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Monday, December 7, 2009

Snorkel Transects In The Kisite Mpunguti Marine Protected Area

Although dolphin surveys are a big and important part of the Marine Research Programme on the Kenya expedition, the turtle snorkeling transects are always one of the highlights of the marine day. There are 7 transects set up within the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area and everyday the marine team snorkels along a 400 meter transect searching for marine turtles and taking underwater pictures in order to assess the abundance of several reef fish families within the Kisite-Mpunguti MPA and surrounding area.

Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area contains the largest marine park in Kenya (28km²) where as the adjacent marine reserve is the smallest in Kenya (11km²). Inside the marine reserve traditional fishing methods are allowed, but the MPA is a safe haven for reef fish as both breeding and nursery grounds, protected from being exploited by fishing.

Previous studies have shown that the abundance of some indicator species is ten times higher in the marine park than in the marine reserve. However, little research has been carried out in the MPA and surrounding area. Therefore reef fish surveys are carried out to assess the abundance of several reef fish families within the Kisite-Mpunguti MPA. This data will also be used to assess the impact of fishing in the Mpunguti Marine Reserve in comparison to the 'no-take' Kisite Marine Park.

We are currently training volunteers on different reef fish families that were shown to be relevant in terms of studying coral reef health. These groups include indicator species, such as Butterfly and Angelfish families, which refer to species whose presence demonstrate a wider set of species and in turn greater biodiversity. The second group includes Carnivore species such as snappers and groupers which belong to a high trophic level and have high fishing value. The third group includes Herbivore species such as parrotfish, with medium fishing value. Volunteers are also trained on estimating the size of the fish observed to be able to find length frequency distributions of the specific reef fish families studied.

The Underwater Visual Census involves two observers traveling slowly along a 50m transect, at a distance of 5m from one another. Using a pencil and slate the volunteers will count and estimate the size of the reef fish species observed.