Research shows fishing affects coral reef recovery

[USA] Climate change continues to warm the waters around the islands in the Pacific Ocean, causing various types of damage to the surrounding reefs. One ecologist from the University of Guam believes”localized stressors” have a large impact on the recovery time of coral reef community.

But if looked at from a stakeholder approach, he’s confident island communities can clearly define the future of coral reef communities.

Peter Houk, coral reef ecologist from UOG’s Marine Laboratory, presented part of his research in monitoring coral reef populations around Micronesia at the Center for Sustainability Regional Island Sustainability Conference held Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency Guam.

Houk said that after a “disturbance” to a coral reef, such as a bleaching event that occurs when the animal is under extreme stress, using up its energy resources, algae can grow on the recovering coral.

Last year, Laurie Raymundo, associate professor of biology at the University of Guam, documented a coral bleaching event on island last October that spanned the entire 108 square kilometers of coral around the island, not just isolated areas.

While many factors such as wave exposure and watershed development contribute to the recovery of the coral, grazing by large herbivore fish has a significant impact on coral recovery.

Those herbivore fish, such as parrotfish, clean the algae off the coral much like a toothbrush cleans our teeth, Houk said.

And according to Matthew McLean, a graduate student from the University of Guam Marine Laboratory who presented on the coexistence of sustainable fisheries and coral reef ecosystems at the conference, a large herbivore fish can eat exponentially more than a smaller one of the same species.

But for many fishermen in island communities, the larger the fish, the more money can be made. This, Houk said, can have a negative impact on the recovery of coral reefs after a disturbance.

Houk explained two distinct approaches to addressing solutions for recovering reefs — one involving a more scientific approach and another focused around the economy of fishing.

If stakeholders push for a more scientific approach, large fish can be left to eat the algae off the coral, having a positive impact on coral reef recovery, which, Houk said, could lead to a more attractive marine tourism industry.

But if stakeholders favor an industry that supports fishing, more money can be made.

Houk said it’s up to community members to create a vision of what they’d like for the future.


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