Category Archives: Marine Protection

EDF Partner In Cuba Visits US for "Our Oceans" Conference (Part 2)

Fabian_Diving2

Dr. Fabián Pina Amargós is a first-rate marine scientist from Cuba, who has worked closely with EDF’s Oceans program for many years. Fabián has been a scientist with Cuba’s Center for Coastal Ecosystems Research for twenty years and was recently named director of the center.

Welcome back for Part 2 of our intern Shannon Switzer’s interview with Dr. Fabián Pina Amargós, as they discuss the marine scientist’s opinion on the effectiveness of MPA’s and ecotourism as conservation tools as well as his hopes for Cuba as a nation. Read the first part of the interview here.

SLS: Some people are skeptical that MPAs are effective in sustaining fisheries while protecting marine life. What have your studies shown you about the effectiveness of MPAs?

FPA: I think that of course, the controversial part is because nature is very variable. Sometimes you can have the results or the positive impacts of a management tool in a shorter time and sometimes it takes longer, which is dependent, for example, on the species you are trying to recover. So a species that has a short life cycle would have an impact of a no-take area faster, but if we are thinking tarpon, or goliath grouper or other species that live longer, you need to wait a longer time [to see the results].

But generally speaking, and especially where I am dealing in the Gardens, which is relevant for Cuba but also for other tropical places with similar ecosystems, we measured the results of the effect of the marine reserve. We found that after ten years of the declaration [of the MPA] the number of fish increased, the size of the fish are bigger and they are more abundant inside of the reserve. Also, they are not shy and are friendlier and allow you to get closer, so you can enjoy them more when you dive. But also, because the number has increased dramatically, we carried out an experiment and tested the spill-over effect, which is when the number of fish increases until it’s full inside, and they need to move outside. It’s not a random movement, it’s basically a density-dependent kind of movement, cause it’s crowded inside the protected area, and then they just spill over the boundaries.

Then the fishery grounds benefit from that, and you can fish outside. We’ve proved that [with our research], but now fishermen are saying most of the fish they are catching now are coming from the reserve. So now the reserves are gaining support by, not all of the fishermen, but many of them. At the beginning the vast majority of them were opposed to the reserve, and it’s a normal reaction of human behavior—you are preventing me from using a fishing ground that I’ve been using forever and my father and my grandfather and my grand grandfather were fishing on—but they realize now that this is a good tool.

SLS: Along the same lines, part of MPA management often involves tourism based on recreational and sport fishing. Do you think these activities should continue to be allowed in protected areas, despite some studies saying that mishandling can sometimes lead to as high as a forty percent mortality rate?

FPA: I think so. What’s happening typically is the mortality is a lot lower for recreational fishers, especially if you target tropical places with shallow water areas called flats, like we have in Cuba. These are good fora kind of fly fishing that targets bonefish, tarpon, permit and snook. Basically, you use a very small hook and you need to tease the fish that the thing close to his mouth is real bait—like a real shrimp or a crab or small fish—and then as soon as they bite, you need to hook them, because the fish are not stupid. They feel that it’s something sharp, there is no meat in that, and they just spit that out of their mouth. So you need to hook them almost immediately, and if you hook it in the mouth and handle it properly—keep the fish in the water in a horizontal position while unhooking and taking pictures with it—you can get as close as zero percent mortality.

For sure the mortality is less than if you use a net and catch two tons of bonefish. It’s very easy to catch two tons of bonefish, because the medium sized ones gather in schools of several hundred individuals, so you can get 5 or 6 tons of bonefish in two minutes [with a net]. Probably you will need like a year or more for hooking a few hundred bonefish.

So I’d say it’s viable also because people are willing to pay a lot. Americans, Europeans, people from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, almost everywhere, South Africa, all those countries that visit the Gardens are good for catching and releasing bonefish. And they pay a lot of money, they pay air tickets, hotels everywhere on their way to the Gardens which benefit our economy and people, and also they tip the guides. The tips are very high, so that money is coming to the coastal communities and having a positive impact on families.

So yes, it is more profitable with less impact. We have tagged a bonefish and caught it again just two weeks later. So in two weeks they are happy to bite again, even with not only hooking them but also putting the tag in the back. So I think it’s viable, but of course it is dependent on the fishery.

