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November 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Hey, Divers, Don’t Eat the Reef Fish

from the November, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Reducing tourist consumption of reef fish is critical for Palau's ocean sustainability, finds a new University of British Colombia study that suggests other small island nations -- including those in the Caribbean -- might also consider adopting this strategy.

And, tourists who eat the reef fish are clearly contributing to their decline.

Climate change is expected to lead to sharp declines in Palau's reefs, and the best tourism management strategy includes a more than 70 percent reduction in the amount of reef fish eaten by visitors.

"Palau's reefs and the fish communities they host are incredibly beautiful and recognized worldwide as a top diving destination," says lead author Colette Wabnitz. "Tourist numbers can reach nine times the local population, and most come to enjoy the ocean. This puts enormous pressure on local marine resources that are central to local communities' culture, food security, and livelihoods."

The authors found that the health of reefs can be better maintained by shifting seafood consumption to open water fish, such as sustainably harvested tuna, instead of reef fishes such as grouper, snapper, and parrotfish.

"Dining habits are removing important fish species from local reefs, and it's ironic that viewing these fish is the reason people come in the first place. This is an important step that can be taken now, rather than a future adaptation to climate change," says co-author Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor. "Sustainable tourism, especially ecotourism, shouldn't threaten the food security of local people or their environment."

Ecotourism, climate change and reef fish consumption in Palau: Benefits, trade-offs, and adaptation strategies. Colette C.C. Wabnitz University of British Columbia, Andrés M. Cisneros-Montemayor, University of British Columbia , Quentin Hanich, University of Wollongong, Yoshitaka Ota, University of Washington. Published in Marine Policy, September 19, 2017.

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