Artificial reefs have been suggested as a potential tool for the restoration of marine habitats. In the present study, the fish assemblage established around the oil jetties of Eilat (northern Red Sea, Israel) was compared to those found in three adjacent natural reef habitats: two in a nature reserve (one shallow and one deep) and a third deep site located near the city. Both species richness and fish abundance were found to be significantly higher around the vertical structures of the jetty's pillars than at all three natural sites, with the lowest values at the site closest to the city. The higher species richness at the jetties may be explained by (1) the vertical relief and high complexity of the jetty which offers a variety of niches for both shallow and deep coral reef species, and (2) by the reduction in available niches at the natural sites as a result of coral destruction due to anthropogenic activity. The pronounced difference in fish abundance is attributed mainly to the high seasonal recruitment at the jetty which was much lower at the natural sites. We therefore suggest that vertical structures are more attractive to fish settlement and recruitment than moderately sloped bottoms such as those found at the fringing reefs of Eilat. High similarity (51 to 56%) was found between fish assemblages at the natural sites while relatively low similarity (27 to 37%) was found between the jetty and the natural reefs. The jetty's complex vertical artificial structures can serve as a model for future construction of artificial reefs designed to restore the fish community in areas where the natural reefs have been damaged. It should be taken into account, however, that these do not necessarily mimic the natural environment but may rather establish a community of their own, which is influenced by the spatial orientation and complexity of the structure.
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Acknowledgements We would like to thank the Israeli Diving Federation for a grant funding part of this research. We acknowledge the Eilat-Ashqelon Pipe Line authorities for allowing the research, the Interuniversity Institute of Eilat for assistance and use of facilities, and M. Goren for useful guidelines. We thank D. Y. Shapiro and M. Harmelin-vivien who supplied constructive criticism on the first draft of this paper. We also thank the anonymous reviewers of the final version of the manuscript. Special thanks to G. Nissel, I. Nehoran, N. Shiloah, R. Ben-David-Zaslow and many others for helpful diving assistance.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Aquatic Science