All the time it is very important to inform people through the media that nature is very case by case, and there are not general recipes for everything. So even in tropical areas to temperate areas similar to one another, there’s differences that you must know about and take into account for managing the resources, and that’s why it’s important to do the research but also to inform people that every place is different and you need to know what is going on in every place to make the best decisions.

SLS: You mentioned that the money from tourism ends up in the hands of the locals and benefits the surrounding community. That is great to hear. Tell me more.

FPA: In Cuba we have been good at gathering the revenues of the country and splitting it quite evenly in the population. So even in the situation of Cuba with limited resources and the embargo and general world situation, we keep the health care, social security and education in very high level related to other countries with similar or even higher income. We have been very good with that.

So even the money that is generated by tourism is well-used in the country, so in general it benefits the entire country, but especially this kind of tourism that involves people from the coastal communities. The issue is that typically the people from the coastal communities, I think almost everywhere, but especially in developing countries, they are not highly educated people, so sometimes it’s hard for them to get the positions like in a hotel kind of environment. But these guys are good for marine things- diving and fly fishing- it’s impossible for any one of us to compete with these guys on marine related activities. Read More »

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How a growing partnership is reducing overfishing in Belize and beyond

fisherman takes meat out of a conch shell

Gumercindo Cano, a Managed Access fisherman, takes the meat out of a conch shell
Photo credit: Heather Paffe

Fishing in the developing tropics looks very different from fishing in the United States. It’s easy to forget that millions of people around the world rely on wild fish for their daily protein and survival, rather than being able to purchase it from a grocery store. This is the case in the countries where EDF will work in partnership with Rare and University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) on our ‘Fish Forever’ project. Fish Forever will focus on work with communities in the developing tropics to reduce overfishing and implement new guidelines that will allow fisheries to recover and more consistently provide the nutrition that so many depend upon.  Part of that work will establish territorial user rights in fisheries (TURFs – called Managed Access in Belize), coupled with no-take reserves (replenishment zones/Marine Protected Areas) to advance sustainable fisheries, empower fishermen and bring those solutions to scale.

I recently returned from a governance committee trip to Belize with our partners, Brett Jenks, President of Rare, and Steve Gaines, Dean of UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and principal investigator for the Sustainable Fisheries Group. This trip was a vital way to connect with the community and government on the ground in Belize and understand the skills that each member of the partnership brings to the table.

The partnership provides an opportunity for EDF, Rare, UCSB and local partners to improve fisheries science and knowledge by using data-poor stock assessments to effectively design TURF-Reserves and use social marketing techniques to inspire the necessary behavior changes for sustainable fisheries management.

During this particular trip, we went to Port Honduras Marine Reserve, which already has a Managed Access system, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where the Government of Belize and partners in the Fish Forever initiative have already begun the process of engaging communities for the implementation of Managed Access.  By visiting these sites, we saw how important it is to link Managed Access with Replenishment Zones.  Fishermen in Managed Access areas will protect the replenishment zone because they benefit from the spillover effect of more fish.  The partnership will be coordinating with the Government, The Nature Conservancy, and Wildlife Conservation Society – the three organizations in Belize leading the initiative to expand replenishment zones.

EDF has worked with Belizean fishermen for the past five years to establish managed access pilot sites that are being used as a model for the national expansion. Our success on the ground is a result of hard work and relationship building. We have led several workshops that brought government officials, fishing cooperative leaders, NGO managers, conservationists and scientists together. We are excited to expand on our 5 years of work in Belize by bringing in additional partners that will add valuable skills and expertise to our existing partnerships on the ground to find common solutions for similar fishing nations.

During the trip I saw strong support from Government and the close working relationships with local partners.  I am excited to see the coalition partners planning further engagement with communities and developing a strategy for generating support for TURF reserves across the country. The project will operate in several developing tropic countries, and we hope that Belize will be a model for working successfully with fishermen and local governments to establish sustainable fishery solutions.

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The Business of Marine Reserves: Achieving Financially Sustainable Ocean Conservation

photo credit: Phil's 1stPix via photopin cc

Ocean conservationists have been arguing for a long time that marine reserves are a good investment, because they help sustain many ecosystem services, including fisheries and tourism.  Various studies have helped to quantify the value generated by marine reserves, but a new study puts it all together and presents a convincing value proposition for marine reserves.  Now all we need are investors who can appreciate that value proposition and make it work economically, and the right combination of rules and governance that will make these new kinds of markets – ecomarkets – viable.

