Apathy towards poachers widespread in world’s marine protected areas
A new study has found that nearly half of fishers from seven countries had witnessed someone poaching in marine protected areas in the past year and most of them did nothing about it.
Dr Brock Bergseth from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University led the study. He said poaching is widespread in the world’s marine protected areas, and that fishers have the potential to make or break a marine protected area.
“Enforcement capacities are often limited, so managers are trying to encourage fishers to help out when they see someone breaking the law. But until now, we were uncertain about how fishers respond when they witness poaching.”
The research team surveyed fishers in Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, and Australia.
Fishers told researchers that they typically did one of four things after witnessing poaching: “do nothing,” “confront the poachers,” “report them to authorities,” or, in rare instances, “join the poachers.”
“Unfortunately, the most common response was to ‘do nothing,’” said Dr Bergseth.
Inaction was especially common on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR).
“Nearly 80 percent of fishers on the GBR did nothing in response to the observed poaching,” said Dr Bergseth. “This means there is a substantial portion of fishers who managers might hope to engage in surveillance and reporting, given the growing concern over the health of the GBR.”
Co-author Dr Georgina Gurney said fishers offered a variety of the reasons for inactivity after witnessing poaching on the GBR.
“GBR fishers said that they did nothing when they saw others poaching mostly because they thought it wasn’t their concern or their responsibility, they were uncertain as to whether it was illegal fishing, or because of obstacles to reporting.”
In all of the other countries in the study, a desire to avoid conflict was the most common reason offered by fishers for inaction after witnessing poaching, said Dr Bergseth.
“This highlights the fact that dealing with poachers is potentially dangerous in some countries – defending environmental rights can be risky, but there are tools to greatly reduce or eliminate the risk.”
“The bad news is that apathy towards poaching in marine protected areas is widespread,” said co-author Dr Michele Barnes, “but the good news is that there are already many tools and programs to encourage citizens to report poaching and other types of crimes. These can be adapted and tailored to encourage fishers to take action against poaching in a responsible way that minimises risk to themselves.”
The research team found that people who agreed with marine protected area rules and who were included in the decision-making processes were more likely to report or confront poachers.
“We know that when fishers are engaged in the management process of marine protected areas they tend to follow the rules more often. Here, we show that empowering fishers can also encourage voluntary enforcement,” said Dr Barnes.
“Encouragingly, many of the fishers who took action did so because they held stewardship beliefs, or saw that poaching personally affected them. These ideas can be further reinforced and leveraged by managers to improve conservation outcomes,” said Dr Gurney.
“The reality is that fish stocks are almost certainly going to be increasingly depleted in the future, to the point where poaching will affect all of us,” said Dr Bergseth.
“Equipping fishers with this knowledge, and the resources to responsibly do something about it, may well be the deciding factor as to whether our kids enjoy the same resources we do,” he said.
The paper “Addressing poaching in marine protected areas through voluntary surveillance and enforcement” is published today in Nature Sustainability.
Ms Catherine Naum
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
P: +61 (0) 0428 785 895, +61 (0)7 4781 6067 (AEST/ UTC – 10)
Tough times for the tree of life on coral reefs
Marine scientists are calling for a re-think of how marine protected areas (MPAs) are planned and coordinated, following a global assessment of the conservation of tropical corals and fishes.
Researchers from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE), at James Cook University in Townsville, analysed the extent to which the evolutionary histories of corals and fishes are protected, rather than looking at individual species.
“Our interest was in evolutionary branches of the tree of life, rather than the traditional focus on rare, threatened or endemic species,” said Professor David Bellwood from the Coral CoE.
“In particular we were interested in the longer branches, which represent the greater proportion of evolutionary history.
“When we looked at tropical Marine Protected Areas from that perspective, we found that protection of corals and fishes falls significantly short of the minimum conservation target of protecting 10 per cent of their geographic ranges.
“Just one sixteenth of hard corals species are afforded that minimum level of protection, and for fishes – the wrasses – less than a quarter reach minimum protection levels.”
Professor Bellwood said that while it was still useful to focus on the conservation of rare, threatened and endemic species, planning protected areas around evolutionary history helped provide a deeper perspective.
“In effect, we are looking at protecting the reef equivalent of cultural heritage, the critically important history of living organisms,” he said.
“It is not just species that need protection but the genetic history that they contain. In a changing world this evolutionary diversity is likely to be increasingly important, as reefs respond to new challenges.
