Oceans are the “canary in the coal mine” for climate change. Declining marine diversity, dying coral reefs and of course rising sea levels are all evidence that something negative is happening, and faster than we thought. Now, a new study focused on India’s Grand Récif of Toliara finds that it’s human activity, more specifically than the complex issue of climate change, that’s devastating the planet’s most treasured coral reef systems.
Most people are familiar with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 1,600 miles off the coast of Queensland. India’s Grand Récif of Toliara, though smaller and less well known, is no less spectacular. Stretching for 11 miles off the southwest coast of Madagascar it was considered the richest biodiversity system in the Indian Ocean home to more than 6,000 species.
In the 1960′s and 70′s the Grand Récif was hailed as one of the most beautiful places, but since then the world has changed drastically. A rapid boom in human population has led to overfishing and a rise in destructive fishing practices. On land, vast areas of land have been cleared for agriculture and mineral extraction.
As temperatures have risen, and the soil rendered too polluted or infertile for cultivation, more and more people have been driven to the sea to seek their living. Some have turned to octopus hunting, which often leads to the trampling of precious coral reef colonies. Novice fishermen often attempt the practice using mosquito nets, which are harmful for both coral and seagrass. Compelled by the need to feed their families, these fishermen are only doing what they think they have too, and few have any comprehension of the long-term damage they’re causing.
The study, conducted by Assistant Professor Dr Jens Zinke from The University of Western Australia’s Oceans Institute, termed this vicious cycle of destruction “wicked problems” and said that mere regulations against them have proven futile over the past 50 years.
“A lot of people tried to do something about it and enforced fishing restrictions,” Dr Zinke said. “But the problem got worse because people thought they were not involved and didn’t understand what was happening. “Instead, we found there has to be a community-based stakeholder process to get people to change the way they live and fish, and so protect the environment and give them a better future.”
Image via Thinkstock
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