The benefits of marine reserves often outweigh the costs of establishing and maintaining them. You would think that there would be great demand for them, but instead the pace of marine reserve establishment has been slow and conflict-ridden.  Why? Because many groups of people benefit from the status quo, and would suffer short-term economic harm from marine reserves.  Also, the benefits of marine reserves take several years to accrue, while the costs are immediate.  And while some of the benefits are fairly concrete and flow to discrete user groups – like lower fishing costs and higher fishery yields near the borders – others are less concrete (e.g., biodiversity and aesthetics) and flow to many user groups (e.g. tourists and people who like natural environments), including some (e.g., future generations) that don’t have much say in present day decisions.

So theoretically, marine reserves can pay for themselves and then some.  But right now, few people want to invest in them.  How do we change that?

Investors need to know what the return is likely to be on their investment, and they need to capture that return directly.  They need to know that the risks of losing their money or not making the expected return are fairly well characterized and manageable. And the return must be commensurate with the risks. User groups which would suffer short term costs need assurance that they will benefit over the longer term and may need alternative ways to make money and feed their families while the benefits of marine reserves accrue.

This recent study represents one of the best available estimates of the potential return on investments in marine reserves (see our study for ideas on how to use actual markets to capture economic benefits of keeping ocean ecosystems healthy and intact).  But a business case must address these other factors if it is to attract investors.  And because marine reserves protect public trust resources in the ocean, where rights and responsibilities are unclear, certain enabling conditions must be in place for a marine reserve business case to be viable.

Read More »

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Earth Day 2013: Awareness, Advocacy and Hope for the World’s Oceans

On this Earth Day, take a moment to appreciate the vastness and intricacies of our world’s oceans. Allow yourself to be mesmerized by the swirling currents continuously circulating the globe. It is amazing that science can meticulously catalog natural systems and present them to those without the ability to see what our Earth looks like from space. What this stunning NASA visualization does not show, are the numerous challenges facing the oceans such as overfishing, ocean acidification, oil spill contamination and plastic waste. While these challenges are largely hidden beneath the waves, increasing awareness, education, scientific research and advocacy have illuminated them. These challenges impact not only the fish and other creatures that live in the ocean, but the billions of people worldwide who depend on clean, healthy oceans for food and eco-tourism.

Fortunately, a growing momentum to save our oceans is emanating from all corners of the world as people see the value and imminent need to preserve marine resources for future generations. The World Bank announced a Global Partnership for Oceans last February 2012, which brings together governments, international organizations, civil society groups and members of the private sector with the common goal of assembling knowledge and financial resources to solve the threats facing ocean health and productivity. This partnership represents a concrete collaboration between global stakeholders to restore the oceans to health, and we are proud to be a part of this effort.

Here at EDF Oceans, we are working hard to conduct on the ground work with scientists, fishermen, governments and non-profits to ensure that there will be fish for future generations to enjoy. One project we have launched in the past year is a partnership with Rare and University of California, Santa Barbara, called “Fish Forever” which will “equip hundreds of coastal communities with the ability to boost the productivity of their fisheries while protecting the natural resources upon which they depend.”  Our skills combined produce a unique and scalable model for coastal communities around the world by empowering local fishermen to protect their ocean resources from illegal fishing and overexploitation. We are proud to partner with Rare and UCSB and look forward to continued collaboration and hard work to ensure a sizeable increase in sustainably managed fisheries around the world in the next five years.

There is hope for the oceans. Restoring them to clean, abundant waters will take years of research, hard work and dedication from stakeholders globally, but if we all take part in this marine awareness revolution this goal will become a reality.

 

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Social Entrepreneurs Saving the Ocean

 

Plastic trash on the beach

Photo credit: jschneid via photopin cc

*Re-Posted from Huffington Post Blog  

Social change requires the harnessing of social forces, and the more powerful the force, the more fundamental the change.  Moral outrage, a yearning for justice, and the desire for connection are all forces that have propelled social change movements throughout history.  They will continue to fuel social change now and in the future. 

But there is a very powerful force shaping the world we live in today that is not yet aligned fully with the environmental values that many of us hold, and that is the search for profit and well being through the investment of capital and labor — the profit motive.  Indeed, the profit motive has prevailed time and again over countervailing forces like ethical commitments to environmental stewardship, the desire for long-term economic well being, and even over the force of government regulation.

