1

People and ecosystems

Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.

2

Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution

3

Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

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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New research has revealed the tiny minority of fishers who poach on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) think the illegal practice is justified, because they believe “everyone else is doing it.”

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University asked nearly 700 recreational fishers at boat ramps in Townsville about their perceptions of poaching (i.e. fishing in no-take zones).

PhD candidate Brock Bergseth led the study, and said the results were overwhelmingly encouraging.

“97 per cent of fishers thought poaching was personally unacceptable, and most supported enforcement of the rules. But a small number did not.”

Mr Bergseth said the 21 self-admitted poachers thought poaching occurred much more often, than did non-poachers.

“People involved in illicit activities such as illegal drug use and drink driving are more prone to overestimate the prevalence of their behaviour in society. This ‘false consensus effect’ often allows offenders to justify their actions – they think it’s ok because ‘everyone else is doing it.’ Our data suggest that this effect may also be occurring among poachers in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP).”

He said it was a dangerous trend, because fishers who know poachers can also be ‘contaminated’ if they begin to think the bad behavior is widespread.

“People who know a poacher have significantly higher estimates of the level of poaching compared to fishers that don’t know poachers. This implies that these fishers believe that poaching is more common than fishers who do not associate with poachers.”

Mr Bergseth said 13 per cent of fishers reported knowing someone who had poached within the past 12 months.

“In all, this study showed how numerous misperceptions are probably supporting the continuation of poaching on the GBR. If left unchecked, these misperceptions could lead to a cascading effect that encourages further poaching.”

Mr Bergseth said the research pointed to a way of addressing the problem.

“There are three specific messages that could be communicated to poachers. First, that nearly every recreational fisher thinks that poaching is socially and morally unacceptable. Secondly, it is really important for everyone to know that almost all recreational fishers follow the rules – poachers are just a small minority that people don’t respect. And lastly, the likelihood of getting detected while poaching is high, as are the consequences – the fine for poaching in a no-take zone is $2100.”

Citation: Bergseth BJ, Roscher M (2018). Discerning the culture of compliance through recreational fisher’s perceptions of poaching. Marine Policy 89:132-141

Link to paper here.

Link to images here.

Contact:

Brock Bergseth
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at JCU
M: +61 (0) 415 655 551 (AEST/UTC +10)
E: brock.bergseth@my.jcu.edu.au

Catherine Naum
Communications Manager
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
M: +61 (0) 428 785 895 (AEST/UTC +10)
E: catherine.naum1@jcu.edu.au

 

Data gathered from the research

The average fisher in the GBRMP:

Is male and spends about 34 days a year fishing.

Makes $90–135,000 AUD, and has a tertiary education.

Most (73%) fishers said fishing was the most important activity that they undertook in the GBRMP, and most (78%) had previously been inspected by marine parks personnel.

57% believed that fishers they did not know had poached in the past 12 months.

A moderate level (16–21%) of fishers reported not caring about whether others would approve of them poaching.

A new and significant role for marine reserves on the Great Barrier Reef has been revealed, with researchers finding the reserves reduce the prevalence of coral diseases.

It’s been known for some time that marine reserves are important for maintaining and enhancing fish stocks, but this is the first time marine reserves have been shown to enhance coral health on the Great Barrier Reef.

Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University found that coral disease levels were four times lower inside no-take marine reserves, where fishing is banned, compared to outside reserves.

Discarded fishing line caught on Great Barrier Reef coral. Image: Joleah Lamb.

“We surveyed more than 80,000 corals around the Whitsunday Islands for six different diseases that commonly harm reef corals around the world,” says study lead author, Dr Joleah Lamb from the Coral CoE.

“We found three coral diseases were more prevalent on reefs outside no-take marine reserves, particularly on reefs with high levels of injured corals and discarded fishing line.”

Wounded corals are more vulnerable to disease. Damaged tissue provides sites where pathogens and parasites can invade, particularly as coral immune responses are lowered while they heal.

Dr Lamb says once a pathogen infects a coral, tissue loss typically spreads from the point of entry.

“It’s like getting gangrene on your foot and there is nothing you can do to stop it from affecting your leg and ultimately your whole body.”

“Disease outbreaks can take a heavy toll, with losses of up to 95 per cent of coral cover on some reefs in the Caribbean.”

Given the difficulty identifying pathogens that cause disease, the researchers say it’s vital to understand which activities increase the risk of coral diseases, and to protect against them.

They say discarded fishing line and levels of coral breakage, potentially from a variety of fishing-related activities, outside the no-take zones on the Great Barrier Reef are indicators of the types of activities that contribute to the problem.

Researchers survey coral on the Great Barrier Reef. Image: Joleah Lamb.

“Fishing line not only causes coral tissue injuries and skeleton damage, but also provides an additional surface for potential pathogens to colonise, increasing their capacity to infect wounds caused by entangled fishing line,” Dr Lamb says.

The researchers hope their findings send a clear message to reef managers about the benefits of marine reserves for coral health.

