Coral reef fisheries in PNG under threat from climate change

07/11/2011 15:41

A Papua New Guinean man and his child in a dugout canoe fishing near a coral reef in PNG. A new book published by the 

Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) says coral reef fisheries in the Pacific Islands are under threat from climate change. Picture by Jurgen Freund

Coral reef fisheries in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are under threat from climate change, warns a book launched today.

However the future is not bleak for PNG coastal communities who rely on coral reef fisheries as they could alternatively switch to tuna or aquaculture to mitigate food security issues.

The book Vulnerability of Tropical Pacific Fisheries and Aquaculture which was launched this afternoon in the French territory New Caledonia, says there will be winners and losers from climate change while warning that how Pacific Island governments react to the threat was important.

Dr Johann Bell, a fisheries scientist with the Noumea-based Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and one of the book’s three editors, says the threats for PNG are greatest for people who will continue to depend on coral reef fisheries.

“Coral reefs are very likely to suffer a lot of damage under the changing climate and coastal communities in many Pacific Island countries and territories will have to find new sources of food,” he said.

However PNG unlike other Pacific Island states has options such as freshwater fisheries said Dr Bell.

“As coral reefs decline due the effects of climate change, communities can transfer more of their fishing effort to tuna by using inshore fish aggregating devices.  Higher rainfall levels are also expected to provide more fish to harvest from the large rivers in Papua New Guinea and new opportunities to grow freshwater fish in ponds.”

PNG National Fisheries Authority managing director Sylvester Pokajam said PNG has taken steps to address the food security challenges posed by climate change and population growth.

Children fishing in an estuary in PNG, which a new book published by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), has

resort to alternatives such as tuna or aquaculture to address food security issues. Picture by Erin Michelle Smith


SPC director-general Dr Jimmie Rogers said the book was the most comprehensive analysis of the impact of climate change on Pacific fisheries and aquaculture and the ecosystems that underpin these vital activities.

“The reality is that there will be countries in the Pacific with increased populations and fewer fish to eat.  We ignore the book at our peril because it comes up with sound scientific analyses, hard-hitting key messages and policy options. It gives Pacific leaders the opportunity to look 20 years ahead and plan for the future,” he warned.

The book forecast extreme weather conditions for the Pacific which would impact on the region’s marine ecology.

“Higher sea temperatures, ocean acidification, and loss of important habitats like coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves and intertidal flats are expected to have a dramatic impact on the fish and shellfish that support many coastal communities,” added Dr Bell.

The book will be published by the SPC and was launched in Noumea by AusAID deputy director general James Batley. It was edited by Dr Bell, Johanna Johnson and Alistair Hobday with the support of AusAID.   It includes contributions from 88 international scientists and took three-and-a-half years to put together.