Controlling fishing can avert Caribbean reef collapse

| 10/05/2013

6a013488a2ccae970c0148c66b69a8970c-800wi (300x276).jpg(CNS): As the local marine environment waits on politicians to make a decision about conserving its future, news from the science community suggests that Cayman and other Caribbean reef systems can be saved from collapse with fishing and pollution controls.  Work undertaken by researchers with the Future of Reefs in a Changing Environment (FORCE) found that it is possible to maintain reefs but it requires countries to take the management of their reefs seriously and global action to address climate change. The Department of the Environment has undertaken extensive consultation about the pressing need to enhance Cayman’s marine parks and control local fishing but the urgency for action has not yet attracted the political commitment needed.

As a result, the delicate reef systems in Cayman, which have been better protected than others in the region, remain at risk. Peter Mumby of the University of Queensland and University of Exeter explained that people benefit by reefs having a complex structure

"Coral reefs provide nooks and crannies for thousands of species and provide the habitat needed to sustain productive reef fisheries. They're also great fun to visit as a snorkeler or diver. If we carry on the way we have been, the ability of reefs to provide benefits to people will seriously decline," he warned.

In this latest research the scientists drew on hundreds of studies to develop computer models of Caribbean reefs.

"Reefs are mostly built by living coral but the limestone structures they build are naturally eroded by other animals and plants, such as sponges. In a healthy ecosystem, reefs grow faster than they erode and the reef is able to provide habitat for thousands of fish and to support fisheries,” Mumby explained. “However, human impacts including pollution, overfishing of parrotfishes, and climate change tip the balance towards erosion, meaning that the reef habitat could erode away leaving a flat, barren habitat in its place."

The research team, including scientists from Australia, Mexico, the UK, Israel, the USA and Germany, investigated whether it was possible for Caribbean reefs to 'keep growing' for the next 70 years.

Professor Roberto Iglesias-Prieto, of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, said, "We were relieved to find that it is possible to maintain reefs but it requires countries to take the management of their reefs seriously and global action to address climate change."

Mumby added, "Some people have felt that coral reef management might be futile given the problems posed by climate change, such as coral bleaching. But our research reveals that control of fishing and pollution is essential to maintain reefs and that it can have a very meaningful impact."

The researchers also stressed the importance of reef function in addition to reef diversity. Those functions of reefs include the provision of habitat for fisheries, the provision of a natural breakwater to reduce the size of waves reaching the shore, and so on. In very practical terms, hundreds of millions of people depend directly on reefs for their food, livelihoods, and even building materials.

"If people are to continue being able to fish, snorkel, and attract tourists to reefs then they have to take great care of the ecosystem", said Emma Kennedy, a PhD student that developed the models at the University of Exeter.

The findings were reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on 9 May and were based on an analysis that combines the latest science on reef dynamics with the latest climate models. The research took place in the Caribbean under the EU-funded project FORCE

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  1. Anonymous says:

    No one can control the uncontrollable.  What ever is left on the reef after decades of overfishing is doomed.  All that is left is the ex-pat blameing.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ex-pat blaming? You mean Caymanian blaming. All around beaches on the island I see tiny conch shells that have been hammered open, small lobster shells, fishermen fishing tiny reef fish (for what, I don't know – maybe some fish stew because they have no meat on them, just bones). You think that expats are coming here and fishing out everything? Just the other day I went snorkelling my Bonnie's Arch and saw the carcass of a small Caribbean Black Tip Reef Shark, with a massive hook in it's top jaw and its bottom jaw had been cut apart with a machete. I have also seen Caymanian fishermen fishing in grouper spawning areas!


      As Caymanians, the only people we have to blame for not protecting our environment is ourselves. It is our responsibility to protect our reefs and marine parks and sanctuaries. Is it not obvious yet that if we continue to rely on others to look out for our best interests we are just going to get shafted? Our marine environment should be the most precious thing to us as an island – do people honestly think we would have the same tourism sector we do without our diving reputation? We need to realise where our bread is buttered and start protecting the reefs. 