“No take marine reserves are a promising approach for mitigating coral disease in locations where the concentration or intensity of fishing effort is relatively high,” says Professor Garry Russ from the Coral CoE.

Professor Bette Willis, also from the Coral CoE, says the scientists are now expanding their research to examine other drivers of coral disease.

“We’ve shown that there are strong links between damage and disease in this study, now we’re interested in understanding and managing other potential drivers of diseases that involve injury– such as outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, cyclones, and recreational activities like anchoring.”

~~~

Paper: Lamb JB, Williamson DH, Russ GR, and BL Willis (In Press). Protected areas mitigate diseases of reef-building corals by reducing damage from fishing. Ecology. DOI:10.1890/14-1952.1

http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/14-1952.1

Contacts:

Dr Joleah Lamb – Joleah.Lamb@my.jcu.edu.au, +61 (0) 4 59 040 091

Professor Bette Willis – Bette.Willis@jcu.edu.au, +61 (0) 7 4781 5349

Coral reefs provide a range of benefits, such as food, opportunities for income and education, but not everyone has the same access to them, according to a new study conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

The researchers examined how people from 28 fishing communities in Madagascar, Kenya, Tanzania and Seychelles benefit from the marine environment.

For many years conservation in developing countries has been based on the assumption that improvements in ecosystem conditions, such as increasing coral reef fish biomass, will benefit the community as a whole.

But Dr Christina Hicks, a social scientist, says this is approach is too simplistic.

“Increased supply tends to benefit the elite, not the community as a whole,” Dr Hicks says.

“We need to look at the social and economic access mechanisms that would enable a wider group of people to benefit from reefs and then develop policies based on that information,” she says.

Study co-author Professor Josh Cinner from the Coral CoE says the focus on increasing the supply of benefits isn’t enough.

“We need to pay more attention to how that benefit is distributed and how it is accessed by different people within a community,” Professor Cinner says.

The researchers argue that policy makers need a more inclusive approach to managing coral reefs, which includes a focus on improving wellbeing.

“We tend to focus on economic growth because it is easy to measure, but this should be greatly expanded to include the way people can share in the benefits that flow from reefs,” Dr Hicks says.

Paper

Social, institutional, and knowledge mechanisms mediate diverse ecosystem service benefits from coral reefs by Christina C. Hicks and Joshua E. Cinner is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/11/26/1413473111.long

Contacts

Dr Christina Hicks, +61 (0) 466 437 490 christina.hicks@jcu.edu.au

Professor Joshua Cinner, +61 (0) 417 714 138, joshua.cinner@jcu.edu.au

Eleanor Gregory, Coral CoE Media, +61 (0) 428 785 895, eleanor.gregory@jcu.edu.au

Scientists in Queensland have used historic media to measure the decline in Queensland’s pink snapper fishery, highlighting a drop of almost 90 per cent in catch rates since the 19th Century.

Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at the University of Queensland and the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry examined thousands of newspaper articles dating back to1870 to reveal the historic catch rates for the iconic Queensland fishery.

“We found that 19th century recreational fishers would regularly catch hundreds of fish off the coast of Queensland, often in just a few hours of fishing,” says Dr Ruth Thurstan, a Research Fellow from the Coral CoE.

Combining historical data with statistical analyses allowed the researchers to calculate catch rates, which are the number of fish caught per hour fishing per day, for nearly 300 fishing trips between 1871 and 1939.

When the researchers compared the findings to contemporary fishing trips, they found that recent catch rates averaged just one-ninth of historical levels.

The old news articles have given researchers unparalleled insights into the history of the Queensland snapper fishery.

“When we searched through these old newspapers we were amazed by the level of detail they provided,” Dr Thurstan says.

“They give us a much better understanding of just how rich and productive this fishery used to be, as well as providing us with some fascinating insights into the development of offshore recreational fishing in Queensland.”

“Crucially, these newspaper articles place the modern day fishery into a longer-term perspective that isn’t available using only official records. This helps us understand the changes that have occurred in the fishery over time, and provides an additional piece of the puzzle for those managing this fishery today,” Dr Thurstan says.

Study co-author, Professor John Pandolfi, also from Coral CoE agrees.

“This is one of the most comprehensive perspectives on historical trends in catch rates for Australian fisheries ever compiled,” Professor Pandolfi says.

“We expect similar trends to be uncovered for other Australian fisheries.”

 

Paper

‘Nineteenth century narratives reveal historic catch rates for Australian snapper (Pagrus auratus)’ by Ruth H Thurstan, Alexander B Campbell and John M Pandolfi is published in the journal Fish and Fisheries.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/faf.12103/abstract

 Contacts

Dr Ruth Thurstan: +61 (0) 450 586 263 or r.thurstan@uq.edu.au;

Professor John Pandolfi: + 61 (0)7 3365 3050 or j.pandolfi@uq.edu.au

Eleanor Gregory, Communications Manager: +61 (0)7 47816067, +61 (0)428 785 895 or eleanor.gregory@jcu.edu.au

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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