The researchers found that the shortfall in protection for corals was greatest in the Atlantic and the Eastern Pacific.
For fishes, the highest concentrations of poor protection are in the Western Indian Ocean and the Central Pacific.
“Even though our estimates are highly conservative, the inescapable conclusion is that most evolutionary branches of the tree of life on coral reefs are inadequately protected by the current system of Marine Protected Areas,” Professor Bellwood said.
Around 830,000 multi-cellular species call the world’s threatened coral reefs home, and half a billion people rely on the reefs for ecosystem services including food security, income and protection against natural hazards.
“MPAs continue to provide important and essential protection to certain species and habitats, but the bigger evolutionary picture needs to be considered in planning and coordinating the choice and location of future protected areas,” Professor Bellwood said.
“This is especially important in light of chronic decline due to deteriorating water quality and periodic damage by coral bleaching and cyclones.”
Global marine protected areas do not secure the evolutionary history of tropical corals and fishes by D. Mouillot, V. Parravicini, D.R. Bellwood, F. Leprieur, D. Huang, P.F. Cowman, C. Albouy, T.P. Hughes, W. Thuiller and F. Guilhaumon is published in the journal Nature Communications.
Great Barrier Reef marine reserves combat coral disease
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
Combating illegal fishing in offshore marine reserves
Conservation scientists say there needs to be a new approach to protecting offshore marine reserves.
Illegal fishing in marine reserves will be a major focus at the IUCN World Parks Congress, which has opened in Sydney.
Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University, who are attending the conference, have found a way to predict illegal fishing activities to help authorities better protect marine reserves.
Marine reserves are the most common strategy used to protect and maintain marine ecosystems around the world.
The International Convention of Biological Diversity aims to have 10 per cent of the world’s marine areas protected by 2020.
Many countries are contributing to this target by protecting remote, offshore areas. For example, the United States recently created the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve, covering almost 1.27 million square kilometres in the central Pacific Ocean.
But scientists are concerned that while a great deal of effort is being made to create reserves, many countries are simply not able to enforce the laws that are supposed to protect them.
The majority of fishers obey the law, but some don’t.
“The success of protected areas depends on whether people comply with the regulations,” says Professor Joshua Cinner from Coral CoE.
“Enforcement and compliance issues for large off-shore marine parks are fundamentally different to near-shore protected areas,” Professor Cinner says.
He explains that the biggest problems facing countries trying to enforce offshore marine reserves is their distance from land and the difficulty and cost of patrolling large tracts of ocean.
“The distances to these areas can be very large. They are a long way from prying eyes and quite often the regulations are such that you have to actually catch people illegally fishing to prosecute them,” Professor Cinner says.
“It can be extremely difficult for authorities to catch illegal fishers in the act.”
In a bid to combat the problem, researchers at Coral CoE examined five years’ worth of data collected from the World Heritage-listed Cocos Island National Park, a unique marine protected area in the Pacific Ocean about 500 kilometres off the west coast of Costa Rica.
From the records they were able identify illegal fishing patterns and predict both when and where illegal fishing was likely to happen.
They found that illegal fishing was concentrated in a few ‘hotspots’ and really ramped up during specific lunar phases of some months.
Professor Bob Pressey, also from Coral CoE, says authorities could use this knowledge to match patrols to the time and place when illegal fishers are most likely to be in action.
“Using a targeted approach helps authorities catch and deter illegal fishers, while saving money on patrols,” Professor Pressey says.
“Rather than just hoping you can catch illegal fishers effectively by random patrols, we have used previous patrols to look for patterns which tell us when and where people fish illegally,” adds Professor Cinner.
Study lead author, Coral CoE PhD candidate, Adrian Arias says the model of predicting illegal patterns from old records can be used to increase the success of patrols in other locations.
“Our research in Costa Rica showed how a systematic and periodic analysis of patrol records can help to increase the probability of catching illegal fishers. This could be done pretty much anywhere that patrol data are available,” he says.
Professor Cinner adds that by better targeting limited resources, authorities have a greater chance of successfully protecting marine parks.
“Targeting resources is particularly important for developing countries such as Costa Rica, which have taken on the conservation challenge but don’t have the same funding to ensure compliance as a country such as Australia.”
Optimizing enforcement and compliance in offshore marine protected areas: a case study from Cocos Islands, Costa Rica by Adrian Arias, Robert L. Pressey, Rhondda E. Jones, Jorge G Alvarez-Romero and Joshua E. Cinner is published in the journal, Oryx. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0030605314000337