Fishermen, stakeholders in the future of coral reefs
Subsistence and growth of coral depends on a number of requirements, temperature, irradiance, calcium carbonate saturation, turbidity, sedimentation, salinity, pH and nutrients. The level of these variables determines the processes of photosynthesis and calcification, and also the level of survival. In turn these requirements are affected by meteorological processes, which results in coral reefs occurring in only select areas of the world's oceans. The corals are prone to destruction and degradation via many agents, including mechanical damage (ships running into reefs; boat anchors), disease, high temperature stress ('bleaching'), hurricanes, sediments from land run-off owing to deforestation, and pollution (often in areas of coastal development). Many of these agents have direct human causes.
In Jamaica* the reefs have suffered from three main causes – overfishing, hurricanes, and the die-off of the Diadema sea urchins in the early 1980s. Law enforcement to combat overfishing is not the way forward. Rather, NGOs and marine biologists have worked with the fishermen to make their catches sustainable for the future. This approach needs constant monitoring and maintenance of key relationships. It also needs Governmental and Industrial support.
A similar process of engagement has been under weigh with local fisherfolk in the Wakatobi Marine National Park in Indonesia, S.E. of Sulawesi. In the Marine Park there is a Bajau community. The term Bajau is applied to a variety of seafaring peoples whose scattered settlements extend across the South China Sea. Today, only a small number of Bajau are boat dwellers, or "Sea Gypsies." The local Bajau village consists of approximately 200 houses located on top of stilts embedded into fine-sand flats, and are home to approximately 1300 people. The Bajau people are dependent on the sand flats and coral reef community for food. This village Bajo has existed only since about the middle of the twentieth century, and all the dwellings are built upon coral, mined in the area. Coral mining – the use of corals taken out of the reefs by mechanical means and used as building materials – is a real problem for the reefs in the area. There is a lively trade in the corals mined at Sampela at the present time, for use as building materials both in Sampela village and on the large neighbouring island of Kaledupa. The other major problem for the corals is bomb and cyanide fishing. While bomb fishing has decreased in recent years, it still is a frequent occurrence. Our work shows that the use of coral mining and bomb fishing is responsible for the almost complete loss of large massive corals near Sampela recruited before 1950. This south east part of Sulawesi experiences high energy storm waves during December through to February and the loss of the protective coral barrier will have severe consequences for the rates of erosion of the sand flats upon which the Sampela village is situated. Indeed it may collapse altogether. The only way forward is by engaging the local fisherfolk – Indonesians and Bajau – in a long-term programme to develop sustainable fisheries in the area.
Coral reefs support much human life in the tropics, from food through medicines to the tourist industry. It is only by continually engaging with all the stakeholders, from fisherfolk to governments, that we can ensure the maintenance of the corals for the future.
Written by Professor M. James C. Crabbe
Professor of Biochemistry
Dean of the Faculty of Creative Arts, Technologies and Science
University of Luton
*Professor Crabbe has carried out works in Jamaica since 2000
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