The biodiversity of fishes at the Islas Marías Biosphere Reserve, Mexico, as determined by baited remote underwater video

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Brittany Tholan
Peter Carlson
JJ Adolfo Tortolero-Langarica
James T Ketchum
Abel Trejo-Ramírez
Erendira Aceves-Bueno
Jennifer E Caselle


The Islas Marías Biosphere Reserve, made up of 4 islands in Pacific waters off central Mexico, supports a large diversity of marine life. However, scientific research was restricted for decades by the occupation of Isla María Madre by the Federal Penitentiary Colony of Mexico from 1905 to 2019. Aside from a list of coastal fish species published in 2011, little has been published about the fish biodiversity in the area. While the limited access to the archipelago may have acted as a de-facto marine reserve, there is evidence that fishing continued both legally for the benefit of the colony and illegally by trespassing vessels. In order to establish baseline ecological data for future conservation planning, we used baited remote underwater video (BRUV) surveys at all 4 islands during 3 expeditions to the archipelago in 2018. A total of 131 BRUV surveys representing ~150 h of footage were analyzed to create the most current compilation of species and abundance data on coastal marine fishes at Islas Marías. Ninety-nine species were identified, 3 of which were additions to the previous assessment. We found strong separation of fish communities based on both habitat and depth, and an association between hard-bottom habitats and high biodiversity of reef fishes. With the declaration of Islas Marías as a natural reserve and relocation of the prison in 2019, there is an opportunity for the reserve to become a priority area for marine conservation on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Spatial analyses of fish biodiversity at Isla María Cleofas can help develop sustainable management strategies at a time when the governmental jurisdiction of the iconic archipelago is uncertain.

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