The humble rabbitfish – the unsuspecting pillar of our healthy coral reefs

In a previous issue I discussed the most crucial species of the artisanal fishery in the Seychelles- the rabbitfish. My PhD research focused on the distribution, movement patterns and feeding behaviour of these fish, and other vital fish species, such as surgeonfish and parrotfish.

Looking closely at distribution, I carried out intense fish and benthic surveys encompassing 24 reefs around the Inner Seychelles Islands. Three major findings were discovered. Firstly, it was revealed through scientific analysis that current Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around the Inner Seychelles Islands are not working in improving the abundance and biomass of crucial fish species such as rabbitfish, parrotfish and surgeonfish. This may be caused by the lack of enforcement around the Islands.

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Secondly, my results show that seagrass habitats are crucial nursery grounds to these species, particularly to rabbitfish. Unfortunately, seagrass habitats are often not considered when MPAs are being established.

Lastly, it was found that two species of rabbitfish (i.e. the white-spotted spinefoot, and the streamlined spinefoot) are vital species that are helping to remove invasive macroalgae from reefs. Macroalgae is quite destructive to reefs as it has shown to release chemicals that deter settlement of coral. Following major bleaching events in Seychelles, many of the coral reefs have been smothered in macroalgae.
In fact some reefs have seen increases of up to 40% in the span of 10 years.

Picture 1: Photo of a pristine coral reef taken on Denis Island, Seychelles
Picture 2: Photo of a coral reef that has been smothered by invasive macroalgae taken in the St. Anne Marine Park, Seychelles
Therefore, from my results, it can be inferred that these rabbitfish species are important contributors to coral reef resilience. Coral reefs are one of the main attractions to tourists when visiting tropical island destinations like Seychelles. Relevant authorities, therefore, must take the utmost responsibility in recognizing their importance and taking necessary steps to safeguard them for future generations to enjoy.
Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1979), beginning as a travel agent up through today as a publisher of eTurboNews (eTN), one of the world’s most influential and most-read travel and tourism publications. He is also Chairman of ICTP. His experiences include working and collaborating with various national tourism offices and non-governmental organizations, as well as private and non-profit organizations, and in planning, implementing, and quality control of a range of travel and tourism-related activities and programs, including tourism policies and legislation. His major strengths include a vast knowledge of travel and tourism from the point of view of a successful private enterprise owner, superb networking skills, strong leadership, excellent communication skills, strong team player, attention to detail, dutiful respect for compliance in all regulated environments, and advisory skills in both political and non-political arenas with respect to tourism programs, policies, and legislation. He has a thorough knowledge of current industry practices and trends and is a computer and Internet junkie.