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James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

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Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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How my research delivered tools to combat poaching on the GBR

04
Mar 2018

Posted By

ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies

Author: Brock Bergseth

Reseaching as a Coral CoE PhD student these past four years steered me ever deeper down the rabbit hole of illegal fishing. This is currently a big ‘black box’ for research – most conservation practitioners acknowledge that poaching is a problematic issue undermining conservation efforts, but also acknowledge that detailed studies are beyond their means. It is notoriously difficult to gather reliable information about illegal behaviours and poaching.

I therefore dedicated my PhD to addressing this critical knowledge gap. My research focus was to assess poaching by recreational fishers on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) by developing and deploying specialised techniques to estimate and understand these behaviours. This research ultimately revealed the mechanisms likely responsible for continued poaching, and identified management options best suited to reduce it.

Using rigorous social surveys, I identified four main mechanisms that may be encouraging ongoing poaching:

• Poaching is likely opportunistic in nature, because fishers perceive better catches in no-fishing zones in conjunction with a low risk of being detected while poaching.
• In addition, fishers who admitted to poaching misperceived a false consensus that others also poached, which is likely allowing them to justify and continue their own poaching behaviours.
• These misperceptions also exist among fishers that socialize with poachers – fishers who know poachers are more likely to perceive higher levels of poaching and therefore think that is socially and personally acceptable to do so.
• A last mechanism that is likely encouraging poaching on the GBR is called ‘pluralistic ignorance,’ where compliant fishers mistakenly think that poaching is more prevalent than it actually is. The danger of this social phenomenon is that people may actually change their behaviour and decide to start poaching to ‘fit in’ – this has been observed in a variety of problem behaviours including alcohol and illegal drug use.

The upside of the findings is that these perceptions are malleable, and can be influenced with targeted communication strategies that correct misperceptions.

Throughout my time at Coral CoE, I maintained close contact with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). This ensured that my research addressed key knowledge gaps and research priorities to support ongoing management policy and practice. The results from this research, have informed recent adaptions in communication and outreach strategies that the GBRMPA employs to manage and discourage poaching. However, illegal behaviours are dynamic, rather than static, and therefore change regularly. As such, it is important to stay on top of them, and understand how different management strategies affect people’s behaviours. My research represents the tip of the iceberg, and much more remains to be understood about why people choose to either follow or break conservation rules. As our world continues to face an onslaught of human pressures and environmental degradation, answering these questions will only become more important for ensuring we leave something more than a raft of wicked problems and behaviours behind for the next generation.

 


 

On 9 March 2018, Brock’s research was recognised with Coral CoE’s Glenn Almany Memorial Prize. This prize is awarded to graduate students who publish an outstanding paper on research that required them to work with people beyond traditional academic boundaries, made a difference, or which has the potential to influence policy, management or practice. The award-winning publication is available here.

The Glenn Almany Memorial Prize is awarded annually in memory of the passing of our colleague and friend, Dr Glenn Almany to acknowledge his scientific achievements and inspire the next generation by his dreams. Glenn was a fine scientist with a passion for making a difference for local people dependent on coral reefs.

Recent Coral CoE PhD graduate, Brock Bergseth turned his enthusiasm for fishing into an award-winning applied research thesis. Image: Brock Bergseth.
Recent Coral CoE PhD graduate, Brock Bergseth turned his enthusiasm for fishing into an award-winning applied research thesis. Image: Brock Bergseth.

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ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au