13 Nov 2013

Livelihood of Solomons fisheries dependent on land-based activities

5:18 pm on 13 November 2013

A marine biologist studying the impact of logging in Solomon Islands says even the highest form of marine protection won't stop land-based activities from destroying vital fisheries.

The Nature Conservancy has produced research into juvenile topa or bumphead parrotfish in the Kia district of Isabel province, linking sediment from logging with the destruction of lagoon reefs.

The organisation's Richard Hamilton says sediment stops the coral from photosynthesising, destroying the habitat topa and many other fish species must live in to mature.

Dr Hamilton told Annell Husband marine protection and management are important but on their own, not enough.

RICHARD HAMILTON: When you have these really critical areas for fisheries, and that's often nursery areas - mangroves which are adjacent to forested islands. It's a really bad idea to log those forested islands - those nearby marine systems are just too fragile to sustain any more marine sediment in the system. They already have a fairly high sediment load, but the mangroves hold it in check naturally. The second point, really, is that if logging does go ahead in some areas which aren't as vulnerable it needs to follow best international practices to ensure the sediment run-off into those systems in minimised. That hasn't been happening in the Solomon Islands and it hasn't been happening in many places in Asia Pacific. One of the interesting things is the species we're looking at - the bumphead parrotfish - it's a fairly major fishery in Isabel and it's a species which has got a lot of international recognition by the marine biology world, if you like. It's considered an iconic species on coral reefs and it's also considered an indicator species for overfishing. But probably up until now a lot of the scientists, myself included, were thinking that the thing leading to this demise all over the world was just overfishing. And while there's no doubt that overfishing is an issue, it's also very much impacted by land-based practices on that nursery phase.

ANNELL HUSBAND: In terms of its importance to local people on Isabel, I gather it's also extremely significant to them in terms of income.

RICHARD HAMILTON: Yeah, it produces a fair amount of income into a very small, rural, local community, probably about quarter of a million Solomon dollars per year. So it's a significant component of that subsistence small-scale commercial fishery there. But the research focused on primarily on this bumphead parrotfish, but what we've seen in these areas is really high abundance of all sorts of important coral reef fishes. And I guess the really strong take-home message is that you can... I'm a marine biologist and we can talk about setting up Marine Protected Areas, we can talk about management areas like closed spawning seasons, but in order to sustain Pacific fisheries and also the livelihoods of the people who depend on them, you have to look at a more integrated approach that also addresses bad land use practices or you'll lose your fisheries. You can have the best management in the world in place in terms of marine, if the logging practices wipe out these nursery areas you'll still lose your fisheries in 10, 15 years time.