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Sunday
Mar112012

Changing the way coastal communities view their coral reefs

Overfishing and destructive fishing practices have short and long-term effects on coastal communities, at several levels – in addition to the obvious harm to fish populations, reefs, and the general ocean environment.

The Live Reef Food Fish Trade

The Live Reef Food Fish Trade is a US$1billion trade centred  in Hong Kong.

Indonesia is the largest supplier to the Live Reef Food Fish Trade with estimated landings of approximately 52,000 metric tonnes in 2001.

Approximately 50% of the fish caught die before they make it to market, so to land 52,000 mT, Indonesia has to catch more than 100,000 mT.

That is 100,000,000 fish, mainly groupers and wrasse.  These fish are at the top of their food chain and an integral part of the reef ecosystem.

The Shark Fin Trade

Shark finning involves catching a shark, cutting off its fins, and discarding of the rest of the shark body into the ocean. These sharks then die slowly from their injuries, through suffocation, or they are eaten because they are unable to move normally. Shark finning can be vefy profitable fofr fishermen, as they only have to store and transport the fins, which are highly valuable.image from planetearthherald.com

Estimates of the global value of the shark fin trade range from a minimum of US$540 Million to US$1.2 billion.  A single fin can sell for as much as $20,000.

Estimates of the number of sharks taken each year for their fins are as high as 100 million. Numbers of some shark species have dropped as much as 80% over the last 50 years.  Sharks are at the top of the food chain in almost every part of the ocean.  Because they prey on sick or weak fish, and sometimes scavenge for carcasses on the sea floor, they help prevent the spread of disease and keep populations of other fish healthy and in proper proportion for their ecosystem.

Destructive Fishing

More than half the groupers caught in Indonesia are done so using destructive fishing practices (cyanide solution to stun the fish and home-made explosives to shatter the reef).

A beer bottle bomb shatters approximately 19.6 m2.  With 2–3 bombs per small-scale operation and 2 operations, 20 days per month, 10 months per year, the total number of blasts is estimated at 800–1200 per year per km2.

According to the WRI “fishers engaged in blast fishing may earn US$15,000 per square kilometer, but they generate losses to society over a 20-year period ranging from US$91,000 to US$700,000 per square kilometer

According to reports from the WWF, over 6,000 divers squirt an estimated 150 tons of cyanide around 33 million coral heads annually worldwide. One spray (approximately 20 ml) can bleach an area of 5.5 m2 of coral reef within 3-6 months and repeated sprayings can kill coral. According to ReefBase, “cyanide is nearly exclusively used as the ‘cost-effective’ way of harvesting live fish.”

Cyanide is also occasionally used for food fish in 45-gallon oil drum quantities spread across the whole reef. Cyanide not only stuns the larger, higher-value target fish destined for restaurants in Hong Kong and other locations throughout the region, but also kills small fish and marine biota including coral polyps and symbiotic algae in the surrounding area.

Cyanide fishing also poses human health risks: to fishermen, through accidental exposure to the poison and careless use of often shoddy compressed-air diving gear by untrained divers.

Economic Imbalance

According to the World Resource Institute, the costs of destroying 1km of coral reef ranges between US$137,000-1,200,000 over a 25-year period.

A study published a decade ago identified that after 20 years of blast fishing in Indonesia, in areas with a high value of coral reefs for tourism and coastal protection the lost benefits from tourism totaled as much as US$306,800 per km2 of reef

The economic costs to society were 4 times higher than the net private benefits to blast fishers.

If we look at the effects of stripping a reef of its sharks and groupers, we can see an even more striking imbalance.

As an example, a study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Western Australia,from the Pacific island nation of Palau, shows that sharks are worth many times more to some local economies alive than dead. A single reef shark can be worth nearly $2 million in tourism revenue over its lifetime.

"Sharks can literally be a 'million-dollar' species and a significant economic driver," says the study’s  lead author. "Our study shows that these animals can contribute far more as a tourism resource than as a catch target," he says in a statement.

The researchers found that the annual value to the Palau tourism industry of an individual reef shark at one of the country's major scuba-diving sites is $163,000 a year, or about $1.7 million over the animal's lifetime.

Shark diving accounts for about 80 per cent of the tiny country's GDP and 14 per cent of its business tax base. It also generates more than a million dollars annually in salaries.

At the global level, by one estimate, the total net benefit per year of the world’s coral reefs is $29.8 billion. Tourism and recreation account for $9.6 billion of this amount, coastal protection for $9.0 billion, fisheries for $5.7 billion, and biodiversity for $5.5 billion (Cesar, Burke and Pet-Soede, 2003).

Social Imbalance:

Estimates show that since the 1960’s, over a million kilograms of cyanide have been squirted into the coral reefs of the Philippines alone (Bryant et al.). The harm upon the reefs is coming full circle and having a social impact through the limited fish stocks. As fish are depleted from these fishing techniques, the fishermen are having a more difficult time feeding themselves.

Solution

The total economic value of Indonesia 's reefs is estimated at US$1.6 billion annually.  Blowing up the coral reef to find grouper, and catching the sharks for their fins, is nowhere near as productive for a coastal community as keeping the reef and its population in tact.  By educating coastal communities on the monetary value of the reef, and the broader environment, they can understand the reef’s importance in true economic terms.  This leads to a change in attitude and decision-making.

Coastal communities can showcase their coral reefs and reef fish assets and gain a long-term benefit, rather than strip-mining the assets for a much shorter term and lesser return.


Note: There is a lot of emerging literature that discusses the economic value of coral reefs, and the increased benefit when a coastal population turns from fishing to tourism.  Some links are included below.

Coral reef facts from Panda.org: http://ow.ly/ait0X

AIMS announcement on “Million-Dollar Reef Sharks' an Economic Driver for Palau”: http://ow.ly/aisXS

WWF - Coral Triangle: The Importance of Coral to People: http://ow.ly/aivQd

The Initiative for the Protection and Management of Coral Reefs in the Pacific (CRISP) report on the “Social And Economic Values Of Pacific Coral Reefs”: http://ow.ly/aitcv

Economic Valuation and Socioeconomics of Coral Reefs: http://ow.ly/aivBd

World Bank - Economic Valuation of Coral Reefs: http://ow.ly/aivID

WRI - The Economic Loss Associated With Coral Reef Degradation: http://ow.ly/aiw11

Economic Values of Coral Reefs, Mangroves, and Seagrasses: A Global Compilation: http://ow.ly/aivVj

The Economic Value of Guam’s Coral Reefs: http://ow.ly/aiv2q

The Economic Value of the Coral Reefs of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: http://ow.ly/aivgK

The Economic Valuation of the Coral Reefs of Hawai‘i: http://ow.ly/aivEH

Semporna Islands Park Economic Values analysis: http://ow.ly/aivLF

 

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