated include: Stoplight, Redband, Princess, Striped, and Queen Parrotfish; all of which are key macroalgal grazers in Tropical Western Atlantic coral reef ecosystems. Mateusz recently presented preliminary findings of his analysis at the SIO Undergraduate Research symposium with support from his advisors, SIO Assistant Professor, Dr. Brice Semmens and REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens. Initial findings show that the five species tend to track a similar population trajectory within a given geographic area, but that those patterns are not consistent between areas. He will be continuing his work over the summer.

Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database for analysis. To see the 65+ scientific publications that have included REEF’s survey data and projects, visit www.REEF.org/db/publications.