Oceans are such complex ecosystems. They are vast, rich with life, seemingly infinite and indestructible. But are they really?
AS wide as the ocean is, it doesn‘t mean that whatever lies in it is limitless and in abundance. One report highlighted that the ocean, despite its vastness, only contains a limited number of wild seafood stocks. In 2006, a group of international ecologists and economists predicted the loss of the world‘s seafood stocks by 2050. The report was released after a four-year study of 7,800 marine species around the world.
SIGNIFICANCE FOR THE COUNTRY
Malaysia is the top fish and seafood consuming country per capita in Asia. In terms of total consumption, Malaysia ranks third, after Japan and South Korea. In 2010, the average Malaysian consumed 54kg of fish and seafood per year compared with 20kg in 1970.
The trend for fish consumption in the country is expected to steadily increase in the next decade. Unfortunately, the actual annual catch brought into Malaysia (locally caught and imported) is not moving in the same direction as the population‘s appetite. This is worrying as the current annual fish landings already do not meet the country‘s projected demand.
Fish consumption in general is not a bad thing. But when stocks begin to decline, it becomes a major problem for the general population, even more so for vulnerable communities living on islands who rely heavily on daily catches as food and source of income.
Reef Check Malaysia’s (RCM) 2013 survey reported low levels of high-value species of fish (e.g. grouper) and shellfish (e.g. lobster). The data suggests a slow recovery rate from past overfishing and the possibility of poaching within marine protected areas.
IMPACT ON CONSUMERS
Fish is an important part of a healthy balanced diet. It is a great source of protein, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, which is key to brain development and a healthy heart. With obesity on the rise in the country, more people will begin to opt for fish and seafood as part of their diet.
However, if the level of overfishing is left unchecked, coupled with dwindling global stocks, a crisis may soon arise. This could result in over-pricing and possibly, the extinction of high demand species.
With the collapse of fishing, island communities will be the first to experience drastic change. Livelihood of fishermen will be impacted. Moreover, tourism to these islands may be affected as the sea-life that divers and snorkellers pay to see may no longer exist. This is merely the tip of the iceberg. Conservation-wise, the imbalance in marine ecosystem may eventually affect shoreline protection, climate regulation, ocean acidification and the list goes on.
One of the most effective approaches to managing coastal and marine resources is to create marine protected areas managed by local communities. A report by New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society said that coral reef marine protected areas established by local people for traditional use was far more effective at protecting fish and wildlife than those set up by governments.
The report found that fish actually grew larger in small traditionally managed reserves rather than in larger national parks. They must also be co-managed by several partner organisations. Effective partnerships are therefore important between the management authority and local communities.
RCM launched two major programmes on the islands of Mantanani, Sabah and Tioman, Pahang in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The main objective is to enable both islands to become resilient and sustainable.
Mantanani Island is fast becoming a popular tourist destination with its beautiful islands and clear blue water. With this rising popularity comes increased development beyond the capacity of existing infrastructure. For example, the number of resorts doubled within two years. RCM is working to establish Mantanani as a locally managed marine protected area by engaging with government agencies, the local community and resort operators. At this stage, the primary focus is to educate each stakeholder on the importance of coral reefs and marine resources as some still practice destructive fishing methods.
Tioman Island, on the other hand, was designated as a marine park by the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia in 1994. No new resort was constructed between 2000 and 2012. Since then, five new resorts have been built.
In March 2014, RCM established a permanent presence on the island to engage with and encourage the local community to become more involved in managing the island. Recycling and waste management have been introduced.
Alternative livelihood training (e.g. nature guides) is also part of the programme.
Sustainability ensures healthy marine ecosystems, which leads to a consistent supply of fish and other marine products. It develops sustainable livelihoods, thereby, having a positive impact on a nation‘s social and economic standing. More importantly, it protects what we already have, leading to billions in savings that would otherwise be spent to restore or recreate lost biodiversity.
We can begin by turning environmentally-friendly practices into daily habits — reduce waste, recycle, be ethical divers or snorkellers, consume sustainable seafood and so on.
(Source: Reef Check Malaysia)
|Some species, like the grouper, are being overfished.|
|Mantanani Island in Sabah is seeing increased development.|