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have seen fresh, small conch shells popped and in the water near the beach at the condos/homes on the western end of South Sound.


    DoE and RCIPS MArine Unit need more enforcement resources. It is not just the poor locals that may be taking marine life illegally.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Decrease the number of small boats and make fishing upto 500 yards offshore illegal for ALL.  In addition to raping the oceans for their kicks, these guys have left a bad impression on ocean side property owners.

    Nobody wants to buy ocean side property when you have small boats going up and down your private beach all day and night and wierdo fisherman who stare blank into your livingroom all day and night 30 feet offshore -creepy . Alot of people I know are trying to sell thier ocean side house because they thought they were buying into the idyllic carribean post card picture. What they got instead was a constant annoyance from intruding small boat locals on thier property and occasionally using thier private beach for drug running.

    • Anonymous says:

      "your private beach" – If this is how you feel, you need to be the first one back on the plane and take your ass back where it came from FOR GOOD!!

      • Anonymous says:

        Its disrespectful people like you that turn a beautful place like the cayman islands into your private tradegy of commons stink hole. How much of your fish-line and beer bottles that wash up on MY BEACH on MY PRIVATE PROPERTY everyday do I have to clean up after. Why don't you take a walk off a short pier in the direction of Jamaica. Don't let the polluted waters make you too sick on your way out.

        • Anonymous says:

          First, I agree that trash on the beaches is a big problem; however, your attitude is just as bad.  You do not have a private beach, you do not own "your" beach — all beaches in the Cayman Islands are public.  If you wanted a private beach, you should have purchased a property in a country that allows private beaches.  Fortunately, Cayman's laws prevent the beaches from becoming exclusively for the rich.   Anyone who wants to may plunk themselves down on the beach in front of your house – they should however not play loud music and they should pick up and take away any trash that they may create.  Nor should they go beyond the vegetation line. By the way.  From your comments, I assume you are the type of expat who does not associate with Caymanians and wishes that they would go away.  I am an expat.

  4. Anonymous says:

    More stories and issues like this and less politics would be wonderful….

  5. WHAT !!!!!!! says:

    Just want to say I know some Jamaicans who do catch undersize fish but our biggest enemy now is the Pinos they eat  (Any and Everything ) in site on Land /Sea /or Air..Last night I was at Kaibo public beach and about 50 was there to a gathering that looks like they were going to sleep over as I did see tents going up..My point is they had taken over one massive section of land and every cat dog and rat had a lineout..Its a shame no one checks these things out .

    • Anonymass says:

      And did you call it in when you saw it? – Wonder why no one checked it out.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The fish are worth more to dive operations alive , dead fish can only be sold once, but as long as the fish are in the sea they are an attraction so why would they kill them , fishing licences and stiff fines will slow down over fishing and make some money for government.

  7. peter milburn says:

    Whereas you are entitled to your opinion re the dive operators I can tell you that most if not all are NOT taking fish,lobster and conch as you have said.We are all for making sure that we have something left for future generations and its up to ALL of us (including you)to help keep it that way.We know that to damage or to take marine life in any way shape or form will takebusiness away from not just us but the island in general and we cannot allow that to happen.One of the biggest problems we face is the many people who are shore fishing(most are not Caymanians)who take home anything that they catch no matter how small.This needs to be stopped and in my humble opinion anyone who is not Caymanian should NOT be allowed to catch fish this way.Getting a licence will not help as it is too hard to enforce so banning is the way to go.Gone are the days when you could catch fish and lobster in abundance as our population has grown so much and we cannot keep allowing this type of fishing to continue.

  8. Anonymous says:

    How little you know my friend. It’s sad that thoughts like yours is what is causing so much damage to the future of the islands marine life.
    Divers out there are diving for the beauty of what they see, most commercial fishermen bring fish in from the ocean. But all the “line” fishermen take all and sundry with their tiny hooks.
    As for poachers that rape the conch and lobsters and all they can kill with a spear gun. Well that’s another story.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Restrict the number of boats on the waters also. You all know that each boat engine pollutes the water with fuel residue and/or oil from when it is running. THIS HAS TO HURT THE MARINE LIFE BIG TIME.


