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Coral Reef Studies

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

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Fishers caught between degradation and development

Jun 2010

The livelihoods of tens of millions of fishers in the world’s richest coral reef region, the Coral Triangle, are at risk from the combined impact of collapsing fish stocks, environmental decline and coastal development.

A new study focusing on a group of islands in the Philippines by Dr Michael Fabinyi of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University has highlighted the pressures being experienced by tens of millions of subsistence fishers in the region bounded by Australia, the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

“The Calamianes islands in the Philippines are fairly typical of what is happening throughout the region,” Michael explains.

“Until recently they had relatively pristine coral reefs and healthy levels of fish stocks – but the impact of overfishing, including dynamite fishing and cyanide fishing, to feed the hungry markets of China and Asia have caused extensive degradation to the reefs and declines in the fish that depend on them.

“In Southeast Asia it is commonly assumed that tourism development will provide some of the answers by employing people who can no longer fish for a living – but in my study I did not find that.

“Instead it became clear that what was spoken of as eco-tourism was, in reality, often coastal resort development – and it was pushing many coastal families off their land as well as squeezing them out of their fishing areas.

“It has certainly created jobs for some former fishers – but by no means for all, and this wider social impact needs to be taken into account when thinking about the future livelihoods of the tens of millions who have, until now, drawn their living from the sea.”

Dr Fabinyi says that the creation of Marine Protected Areas in some parts of the Philippines and Coral Triangle has proved beneficial both for fishers and genuine ecotourism, although it has also restricted the area that fishers rely on for their livelihood.

“In the Calamianes, for example, I found that most fishers were working longer hours, over greater distances, for fewer fish caught – which is a clear sign that the fishery is continuing to decline.

“At the same time resort developers were pressuring them to give up their land on the coast, without creating sufficient livelihoods to compensate for the loss on land and at sea.”

Tourism development is often seen as a ‘silver bullet’ solution to poverty in underdeveloped regions, he says, but studies on the ground indicate the picture is more mixed – while some livelihoods are created, others are being destroyed. Also tourism is less reliable than fishing, being subject to booms and busts and the cost of world air travel.

“The people who are affected by these forces of environmental degradation, fish stock decline and coastal development are so numerous throughout the region that this is emerging as a very serious social issue for all the countries in the Coral Triangle as well as those which border it – like Australia,” Dr Fabinyi says.

His paper “The Intensification of Fishing and the Rise of Tourism: Competing Coastal Livelihoods in the Calamianes Islands, Philippines” is published in the journal Human Ecology (2010) 38, pages 415–427.

More information:
Michael Fabinyi, CoECRS and JCU, ph +61 7 47816358 or +61 0423 389 660
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, +61 7 4781 4222
Jim O’Brien, James Cook University Media Office, +61 7 4781 4822 or +61 0418 892449


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Coral Reef Studies

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