Marine Protected Areas In Pohnpei Generally Too Small To Protect Species

Local fisherman need to be involved in creation of MPAs

By Christy Sakaziro - Palau & Micronesia Humanities Project Director

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, March 22, 2017) – Many islanders like to catch groupers, wahoo, jacks, rabbitfish, parrotfish, Napoleon wrasse, red and white snappers. Islanders have different fishing techniques to catch their favorite fish. They use a fishing gun, a spear gun or a spear.

There is, however, a law that protects marine biodiversity and it has decreased the community’s fish catch.

Studies at the same time show that fishing “down” the food chain “decreases the stability of coral reef systems, and reduces their growth, diversity and ability to recover from natural disturbances. The end result: more and more of the favorite reef spots that have come to be known change in appearance, decline in health, and produce less desirable food fish for the islanders.”

The ARC Center of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies believes that underneath the waves of Palikir Pass, one of the world’s top surf breaks in the Pacific Ocean, lies a new safe zone which can ensure the survival of local fisheries and the species that are caught in Pohnpei.

There, researchers examined how effective its designated marine protected areas were for conservation and fisheries management. They found that the majority of MPAs in Pohnpei were too small to protect the fish they cared about the most.

Focusing on particular species that fishermen care about and using information on the ecology of those species, like how far they move on a day-to-day basis, researchers were able to determine how large no-take zones actually needed to be.

Researchers believe that taking this information to community workshops and involving local fishermen in the conversation could result in the creation of larger MPAs.

Pohnpei has committed to achieving international targets for biodiversity conservation through the Micronesia Challenge, and has already protected 30 percent of its marine and 25 percent of its terrestrial habitats. However, not all of the MPAs on the reefs surrounding Pohnpei are performing well, as many are too small.

Experts say MPAs could be designed more effectively all over the world. Of course, the larger the area set aside for no-take zones, the smaller the area for fishing.

There is a trade-off between food security and conservation but people are less likely to follow the rules if they don’t see how they will benefit from them.

Experts recommend focused conversation on the particular fish to be protected so that more people will be engaged. Focusing on these species will mean better protection and an increase in their abundance which will ultimately benefit both conservation and local fisheries.

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