    Not every Tom, Dick and Harry that comes here NEEDS to have a boat or water craft (e.g. Wave-runner).


    Dont know what I am talking about? Just try having a leisurely stroll across north sound, especially on a weekend, and you will see the madness that you have to navigate thru.


    Restrict ownership to Caymanians. Foreigners can rent boats or watercrafts if they wish to go on the water. Those that already have boats or watercrafts can be grand-fathered in, but once they sell the boat, sorry, cant get another one. A boat or watercraft is NOT a necessity for a foreigner living in Cayman, it is a luxury, so they shouldnt gripe about not having one.

    • noname says:

      Wow!  Intitled much?  Whats next?  Cars?  Human rights? 

      • Anonymous says:

        You do not have a "human right" to go anywhere in the world and own a vehicle, e.g. in Bermuda, only Bermudians can own cars, and then i believe it is only one per household. Expats use the bus or ride a bike.


        We have to look at restricting vehicles here in Cayman too, at least in certain areas (e.g. downtown GT on weekdays)

      • Anonymous says:

        I suppose every Canadian should have the unfettered right to hunt seals – IDIOT! You come here and ignore a once proud and strong culture, and you dismiss it as an illusory irritant!

        • Anonymous says:

          A once proud and strong culture?  What happened?  O wait.  The expats turned it into the corrupt circus it is now right?  Only an IDIOT would belive that.

      • Anonymous says:

        Your entitlement comment cuts both ways. Do you think Expats are "entitled" to have everything they want when they come here?

    • Anonymous says:

      Why don't you restrict intelligence to Caymanians only?  That would solve your problem eh?

  10. Anonymous says:

    What is needed is the cureent laws on noncaymanians, permit holders fishing out all the smaller fish. As far as I know a permit holder needs a license to fihs from shore, but you see them out there all the time catching finger lenght fish of all kinds. I have nothing against Jamacians, but they are the main culprit here on the Brac. What is DOE doing abut this, it is things like this that contribute to the distruction of our marine environment, it will soon be too late, act now use the laws that we have to help, until we can ammend what is there, or pass new laws. Every littlefish they catch, is one less to reproduce


    • Anonymous says:

      Like anything else, it is not enforced.

      • Anonymous says:

        Have you tried getting a fishing license?  It should be something that you can find out about easily and maybe even sold through the hotels.  I noticied that there are quite a few tourists that are now fishing and looking conchs, lobsters, etc especially in the Brac.  A change need to be made to the law that it is easier to find out how to obtain a fishing permit.  This would also be a way for the government to obtain money for the Department of Marine Environment to do their jobs.  I would also suggest a limit on the fish that they can catch.  

        • Anonymous says:

          Tourists do not need a fishing license for shore fishing. Caymanians do not need a fishing license. "Residents" need a fishing license but no one enforces this and there is no published procedure or form for getting one. Who knows how this got set up like this.

      • Anonymous says:

        Because the DOE has no powers.

        • Anonymous says:

          It is a police matter so serious it attracts a 500K fine. DOE having inadequate power is just an excuse. We do not enforce our laws!

  11. Truth says:

    Cayman islands were fished out and turtled out long before the latest fall guys came around. Why is it we only hear the cry to protect the ecosystem from the commercial fisherment and the so- called dive operators and not the huge numbers of little tiny fishermen who have already done the most damage?  Rhetoricle question to which most know the answer to.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Just pass the conservstion law.   Save Cayman from it's own demise in at least one area!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Its the commercial fishermen and the so-called dive operators (who catch plenty fish, conch, lobster and everything else along the way) who should be the targets of any restrictions.  They are the ones causing the majority of the damage, yet its always the little fishermanm with his handline that pays the price.  Regulate the commercial operators.

