Perceptions and responses of Pacific Island fishers to changing coral reefs

Abstract

The transformation of coral reefs has profound implications for millions of people. However, the interactive effects of changing reefs and fishing remain poorly resolved. We combine underwater surveys (271 000 fishes), catch data (18 000 fishes), and household surveys (351 households) to evaluate how reef fishes and fishers in Moorea, French Polynesia responded to a landscape-scale loss of coral caused by sequential disturbances (a crown-of-thorns sea star outbreak followed by a category 4 cyclone). Although local communities were aware of the disturbances, less than 20% of households reported altering what fishes they caught or ate. This contrasts with substantial changes in the taxonomic composition in the catch data that mirrored changes in fish communities observed on the reef. Our findings highlight that resource users and scientists may have very different interpretations of what constitutes ‘change’ in these highly dynamic social–ecological systems, with broad implications for successful co-management of coral reef fisheries.

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Acknowledgements

We thank T. Atger, M. Strother, A. Bunnell, C. Hunter, and O. L. Lenihan for leading anthropological field work; K. Seydel, J. Verstaan, A. Dubel, P. Germain, L. Thiault, and R. Terai for technical assistance; the staff of University of California Berkeley Gump Research Station including Ms. Hinano Murphy for logistic support; René Galzin for initiating the roadside surveys; and Dr. Jean-Yves Meyer for assistance with permits. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Science Foundation (OCE 1637396, OCE 1325652, BCS 1714704), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR-14-CE03-0001-01). Permits for field work were issued by the Haut-commissariat de la République en Polynésie Française (DRRT) (Protocole d’Accueil 2005–2006, 2006–2007, 2007–2008, 2008–2009, 2009–2010, 2010–2011, 2011–2012, 2012–2013, 2013–2014, and 2014–2015 to RJS and SJH) for research associated with the US NSF Moorea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research project. Service d’Observation CORAIL from CRIOBE kindly provided ecological monitoring data.

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Rassweiler, A., Lauer, M., Lester, S.E. et al. Perceptions and responses of Pacific Island fishers to changing coral reefs. Ambio 49, 130–143 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-019-01154-5

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Keywords

  • Coral reef resilience
  • Disturbance
  • Fisheries
  • Local knowledge
  • Selectivity
  • Social–ecological feedbacks