Nav: Home

Breaking bread with rivals leads to more fish on coral reefs

May 03, 2019

Cooperation is key to most successful endeavours. And, scientists find, when fishermen and women cooperate with other fishers, this can boost fish stocks on coral reefs.

Dr Michele Barnes, a senior research fellow from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University (JCU), is the lead author of a study published today that looks at the relationships between competing fishers, the fish species they hunt, and their local reefs.

"Relationships between people have important consequences for the long-term availability of the natural resources we depend on," Dr Barnes says.

"Our results suggest that when fishers--specifically those in competition with one another--communicate and cooperate over local environmental problems, they can improve the quality and quantity of fish on coral reefs."

Co-author Prof Nick Graham, from Lancaster University (previously at JCU), adds: "Coral reefs across the world are severely degraded by climate change, the pervasive impacts of poor water quality, and heavy fishing pressure. Our findings provide important insights on how fish communities can be improved, even on the reefs where they are sought."

Dr Barnes and her team interviewed 648 fishers and gathered underwater visual data of reef conditions across five coral reef fishing communities in Kenya.

They found that in the places where fishers communicated with their competitors about the fishing gear they use, hunting locations, and fishing rules, there were more fish in the sea--and of higher quality.

Co-author Dr Jack Kittinger, Senior Director at Conservation International's Center for Oceans, says this is likely because such cooperative relationships among those who compete for a shared resource--such as fish--create opportunities to engage in mutually beneficial activities. These relationships also help build trust, which enables people to develop a shared commitment to managing resources sustainably.

"This is why communication is so critical," says Dr Kittinger. "Developing sustained commitments, such as agreements on rules, and setting up conflict resolution mechanisms, are key to the local management of reefs."

"The study demonstrates that the positive effect of communication does not necessarily appear when just anyone in a fishing community communicates - this only applies to fishers competing over the same fish species," adds co-author Dr Örjan Bodin, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.

The study advances a framework that can be applied to other complex environmental problems where environmental conditions depend on the relationships between people and nature.

Co-author Dr Orou Gaoue, from the University of Tennessee Knoxville, emphasises this broad appeal.

"Although this study is on coral reefs, the results are also relevant for terrestrial ecosystems where, in the absence of cooperation, competition for non-timber forest products can quickly lead to depletion even when locals have detailed ecological knowledge of their environment."

"Environmental problems are messy," explains Dr Barnes. "They often involve multiple, interconnected resources and a lot of different people--each with their own unique relationship to nature."

"Understanding who should cooperate with whom in different contexts and to address different types of environmental problems is thus becoming increasingly important," she concludes.
-end-
PAPER

Barnes M, Bodin O, McClanahan T, Kittinger J, Hoey A, Gaoue O, Graham N (2019). 'Social-ecological alignment and ecological conditions in coral reefs'. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09994-1

CONTACTS FOR INTERVIEWS

Dr Michele Barnes (Australia, AEST)
Coral CoE at JCU
P: +61 (0)7 4781 6328
M: +61 (0)408 677 570
E: michele.barnes@jcu.edu.au

Prof Nick Graham (London, BST)
Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University
P: +44 (0) 1524 595054
E: nick.graham@lancaster.ac.uk

Dr Jack Kittinger (USA, HST)
Global Oceans and Aquaculture Program, Conservation International
P: +1 808 397-9077
E: jkittinger@conservation.org

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Melissa Lyne (AEST)
Media Manager, Coral CoE at JCU
Phone: +61 (0) 415 514 328
Email: melissa.lyne@jcu.edu.au

ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies

Related Coral Reefs Articles:

Coral reefs: Centuries of human impact
In her AAAS talk, ASU researcher Katie Cramer outlines the evidence of the long-ago human footprints that set the stage for the recent coral reef die-offs we are witnessing today.
Large 'herbivores of the sea' help keep coral reefs healthy
Selective fishing can disrupt the delicate balance maintained between corals and algae in embattled Caribbean coral reefs.
How microbes reflect the health of coral reefs
Microorganisms play important roles in the health and protection of coral reefs, yet exploring these connections can be difficult due to the lack of unspoiled reef systems throughout the global ocean.
3-D printed coral could help endangered reefs
Threats to coral reefs are everywhere--rising water temperatures, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, fishing and other human activities.
Actions to save coral reefs could benefit all ecosystems
Scientists say bolder actions to protect the world's coral reefs will benefit all ecosystems, human livelihoods and improve food security.
Coral reefs shifting away from equator
Coral reefs are retreating from equatorial waters and establishing new reefs in more temperate regions, according to new research in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.
Protecting coral reefs in a deteriorating environment
A new report examines novel approaches for saving coral reefs imperiled by climate change, and how local decision-makers can assess the risks and benefits of intervention.
Coral reefs can't return from acid trip
When put to the test, corals and coralline algae are not able to acclimatise to ocean acidification.
New eDNA technology used to quickly assess coral reefs
Scientists at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa Department of Biology have developed a technique for measuring the amount of living coral on a reef by analyzing DNA in small samples of seawater.
Global warming disrupts recovery of coral reefs
The damage caused to the Great Barrier Reef by global warming has compromised the capacity of its corals to recover, according to new research published today in Nature.
More Coral Reefs News and Coral Reefs Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Uncharted
There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#555 Coronavirus
It's everywhere, and it felt disingenuous for us here at Science for the People to avoid it, so here is our episode on Coronavirus. It's ok to give this one a skip if this isn't what you want to listen to right now. Check out the links below for other great podcasts mentioned in the intro. Host Rachelle Saunders gets us up to date on what the Coronavirus is, how it spreads, and what we know and don't know with Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. And...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.