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Top Story

When coral reefs change, researchers and local fishing communities see different results

Results of a new study looking at coral reef disturbances, fish abundance and coastal fishers' catches suggest that ecologists and community anglers may perceive environmental disruptions in very different ways. The apparent disconnect between data-driven scientists and experience-driven fishing communities has implications for the management and resilience of coral reefs and other sensitive marine ecosystems. Coral reefs around the world experience pressure from human activities. As ecosystems react to declines in biodiversity, tropical coastal fishers -- whose livelihoods often depend on coral reefs -- become less economically and culturally secure. On the French Polynesian island of Moorea, some parts of the island's lagoons support thriving coral communities, while other areas are giving way to overgrowth by seaweed. An outbreak of coral-devouring crown-of-thorns sea stars in 2009 and a destructive cyclone in 2010 reduced live coral cover by some 95 percent in many locations. But Moorea's local fishing communities, where more than three quarters of households have a member who actively fishes the reef, knew less about how this rapid shift in fish abundance occurred. This research was a first step in looking at how fishing behavior changed following a big change in the fish community itself.

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