Fishing for less as reefs disappear in Fiji

Penina

Penina Moce, 43, lives with her husband and five children in the village ofUdu on Kabara Island in Fiji. Like many women on her island she is the breadwinner of the family. She gathers food by fishing in the shallow waters around Kabara. But Penina is finding it increasingly difficult to catch fish and put food on the table because of changes to the underwater ecosystem.

The oceans absorb 90% of the energy generated by global warming causing water temperatures to rise. A significant proportion of the carbon dioxide pumped into our atmosphere ends up the oceans causing them to acidify. Together, these processes are having a big impact on marine ecosystems.

‘We have begun to notice that the fish and shellfish we used to be able to gather so easily are getting harder to find,’ says Penina. ‘The fish are often tiny, barely enough for a meal. One of our great delicacies, the gerashelfish, is now very difficult to find.’

Throughout the Pacific, villages are experiencing a decline in the abundance and size of staple species of finfish, shellfish, crustaceans, edible echinoderms and other important species.

Islanders like Penina are being forced to adjust traditional fishing practices that have been handed down for generations. ‘We used to catch enough fish in the shallows. But now we have to go further out,’ she explains.

But even in deeper waters the fish are not as abundant as they used to be, so it takes more time than it should to bring in a sufficient catch. ‘The women are spending longer and longer in the seawater,’ she says.‘Fish used to bite quickly – now we can spend more than an hour in the seawater before we get a single bite.’

There is no commercial fishing in the waters off Kabara Island and the population density is very low so the decline in fish is being linked to environmental pressures associated with climate change. The rising water temperature causes coral bleaching which damages the reef, leaving fish and crustaceans to go and find a healthy habitat elsewhere.

Bleaching is in evidence off Kabara according to Penina. ‘There used to be colourful, live coral from the edge of the beach out to the reef. But now everything has gone white.’ Widespread episodes of reef bleaching and the death of coral reefs are being experienced throughout the Pacific and the Carribean.

Changes to the behavior of the sea are also affecting fishing in the area and threatening the safety of Udu village itself. ‘The sea is slowly eroding our coastline and spreading the sand over our fishing grounds,’ Penina says.Accelerated coastal erosion like this is consistent with the increasing frequencyand severity of extreme events, such as storm surges and king tides, that are linked with climate change.

The erosion described by Penina is being experienced in many small island countries, such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tonga. Recent cyclones and tidal waves have caused coastal erosion, worse than can be remembered by most people. Plantations, house frontages and, in the case of Kabara, the island’s health center at Nakeleyaga,have fallen prey to the waves.

Source: WWF Full account and scientific review here

 

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