Limiting Catch of One Type of Fish Could Help Save Coral Reefs, Research FindsNewsroom
Study finds protecting a single type of herbivorous fish could be crucial to the recovery of reefs from damage related to climate change.
Limiting the take of just one type of fish could protect coral reefs around the world from the most serious immediate impacts of climate change, researchers have found.
Studying Caribbean coral reefs, Peter Mumby and colleagues from the University of Queensland found that enforcing a rule limiting the fishing of a single type of herbivorous fish – parrotfish – would allow coral reefs there to continue to grow, despite bleaching and other impacts associated with climate change.
Coral reefs damaged by bleaching or storms can recover when new baby corals settle and grow on the dead old corals. But the new recruits must compete with seaweed. If the seaweed outcompetes the coral, the reef can be lost forever, transforming into a seaweed-dominated ecosystem, where most of the biodiversity is lost.
But herbivorous fish can eat the seaweed, giving the baby corals a fighting chance.
Banning the taking of parrotfish under 30cm, and limiting total catch to 10% of the mass of the total population, would allow the reefs to cope with climate change until at least 2030, the researchers found.
The Caribbean reefs were perfect for the study, but the results were not directly applicable to Australian reefs, Mumby said.
“It’s relatively simple – it has one tenth the number of species of coral and fish than we have here in Australia,” he told Guardian Australia. “In the Caribbean, the parrotfish are the most important herbivores.”
However, the results indicated Australia should also consider limiting the catch of herbivorous fish, he said.
It is the first time scientists have identified how many reef-saving fish you can catch without severely affecting the reef’s ability to recover.
(For the full version of this story, go to The Guardian.)