Mangroves as Fish Habitat

Fish Community and Habitat Assessments of Three Adjacent Tidal Creeks on Cape Eleuthera, The Bahamas

Karen J. Murchie, Sascha Clark Danylchuk, Andy J. Danylchuk, and Steven J. Cooke


Abstract.—Three adjacent tidal creek systems (Page, Kemps, and Broad creeks) on Cape Eleuthera, The Bahamas were studied to quantify the variation in fish community structure and habitat characteristics over small (<5 km) spatial scales. Snorkeling transects were used to census the fish community on a summer new moon during slack high tide and involved the simultaneous assessment of each creek and each zone within the creek (i.e., mouth, middle, and upper) replicated over three consecutive days. The simultaneous assessment (involving large teams) was done to enable direct comparison without spatial sampling being confounded by time. Habitat assessments included measurements of water quality parameters, sediment sampling, and vegetation surveys. Despite their close proximity, creeks differed in both fish community structure and habitat characteristics. Broad Creek had the greatest fish species richness (n = 15), followed by Kemps Creek (n = 14) and Page Creek (n = 10). Mangrove habitats had significantly greater fish species diversity in Broad Creek while sea grass habitats resulted in higher species richness in Page Creek, relative to other habitat types. Mangrove and algal plain habitats had the highest fish species diversity in Kemps Creek. Within creeks, fish abundance was dependent on zonation, with the largest number of fish being found in creek mouths compared to upper sections. Water quality parameters (i.e., temperature, dissolved oxygen, and salinity) differed among the creeks, presumably reflecting creek morphology. Out of the 10 different species of vegetation observed, 60% were found in all tidal creeks. Coarse sand was the predominant particle size for all creeks, with variation in the second most abundant particle size between Page Creek and the others. This study reveals the great heterogeneity of tidal creek fish community and habitat characteristics and illustrates that conservation and management strategies along with monitoring programs must recognize the variation that can occur among and within coastal creeks over relatively small spatial scales.