Implementing the Dry Tortugas National Park Research Natural Area Science Plan: The 5-Year Report

The report summarizes research findings on how fish and other natural resources respond to the protection provided by the Research Natural Area.

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The Dry Tortugas National Park Research Natural Area (RNA) is a 46-square-mile area in which fishing and anchoring are prohibited. In 2007, scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the National Park Service developed a science plan to evaluate how fish and other natural resources respond to protection provided by the RNA. Over five years, federal and state agencies, in cooperation with academic scientists, conducted research and monitoring projects in and near the RNA. The report, released in 2012, summarizes the implementation of the plan and provides a comprehensive evaluation of the RNA’s effectiveness.

Highlights of the plan’s studies include findings on reef fish and insights on mutton snapper and the species’ spawning activities.

Inside the RNA, researchers found the number and size of mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper, red grouper and hogfish increased from 2007 to 2012.

FWC researchers made the first ever observations of repeated mutton snapper spawning events at Riley’s Hump, a well-known fish spawning aggregation site in the Tortugas South Ecological Reserve, a protected area near the RNA. Researchers estimated at least 4,000 mutton snapper were at the aggregation site at the full moon of June 2009, compared to no more than a few hundred in the early part of the decade. The outcomes of this research suggest the protection afforded by the RNA has been an important component in the recovery of mutton snapper at Riley’s Hump.

Using modeling techniques, University of Miami researchers predict the spawning groups in the Tortugas supply larvae that settle throughout Florida waters, including the Keys, the West Florida shelf and east coast areas north of Miami.


To learn more about the RNA, download the entire 5-year report (PDF file – 8.42 MB) from the National Park Service website or order a hard copy.

FWC Facts:
Bottlenose dolphins use echolocation to find their prey.

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