Creature Feature: Spiny Lobster
The California spiny lobster, Panulirus interruptus, is common from Point Conception to Baja California, Mexico. California spiny lobsters play an important role in the ecosystem not the least of which is limiting sea urchin abundance and subsequently allowing kelp forests to thrive in southern California.
Hunting of California spiny lobster dates back to the late 1800's. This year the recreational and commercial fishing seasons began on September 29th and October 3rd respectively. Over time, as the largest individuals have been preferentially targeted by these fisheries, the average size and life span of the lobsters has been reduced, threatening the balance of entire ecosystems.
Marine protected areas in southern California may help to restore this species by protecting important juvenile nursery habitats and allowing adults to grow larger and produce more young. In a scientific study in California's Channel Islands, where marine protected areas have been in place for 10 years, Kay et al. (2012) compared lobster catches in marine reserves to non-reserve sites. The study found that lobsters were more abundant and larger in the marine protected areas, with an average of 5.49 more legal-sized lobsters caught and subsequently released per trap inside the reserves.
In other research, that is part of the South Coast MPA Baseline Program, the Lobster Monitoring Project, scientists are attempting to understand how the new regulations associated with the MPAs may affect the lobster's ecology. This program tags lobsters to quantify their baseline levels and monitor short term changes in their abundance, size structure, habitat use, and movement patterns inside and outside of south coast marine protected areas. We hope this research and the California spiny lobster will prove to be an early success story of the network of marine protected areas in California. Find out more...
Learn more about these awesome ocean creatures with these cool facts!
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