fishing for answers

SDSU anthropologist Matthew Lauer with local fishermen (Credit: Matthew Lauer)

San Diego State University anthropologist Matthew Lauer is teaming up with scientists and islanders alike to figure out how fishing practices influence coral reef health.

As climate change dramatically alters the dynamics of sea life in and around coral reefs, it is important not to forget that humans, too, feel the effects of an altered reef ecosystem. Although we aren’t sea creatures, the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people around the world depend upon the fish and other marine life that coral reefs sustain. A $1.6 million grant awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to San Diego State University anthropologist Matthew Lauerand colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Florida State University will help investigators explore the complex interplay between fishers, their communities and coral reef ecology.

Fishers on the island of Mo’orea, French Polynesia, in the South Pacific Ocean tend to prefer algae-eaters like parrotfish. Too few parrotfish mean that algae can grow unchecked, smothering the reef and robbing it of nutrients, potentially permanently damaging or killing the coral population. How exactly these fishers choose their quarry, monitor fish populations and think about the dynamics of their catch—and how this interdependent food web will respond to pressures such as climate change—is an unsolved question.

Lauer and his colleagues will combine state-of-the-art, water-penetrating satellite imaging technology with citizen-based information collection to generate data on how the coral and algae populationsin Mo’orea lagoons shift in response to fish catch patterns.

The Mo’orean fishermen and fisherwomen themselves will contribute to this effort, collecting data with GPS-enabled smartphones when they go out to sea. Lauer said involving community stakeholders is a critical element of this work.

“To learn more about coral reefs and to manage them better, we need to engage in non-arrogant collaborations with the island peoples who depend on them for their livelihoods,” he said.

Ultimately, the researchers hope their findings will help conservationists and coastal dwellers alike to better manage global reef populations.

Written by: Michael Price

Note: This post is republished from San Diego State University NewsCenter, with permission

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