Not With A Fizzle, But With A Bang!

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The Detrimental Effects Of Blast Fishing On The Environment.

‘I was left startled and unsettled after a nearby blast resonated with a dull boom across the reef, sending shock waves pulsing through our bodies. I felt the pressure of the bomb’s explosion in my chest….’

More of Jessica’s story below:

Since prehistoric times humans have hunted and harvested the resources they need to survive, and as long as human populations were small and the methods of collection unsophisticated, people could sustainable harvest the organisms of their environment. As human populations have increased however, our use of the environment has dramatically escalated, and over exploitation of marine species have led to some of the most numerous extinctions of any evolutionary time period.

According to WHO.com, the average consumption of fish has increased annually by 3.6% since the 1960’s, with many coastal countries heavily reliant upon these organisms to provide upwards of 50% of their protein intake. In order to meet this extensive demand for fish, immediate yet destructive methods are often utilized

Despite being rendered illegal, the reefs of Southeast Asia now face unprecedented threat levels from dynamite fishing, commonly known as ‘blast’ fishing. The practice is executed either using commercial dynamite, or via lethal homemade concoctions of local materials. The bombs are then thrown into the water where the radiating shock waves burst the swim bladders of nearby fish. This gas filled organ is vital in order to maintain neutral buoyancy and momentum, without it, the fish are left immobile and slowly asphyxiate. One woman, Jessica MacDonald, recounts her horrifying experience of witnessing the after effects of a blast fishing attack:

‘Fish carcasses littered the area, although some were not yet dead and instead were left gasping pathetically for air on the seafloor.”

Picture Credits.Coral Reefs damaged by dynamite fishing in Sabah,@Eric Madjai/WWFl               Whilst not only killing far more fish than can be harvested, the resulting blasts shatter coral skeletons, and generate great expanses of unstable coral rubble.  As declared in a 2002 publication, a 1-kilogram (35 ounce) bottle bomb can leave a rubble crater of approximately 1 to 2 meters in diameter, killing 50 to 80 percent of the coral in that area . Those coral fragments that survive the initial blast are then left highly susceptible to mortality in the shifting rubble.
The importance of coral reefs is indisputable. Despite only covering 0.2% of the ocean’s surface they support approximately ⅓ of all marine species. Yet, just as these species are dependent upon coral reefs, so too are the reefs upon fish – in particular the herbivorous fish targeted by blast fishing.

A study in 2006 showed that grazers such as parrot fish play a crucial role in reef dynamics, making their loss highly detrimental for the overall health of marine ecosystems. Parrot fish graze on macro algae and fleshy seaweeds that compete with adult corals for space, as well as eroding dead coral skeletons and generating new reef sediment. A drop in the number of grazers depletes reef state, and reduces the resilience of these fragile organisms to coral stress’s such as climate change and pollution.

Whilst not only detrimental to the environment, blast fishing is also a highly indiscriminate method, with any non-target species in the vicinity being caught in the blast radius. In 2014, one article described a haunting weekend in the Philippines where 21 dolphins and 22 dwarf sperm whales were brutally left for dead after being stunned and attacked by dynamite fishermen.

  Whilst not only detrimental to the environment, blast fishing is also a highly indiscriminate method, with any non-target species in the vicinity being caught in the blast radius. In 2014, one article described a haunting weekend in the Philippines where 21 dolphins and 22 dwarf sperm whales were brutally left for dead after being stunned and attacked by dynamite fishermen.

united to marine animals however, with the many dynamite amputees of Southeast Asia serving as flagrant reminder of just how commonplace these illegal operations are. There are many who did not have the opportunity to meet Al Bernard Coyoca, and now they never will. The freelance diving instructor was taken from his family on the 30th September 2015 whilst exploring the reefs of Daanbantayan. With over 15 years of diving experience, it was not personal error that fatally injured this man, but “traumatic injuries to the head and trunk compatible with blast incidence” as stated by Chief Insp. Felina Brunia Jr. As blast fishing claims yet another life, Al Bernard’s father Enrico has become a passionate advocate against allowing the illegal practice to continue.

Since this time however, destructive fishing still continues to occur because all the economic incentives remain in place for it to occur. The perpetrators for these crimes are often poverty stricken and desperate to feed their families with each catch. In order to effect any real change education is vital, whether it is simply showing these fishermen the vast destruction they create below the calm surface of the water, or through introducing them to entirely different occupations. An article in 2016 showed that fishing villages around the Bojo River of Cebu, Philippines, fully embraced Eco-tourism as a way to employ local tradespeople and rid themselves of the devastation to their beautiful coast lines.

Studies indicate that the rubble from single blasts of dynamite fishing have the potential to slowly stabilize after a period of 5 years, yet for sites that have been subjected to repeated attacks, no amount of human intervention or coral larvae can revive. The time for effective management is now, before some of Earth’s most breathtaking natural wonders become only stories and legends to those of future generations.

http://goo.gl/N1v8iR

Author’s Rebecca Hone & Stephen Nixey.

If you have witnessed the effects of blast fishing and have any footage you wish to share with us please tweet us. @saving_theangel.  or email us. savingtheangelsoftheseas@gmail.com

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