To take or not to take, fishermen weigh in on best ways to protect the ocean in Galapagos and Cabo Pulmo.
I recently dove in the Galapagos and Cabo Pulmo and below are some of my favourite images and stories highlighting the incredible ocean wildlife and the ways people across the world are working to protect the ocean.
Over 70 per cent of the earth is covered in ocean, and reports point to the fact that ocean fish populations have been cut in half since 1970. That’s a lot of life on earth lost. Where did all the fish go? To answer simply: we have consumed them.
Nearly three billion people rely on fish as an important source of protein. Today, there is barely a geographical area in the world unspoiled by fishing and containing primeval, non-exploited fish populations and intact ecosystems. Aside from a few remote, far-off reaches of the globe, most places are missing their stars of the sea.
There are still some spectacular exceptions to this devastating trend. Places of hope, where you see and experience biomass as it swirls around you and the abundance darkens the waters above. It is in these areas, mostly “no-take” protected zones and remote areas far from humans, that I began to understand what it felt like to be a fish. I’ve seen life through their eyes – sometimes looking into their eyes.
There has been a positive and exciting acceleration in the creation of large marine protected areas the past several years, including the expansion of global no-take zones. The number of marine protected areas is increasing monthly as people race toward the goal of 10 per cent protection by 2020, or 30 per cent by 2030.
Although exact numbers fluctuate depending on source, recent numbers point to approximately four per cent of the world’s oceans under some form of protection, with approximately half of that designated no-take. Despite the significant conservation legacy, which far surpasses that of most places in the world, the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador for decades have been impacted by overfishing, both legal and illegal.
It was the local fishermen themselves who spearheaded the efforts to create the Galápagos Marine Reserve in 1998. They saw their livelihoods threatened by industrial and illegal fishing. The fishermen knew they would lose large parts of their system. They wanted more power and more local decision-making, and respected the idea of a multiple use reserve that would combine science, tourism, and fishing.
Pelayo Salinas de León, PhD is Senior Marine Ecologist at the Charles Darwin Foundation and on the front lines of saving the ocean treasure that is the Galápagos. “The Galapagos islands represent a window back in time of how rich oceans once were. The establishment of the no-take marine reserve has contributed to the conservation of sharks, tuna, and other large predatory fishes at risk globally due to continuous overfishing.”
Proponents of no-take zones also point to the fact that the area’s increased long-term benefits will serve fishermen well for generations to come. A small marine protected area in Baja California Sur, Mexico, Cabo Pulmo National Park, is the poster child for such efforts. The biological richness of this North American gem of a reef was threatened in the latter half of the 20th century as artisanal, sport, and commercial fishers decimated fish populations.
Concerned for the future of their reefs and livelihoods, local communities pressured the government to declare the region off-limits to fishing. They realised their seas were becoming bare, and changed focus to developing a flourishing tourism business. In 1995, with support from the University of Baja California Sur and the National Institute of Ecology, the marine area adjacent to Cabo Pulmo was declared a Natural Protected Area in 2000, with severe restrictions on fishing and other resource extraction.
Because of the efforts of this fishing community, in just two-plus decades, biomass has increased many-fold and the area now offers a series of zoned areas for diving and other recreational activities, and one of the most pristine reefs in the Americas for tourists to enjoy. In addition, the community has economically benefited from tourism efforts.
Scientific monitoring has shown that fish biodiversity is growing in the park, while fish biomass in the park increased by over 460 per cent between 1999 and 2009 alone. Because of these numbers, adjacent waters to the park are also proving to be more lucrative for the local fishing community.
This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Kristin Hettermann is a writer and photographer – striving to share positive stories, document the earth and its cultures, inspire people to explore, and raise awareness for important causes - particularly the protection and restoration of the world's oceans.