Analysis of Larval Dispersal and Retention Within the South Atlantic Bight Using Satellite-Tracked Drifters Released on Reef Fish Spawning Grounds

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Lesher, Ammon T.
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Studies that track the dispersal of eggs and larvae from a point source are an important component in the study of recruitment variability, larval dispersal, and marine protected area (MPA) science. This study evaluated the mechanisms by which planktonic eggs and larvae are transported within the South Atlantic Bight (SAB) through the use of satellitetracked drifters. The study revealed that while the region is dominated by the Gulf Stream Current, there are distinct oceanographic processes that may facilitate the retention of planktonic larvae including inshore countercurrents, gyres, eddy formation, and inshore transport. Dispersal occurs on a broad scale throughout the SAB with the drifter tracks providing evidence of both long-distance transport and local retention. Transport routes from the recently enacted Amendment 14 MPAs were evaluated to determine the potential benefits of larval dispersal from a protected area. Evidence that the region appears to be, at least in part, self-recruiting should facilitate the protection of habitats where spawning fish are prevalent to ensure a stable source of larvae within the region thereby mitigating the long-term effects of overfishing on the overall health of commercially exploited fish populations.
Biological oceanography; South Atlantic Bight