Fishers and Divers Agree Coral Reefs Need Stronger Management

Policy change, even at its most efficient, is often difficult and slow. This can be especially true for conservation policy, which often involves curtailing private sector business practices. On the flip side, the policymaking process can be sped up by clear public support. That’s why the recent consensus between the Caribbean fishing and SCUBA diving communities is so important – both groups understand that their coral reefs and fisheries are in serious trouble.

Over the past 45 years, Caribbean coral cover has declined by more than half. Fish populations have plummeted due to overfishing. Fishermen are having a hard time making a living. Meanwhile, SCUBA tourism has increased dramatically. It’s evident to locals who derive their livelihoods from the sea that the ocean ecosystem on which they’ve traditionally relied is deteriorating rapidly.

Interviewing Curaçaoan fishers as they sell their catch at the side of the road. (Photo courtesy A.E. Johnson)

In a study recently published in Global Ecology and Conservation (open access, free download), my Ph.D. advisor and now colleague, Dr. Jeremy B.C. Jackson, and I report our findings from interviewing 388 fishers and SCUBA instructors on the islands of Curaçao and Bonaire in 2009. I spent hundreds of hours with the interviewees developing a deep understanding of how they use the ocean, how they perceive the reefs and fisheries, and what types of management they would support.

While researching, I heard stories from fishermen who remembered a sea so full of fish they treated it like a supermarket, setting out to catch a specific fish and bringing it home for dinner. Today, they say, they often come home empty-handed. Meanwhile, SCUBA instructors show visitors seahorses and rare marine life – a practice that’s great for business, until tourists bump into sensitive corals and further damage —> Read More