    • Anonymous says:

      I was a Dive guide in the USVI. I didn't know of anyone in the industry catching "plenty of fish, conch,lobster, and everything else along the way." To do so would amount to malpractice in taking care of our diving guests. I agree regulating commercial fishing operators is a necessity.

    • Anonymass says:

      Prove the dive operators areign what you say. Get a pcitrue and I'm sure CNS will post it. Better yet, call 911 & CITN when its happening. you know CITN will have a truck there and be happy to report (a) it happened (with video) and (b) whether the police got there or not. – No reports means you're trying to get a red herring to swim.


      And mama nature doens't care if one commercial fisherman catches 100 fish or if 50 'little fishermen' catch two each. Fish is fish. And since there are more of us 'little fishermen' than there are commerical fishermen there is no escaping that numbers have to be cut on both sides.

    • Anonymous says:

      Dive operators do NOT catch fish. They only catch tourist dollars.

      • Anonymous says:

        i’ve got to confess i and others have witnessed dive boats taking on loads of conch and lobster… and i mean loads… during season.

        • Anonymous says:

          When? Where? Which Operator? Got pictures? Or willing to sign a statement to the police? – And don't tell me you're afraid of the dive operators now too. 

          • Anonymous says:

            If you had to deal with these guys and their official "friends" every day out in the ocean, then you'd be fearful about reporting them too.

        • Anonymous says:

          I do not thank so. Not dive boats. Maybe snorkel boats. Anyway, the boats do not do naything but float….the crew aboard are committing the crime against the environment.

        • Anonymous says:

          You are lying.              Again.

    • Anonymous says:

      Totally agree with this individual.  It is not the locals abusing the ocean for a culture will always respect a tradition.  It is the foreign companies going out at night destroying the ocean habitat.  The marine police should be doing their job and observe at night these companies going out and catching lobster taking off the tails and throwing heads back in the water as for starters they don't have a clue what to do with the lobsters.  I hope someone sensible will be voted in and start protecting the Cayman culture.  Tired of these so called law abiding foreign do gooders dictating to people of culture what to do in their own country.  Why don't these same persons go home and sort their own country out and see if their people will listen.  Cayman time for you to take ownership of what is yours rather than have somebody walk all over you.  Slavery is done remember and look how far we have come.

      • Anonymous says:

        You can't be serious! I guess you haven't been around North Side and East End where you can get Lobster and Conch out of season any time you want it. The people who take them out of season and the ones who are buying them out of season are plenty! Oh, and the marine officers who are supposed to donate any illegal catch they take off people to the Pines………..well, that's another story. Would be interesting to check in which freezer the illegal catch really ends up…………..

        • Anonymous says:

          Go ahead. Ask the Pines how much they get from teh marien officers . I call your bluff.

        • Anonymous says:

          So all the lobster and conch ends up at the Pines?!!!  Isn't that the place where the elderly go?!!! with hardly any teeth or body functions to digest such a thing as conch?!!!

          OMG!!! This is a joke!

        • Anonymous says:

          East End and Breakers is exactly where I have seen dive operators taking conch (and too many of them I might add), and the DOE simply turn a blind eye to them.

      • Anonymous says:

        What??   Not the locals?    I guess you've never seen 50 or more grouper brought in on one boat, or local handliners dragging every little squirrelfish and snapper and then leaving with a 5-gallon drywall bucket of undersized fish.    Man, we are HARD on our own sea life.   Go ask a native Caymanian fisherman about conservation or cutting back on their "God-given right to fish".   There are exceptions, sure, but most I've talked with seem to think it's their right to take every and all sea life they want.      Here on the Brac is nearly as bad as Grand Cayman — where once conch were abundant at 25 feet, they are now skimpy at 60.   Lobster, picked out.  Whelk, picked out.   Less boats here, so out in the open ocean things aren't as bad, no thanks to anyone at all.   Two islands with three Marine Enforcement Officers.   Terrible ratio.   We should be enforcing the rules already on the books, but we apparently can't even do that.   Reporting does no good that I can see.   I live on the south side, and rarely see Marine Enforcement.