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Factors influencing the distribution and population of the grazing urchin Echinometra mathaei within the Ningaloo Marine Park

Langdon, M., van Keulen, M. and Paling, E. (2011) Factors influencing the distribution and population of the grazing urchin Echinometra mathaei within the Ningaloo Marine Park. In: 48th Annual Conference of the Australian Marine Science Association, 3 - 7 July, Fremantle, Western Australia.


Sea urchins can have a significant influence upon the ecological structure of coral reefs through bioerosion of substrata and also by affecting competition for space. They are important grazers in many marine systems and can cause major ecosystem changes when their populations reach high levels (generally after a decline in the numbers of their fish predators). However, the relative importance of the role of sea urchins in influencing the composition and structure of coral reef habitats has rarely been explored. This study is linked to the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Ningaloo Collaboration Cluster, Component 1: Habitat Mapping and Biodiversity. It has so far examined coral reef habitats and macroinvertebrate (particularly urchins) distribution and abundance within Ningaloo Marine Park. Field sampling has been undertaken at over 100 sites within the Park, focussing on near shore, lagoonal and back reef areas within Sanctuary zones and adjacent Recreation zones. Data analyses so far indicate that the distribution of urchins is not affected by the management zones of the park (i.e. no significant evidence has been found of indirect effects from fishing of urchin predators). However, habitat type has a major influence on urchin distribution, e.g. urchin populations were higher on nearshore intertidal and sub-tidal reef platforms, lagoonal patch reefs and shallow backreef platforms than other habitats. In coral reefs in other parts of the world, unusually high urchin populations can indicate overfishing. So far, this study has found no indication of fishing pressure indirectly affecting urchin densities, which suggests that the current zoning may be effective. However, further analyses of the data, particularly those from the nearshore sanctuary areas where shore based fishing activities are allowed, are yet to be completed. If fishing pressure is having an effect, it is likely to be seen in those areas where urchin abundance is predicted to be highest.

Publication Type: Conference Item
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
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