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New Study Says Increased Enforcement Is Cheapest Way to Save Southeast Asia’s Coral Reefs from Blast Fishing

Artificial Reefs and Other Reef Rehab Programs are Costly Alternatives to Increased Marine Patrols and Law Enforcement

WASHINGTON - A new study analyzing the destruction of Southeast Asia's coral reefs
by blast fishing finds that an ounce of prevention is indeed better
than a pound of cure. The authors of the study in the journal Conservation
find that using marine patrols and enforcement to prevent
blast fishing can be 70 times more cost-effective than rebuilding those
reefs after the damage is done.

Blast fishing, an illegal practice
in which home-made bombs are detonated into schools of fish for easy
collection, leaves large areas of broken coral rubble that are unlikely
to recover naturally. The result is severe impacts on biodiversity and
habitat for other fish because it kills both target and non-target fish
and shatters coral skeletons. It also often injures and maims those
doing the fishing when the home-made bombs malfunction. Blast fishing
has been practiced in Southeast Asia since World War II despite
regulations in most countries prohibiting it.

In recent years many
have tried to rebuild damaged reefs with artificial "reef balls,"
concrete structures, coral transplantation and electric fields, the
authors write. But the long-term effectiveness of these rebuilding
efforts is unproven and they are not as effective as protecting
centuries-old undamaged reefs from damage in the first place. In terms
of cost, the authors found that prevention is anywhere from 5-70 times
more cost-effective than rehabilitation using locally quarried rocks as a
base for regrowing corals, depending on the calculations used.

are few if any methods of coral reef rehabilitation that are
economically feasible at large scale or for developing nations." said
Helen Fox, World Wildlife Fund Marine Conservation Scientist and the
corresponding author of the study. "The million dollar question is
whether to invest limited conservation funds in prevention of damage or
repair of damage to coral reefs and it appears that prevention through
increased enforcement is the answer in this case."

Coral reefs are
among the most diverse and most threatened ecosystems on the planet -
19 percent of the world's reefs are non-functional and in Southeast Asia
40 percent are non-functional. Most marine protected areas are
underfunded and marine patrols often have few boats and thousands of
square miles of ocean to protect from illegal activities such as blast

This is one of the first studies to quantifiably examine
the cost-effectiveness of various management options for coral reefs.
The findings could significantly affect policies not only on coral reef
protection but also on the protection of other habitats.

The study
was authored by experts from World Wildlife Fund, the University of
Maryland, Purdue University, The Nature Conservancy and People and
Nature Consulting International. It can be read in full here:


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study site was Indonesia's Komodo National Park, which is in a region
known as The Coral Triangle. This vast area of the Indo-Pacific region
harbors 75 percent of all known coral species, more than half of the
world's reefs, 40 percent of the world's coral reef fish species, and
six of the world's seven species of marine turtle.

Komodo itself
has over 200 species of reef- building corals but they are under threat.
Half of Komodo's 4200 acres of coral reefs had been damaged by blast
fishing by the mid-1990s. Since enforcement efforts began in 1996 with
the help of The Nature Conservancy blast fishing has decreased by 80
percent to 100 percent. Locals and dive operators report blast fishers
to police, and "floating ranger stations" are supported by speedboats to
pursue blast fishers.

TNC also began rehabilitation of damaged
reefs using locally quarried rocks as a base for regrowing corals in
large rubble fields. The efforts were mostly successful, resulting in
the growth of both hard and soft corals in the rehabilitation areas.

costs for both enforcement and rehabilitation were then analyzed: to
patrol the Park adequately for seven years would cost $1,122,953 while
the cost to install rock piles in all the damaged coral reef habitat of
Komodo National Park would be $40,800,000, or about $10,000 per acre. 
Despite this price tag, this method is among the cheapest; others have
costs that range from $32,000 per acre to $247 million per acre.

study clearly shows that in this case for coral reefs, spending the
money upfront on enforcement is far cheaper and in the long run, is
better for the long-term health of reefs and the species that rely on
them, including humans," Fox said. "In addition, research on how to
increase management effectiveness and compliance with regulations could
yield high dividends."  

The authors recommend that along with
increased enforcement, conservationists and park staff should promote
community education and alternative livelihoods to blast fishing, such
as seaweed farming and sustainable fishing.


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