scientific article | Journal of fish biology
Pinheiro HT, Macena BC, Francini‐Filho RB, Ferreira CE, Albuquerque FV, Bezerra NP, Carvalho‐Filho A, Ferreira RC, Luiz OJ, Mello TJ, Mendonça SA.
Saint Peter and Saint Paul's Archipelago (SPSPA), one of the smallest and most isolated island groups in the world, is situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, between Brazil and the African continent. SPSPA has low species richness and high endemism; nonetheless, the diversity of fishes from deep habitats (>30 m depth) had not been previously studied in detail. Several expeditions conducted between 2009 and 2018 explored the shallow and deep reefs of SPSPA using scuba, closed-circuit rebreathers, manned submersibles, baited remote underwater stereo-videos (stereo-BRUV) and fishing between 0 and 1050 m depth. These expeditions yielded 41 new records of fishes for SPSPA: 9 in open waters, 9 in shallow waters (0–30 m), 8 in mesophotic ecosystems (30–150 m) and 15 in deeper reefs (>150 m). Combined with literature records of adult pelagic, shallow and deep-reef species, as well as larvae, the database of the fish biodiversity for SPSPA currently comprises 225 species (169 recorded as adult fishes and 79 as larvae, with 23 species found in both stages). Most of them (112) are pelagic, 86 are reef-associated species and 27 are deep-water specialists. Species accumulation curves show that the number of fish species has not yet reached an asymptote. Whereas the number of species recorded in SPSPA is similar to that in other oceanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean, the proportion of shorefishes is relatively lower, and the endemism level is the third highest in the Atlantic. Twentynine species are listed as threatened with extinction. Observations confirm the paucity of top predators on shallow rocky reefs of the island, despite the presence of several pelagic shark species around SPSPA. Because all of the endemic species are reef associated, it is argued that the new marine-protected areas created by the Brazilian government do not ensure the protection and recovery of SPSPA's biodiversity because they allow exploitation of the most vulnerable species around the archipelago itself. This study suggests a ban on reef fish exploitation inside an area delimited by the 1000 m isobath around the islands (where all known endemics are concentrated) as the main conservation strategy to be included in the SPSPA management plan being prepared by the Brazilian government.