In a previous blogpost, I summarized a recent publication that lays out a strategy for aligning the profit motive with the conservation of coastal ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, storm surge protection, and recreational value — services that are usually unpriced by conventional markets, and so become subject to degradation.  The goal is to reverse alarming trends in mangrove deforestation, salt marsh dredging, and nearshore pollution by shaping markets that value these services, allowing people to do well by doing good. Read More »

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Protecting Cuba's Abundant Coral Reefs

Two of the authors, Doug Rader and Dan Whittle with a goliath grouper.

*Re-posted with permission from Sailors for the Sea

This month's ocean watch essay comes to us from theEnvironmental Defense Fund(EDF), and was written by:Dan Whittle the senior attorney at Environmental Defense Fund and director of its Cuba ProgramDoug Rader, PhD, EDF's Chief Oceans Scientist, and Violet Dixon the Marketing Communications Associate for EDF's Oceans program. All images by Noel Lopez Fernandez.

In the waters off the Southeast coast of Cuba there's a near-pristine coral reef reserve called Jardines de la Reina, or the Gardens of the Queen. In this national park, groupers, snappers and many other reef fish flourish, along with several species of sharks. Although many of the world's best-known reefs face destruction in the face of global warming and other threats, large portions of the Gardens of the Queen remain remarkably healthy. Relative isolation from human influence helps make Cuba's coral reefs unique. Protecting these ecosystems — and species that rely on them — requires careful collaboration and cooperation among managers, scientists, fishermen and local fishing communities. Well-designed marine protected areas (MPAs), combined with innovative fisheries management, are the foundation for both sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries and a thriving eco-tourism sector.The abundance of big predators, like these Caribbean reef sharks, is a sure sign of an ecosystem in balance. The Gardens has six to eight times as many sharks as elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Seeing under the sea
Healthy coral reefs, mangrove swamps and seagrass beds support thriving fish populations, which in turn support local fishing communities and attract ocean enthusiasts. Scuba divers come from around the world, for example, to witness the myriad of sea animals and breathtaking underwater ecosystems in the Gardens of the Queen.

On these dives, they encounter numerous species of shark including Caribbean reef sharks, silky sharks, nurse sharks and occasional lemon and blacktip sharks.  Depending on the season and other factors, visitors also occasionally encounter whale sharks, the largest known fish species. Read More »

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Finding the Ecological Cliff and Staying Away from It: Thresholds for Sustainability

In “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” author and journalist, Malcolm Gladwell explains how sociological changes often happen very quickly and unexpectedly.   He describes a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

It turns out that many natural ecosystems have tipping points too, called ecological thresholds.  Healthy ocean ecosystems can resist change, exist in alternative states and recover from storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions – and even from human activities like pollution and fishing.  Having more than one species that do similar things but in slightly different ways helps ecosystems stay healthy; i.e., makes them resilient.  But when we reduce species so much that they can't play their ecological roles or when we stress the system too much, these ecosystems can reach a tipping point and change rapidly from beautiful, productive systems to damaged systems that are incapable of creating the wonders and benefits they once produced. Read More »

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Ocean Conservation Should not be a Partisan Issue

Stetson Bank Coral and Sponges

Stetson Bank Coral and Sponges. Photo credit: Frank and Joyce Burek

No matter what happens at the polls today, the ocean and the fish that live in it will still require our attention and conservation efforts. With all the politics and rhetoric circulating throughout the media, the fact that oceans and other vital ecosystems provide invaluable resources and benefits to the billions of people on this planet tends to go unnoticed. Even worse, there is a tendency to paint the environment as a partisan issue, when regardless of your political beliefs—ensuring we have a healthy natural world is essential to your survival and happiness for the future.

The oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain 97% of the world’s water. An estimated 20,000 species of marine fish swim beneath the largely unexplored waters, along with complex plant and animal life including coral reefs, sea grasses, whales and sharks. Billions of people globally depend on fish as their primary source of protein, and the economic value of fishing for their livelihood. Many of these people live in poor, undeveloped countries and will rely more heavily on the ocean as populations increase and global warming impacts their ability to cultivate food on land. The reality of our global dependence on the ecosystem services that the ocean provides becomes more evident with studies such one which recently came out in Science, citing that 80% of the world’s un-assessed fisheries are in worse shape than previously thought. But there is hope if we act now to align the right incentives and increase the economic value of fisheries, while putting fishermen at the forefront of conservation.  Ensuring that the world’s fish stocks are replenished is a human imperative, not a political talking point. Read More »

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