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Sustainable Fisheries: Big success on a small island fuels optimism

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Community marine reserves hold the key to restoring and preserving local fisheries.

By Eartheasy Posted Feb 18, 2010

sustainable_fishingA tiny dot in the Mindanau Sea in the southern Phillipines radiates the promise of healthy sustainable fisheries for shoreline communities the world over which adopt a relatively simple prescription for successful fisheries management.

Less than a square kilometer in size, the island of Apo has pulled itself out of the spiraling decline which affects so many communities which have depleted their natural resources and fallen into economic despair. What began as a small fisheries management experiment in the 1980s has blossomed into a twenty-fold increase in local fish biomass, a secure nursery for future fish stocks, and a growth in spinoff businesses which cater to both fishing and the restored tourism industry.

Apo’s population base of 500 -700 residents has long depended on fishing for its dietary needs and its economic base. But years of destructive fishing practices which included the use of dynamite and arsenic had severely damaged the island’s coral reefs which provide critical fish habitat. And as the fragile coral reefs were being converted to rubble, local fishermen had to go further for their catch, which increased their cost of business. The local tourism industry subsequently fell into decline, as the reef destruction and diminished fish population no longer attracted divers to the island.

But Apo’s fortunes began to change when a marine biologist from nearby Negros Oriental, Dr. Angel Alcala, introduced the concept of community-based marine reserves to the struggling Apo community. The concept was simple: leave 15% of the 104 hectare surrounding coral reef off-limits to fishing.

The concept was simple: leave 15% of the 104 hectare surrounding coral reef off-limits to fishing.

By 1982, the “no take” zone was in place and accepted by the community. Within a few years, fish abundance and diversity within the “no take” showed improvement, and restoration of coral cover became apparent. Fisheries in the adjacent reef areas improved, as ‘spillover’ fish populations migrated outwards from the reserve zone. Ultimately, the fish biomass increased from approximately eight tons per square kilometer to about 155 tons per square kilometer.

apo_sustainable_fisheryThe ripple effect of the success of this small community-based marine reserve continues to expand. Local fishermen have become aware of the negative impact of destructive fishing practices, and more likely to participate in stewardship of the resource. The local tourism industry has rebounded by attracting divers to the blossoming marine reserve, with locals guiding divers through protected areas and catering to tourist needs. A number of small businesses have found their footing providing souvenirs, food and accommodation to the tourists, and the mood of the population has become more optimistic and self-assured.

While these businesses are modest in scale, they provide a big impact to an island with a small population. The success of the small marine reserve has likely touched the entire community.

Perhaps the greatest success of Apo’s community-based marine reserve has been the inspiration it has provided to neighboring communities facing similar fisheries resource depletion. Today there are over 500 small reserves in the Visayas island group, with many small communities looking to mirror Apo’s success. And while only 1% of the world’s oceans are currently set aside as marine reserves, the concept is gaining attention worldwide as a realistic and manageable solution to building sustainable fisheries for all.

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  • Uncle B

    Outside continental U.S. population explodes exponentially and food is of greater importance than material goods. Sustainability of food supplies will encourage population controls as it becomes apparent to the indigenous population that they simply cannot maintain sustainability and fecundity at the same time! Birth control methods will be demanded to defend sustainability and balance in the communities and this will be the beginning of a "New World" – where indigenous populations elect to control themselves and govern themselves and stop breeding for the sake of breeding. In essence the birth of civilized behaviors will beget more civilized behaviors and in spite of some fanatical Christian views, a sustainable stable population that can be further educated and refined. Teaching sustainable fisheries must be followed with teaching of birth control or all will be lost in an short lived population explosion and a corruption of the initial intent for the humanitarian folly of preservation of surplus population beyond the sustainability level. Can this be done? The U.S.A. breed like animals in the field – at will – uncontrolled – free. China does not. They are holding back population explosions and are heading towards a healthy balance. Where are we going America? Can we see the advantages for this small fishery but not extrapolate to our own bigger picture? You tell me.

  • earthwarrior

    There are people who actually believe that economies depend on a growing population to sustain themselves. {My own mother is one} Well, have they noticed the earth isn’t getting any bigger? The model exemplified by western Europe and its shrinking population is one that should be followed globally! Imagine the benefits to earth and all its creatures humans included if we got our population down to about 500 million or even 1 billion. We would sure have much brighter future. And those European countries have proven that it can actually be accomplished naturally.

    Now all we have to do is get it through everyone else’s thick skulls that it is a good thing. A shrinking population won’t mean human beings are about to go extinct. Things will be much bleaker if the populations continue to grow.

  • Leandro

    Very good information, thank you very much by the article and the quality of your Web site. A greeting from Chile.

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