Pacific Islanders could lose sea cucumbers and lobsters

12/02/2012 15:26

A Palau fisherman with his catch. Picture courtesy of SPC/Mecki Kronen

Pacific Island communities could lose sea cucumbers, lobsters and other fish species unless villagers and local fishermen set up conservation areas.

Noumea-based Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) sounded the warning recently when launching 16 information sheets, which recommended action that could be taken to halt the slide in the loss of marine species.

The information sheets, developed by scientists and managers from the SPC and the locally-managed marine area (LMMA Network), is in response to the urgent need to protect the region’s coastal fisheries in the face of projected climate change impacts and increasing population growth. The region’s population is projected to increase by 50 per cent by 2030 with the growth already impacting on coral reef systems, which struggle from intense fishing pressure.

SPC research indicates that tropical Pacific reef fish populations could decline by up to 20 per cent by 2050 and up to 50 per cent by 2100. Climate change will affect fish population distribution and numbers as rising sea temperatures reduce food available to reef fish and change the timing and success of fish reproduction.

Most coastal communities in the Pacific rely on reef fisheries for food, and fewer fish in their catches will increase the gap between available fish and the protein needed for their food security.

According to the SPC, Polynesian states lead the region in terms of average annual consumption of fish (including shellfish) per person with an average of 50-146 kilograms, followed by Micronesia (62-115 kilograms) and Melanesia (30-118 kilograms). These consumption rates are significantly more than the global consumption of 17 kilograms per person.

Kini Ravonoloa, the Votua village chief and FLMMA representative for Koroleviwai in Fiji welcomed the launching of the resource management material.

“It’s good to have something ready for our next generation. I see that there’s plenty of fish, but we know that it takes many years for the growth of the coral and for fishes to give birth. My advice is that we should keep a place protected for the fish and other organisms that they live in the sea to have more time to reproduce,” he said.

Pio Radikedike, the site manager for Veratavou in the LMMA Network on Viti Levu, said the program has been successful.

“We have increased the number of MPAs (marine protected areas) in our village because the communities, the chiefs, have seen the benefits from what we have been doing. Now we have three – two on the mudflats near my village for the clams and other small species – and one on the reefs for fish and sea cucumbers, not only for my village, but for the benefit of the whole district,” he said.

Dr Hugh Govan, advisor for the LMMA Network, says the combination of local community knowledge and scientific research is invaluable.

“Communities in the Pacific are well placed to manage their own fisheries as they still usually have traditional and local knowledge of their areas and resources. In fact over 400 communities are known to be managing their inshore areas in the Pacific. However, communities gain much from access to scientific information on aspects of biology and ecology or experiences of communities elsewhere to help improve their management practices in the face of emerging modern challenges,” he added.

The information sheets will be distributed to communities across the Pacific. Funding for their printing and distribution is provided by the EU-funded SciCOFish (scientific support for the management of coastal and oceanic fisheries in the Pacific Islands region) project.

Ian Bertram, the SPC coastal fisheries science and management adviser, said the information sheets had consistent messages about resource management in the Pacific Islands.

It is understood a number of MPAs have already been set up in Papua New Guinea (PNG), such as the Kimbe Bay protected area in West New Britain province and Pere village on the south coast of Manus Island.

However the key challenge for PNG villagers who agree to be part of a MPA program is striking the right balance between meeting the consumption needs of their families and communities and conserving the richness of the ocean’s marine resource for the next generation.