Seagrass beds are the fishing grounds of choice for many households in four Indo-Pacific countries, according to a new study that calls for better-informed management of these often overlooked marine habitats.
She revealed that small-scale fishers from 147 coastal villages in four tropical countries – Cambodia, Tanzania, Sri Lanka and Indonesia – mostly depend on seagrass beds, saying these habitats are reliable, suitable, familiar and accessible. The study, published in June in the journal Oceans and Coastal Managementnoted that this finding should prompt a rethinking of general perceptions of artisanal fisheries.
“Nearly half of all households we spoke to preferred seagrass fishing to other habitats such as coral, mangroves, open ocean, mud and rock for example,” said lead author Benjamin Jones, a doctoral student in the department of ecology, environment and plant sciences at Stockholm University, said in a statement.
“This was surprising because most people think of reef fisheries as the main small-scale tropical fishery, but we show that its involvement in seagrass fisheries is much more characteristic of households,” Jones added.
People use and value seagrass beds for many different reasons, so safeguarding seagrass beds is essential to ensure that everyone, at all times, has fair and equal access to the resources provided by seagrass beds.
Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, Research Director, Seagrass Project
Jones and his colleagues analyzed interviews with 1,105 households conducted between 2012 and 2017, where 869 identified themselves as fishers, in areas where seagrass beds and coral reefs were present. They found that nearly two-thirds of anglers used seagrass beds the most as a fishing area, either exclusively or as part of multiple options. This was followed by coral reefs, substrates like mud and sand, and deep water areas, according to the research.
The preference for seagrass, they found, included the expectation of a big catch and greater availability of fish. Many anglers have also identified seagrass beds as being more easily accessible than coral reefs, often without the need for a boat, and less likely to damage equipment such as nets.
The study also found that household income strongly influenced the reliance of fishing households on seagrass beds. Seagrasses provide resources for those who cannot afford motorboats and those who use static fishing fences.
Seagrasses are underwater flowering plants, not to be confused with algae, that grow in shallow coastal waters, providing crucial nursery habitat for young fish of many species. They are also an important habitat for marine invertebrates, such as sea cucumbers, crabs, and shrimp. Many experts suggest that a healthy coastal ecosystem with seagrass, mangrove, and coral reef habitats can store large amounts of carbon dioxide, filter sediment and debris from land, and protect against abrasion. coastal.
However, seagrass beds around the world are disappearing at a rate that rivals those of coral reefs and tropical rainforests, losing up to 7% of their area every year, according to IUCN, the world’s plant conservation authority. and animals. Climate change, coastal development, pollution and the spread of invasive species are some of the major threats to seagrass beds.
Jones and colleagues say their study highlights the need for more empirical household-level data to inform better seagrass management. Protecting these habitats, in turn, will ensure their sustainability for marine life and the people who depend on them.
“People use and value seagrass beds for many different reasons, so safeguarding seagrass beds is essential to ensure that everyone, at all times, has fair and equal access to the resources provided by seagrass beds,” said said study co-author Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, director. research at the conservation organization Project Seagrass.
This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com.