Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Ghost netting

The island Archipelago surrounding Koh Sdach offers some of the richest coral diversity in all of South East Asia.

Brain coral in the seas surrounding Koh Sdach
But such breathtaking diversity is under threat.

As ever, the complex interactions between humans, fisheries and sustainable development are highly visible, as indeed are such conflicts within the majority of the planet's developing countries.

Whilst the seas in this part of the world offer up a bewildering array of marine resources, man's innate abilities to both squander and waste such bounty remain equally visible.

'Ghost nets', a term commonplace in this part of the world, speak volumes for the simple ways in which sustainability can be embedded, yet it fails to happen at expense to both marine and human futures.

Fishermen in this part of the world routinely drop some 250 to 300 cages and nets, seeking catch to sell into the rich, tourist driven markets of Bangkok.

Yet these cages are sunk with neither marker nor buoy, with fishermen trusting only to luck that they can successfully return and investigate the results of their efforts.

Researchers in this part of the world, speaking with Koh Sdach fishermen, have estimated some 3/4 of the cages dropped are at times never refound.

Discarded ropes/nets on Koh Sdach's ocean bed
They lie silently on the ocean floor, an unsuspecting trap for fish species, which become caught in the cages, struggle and die. Yet more fish are attracted to these remains, themselves become ensnared, so sparking a cycle of pointless death and waste, that continues until cages, ropes and nets ultimately degrade and float away to haunt the oceans, leaving their deathly legacy to linger on.

It seems an astonishingly inefficient, callous and illogical way to fish. Yet marine fishermen here appear neither harsh, uncaring nor unaware of the perilous state of their stocks. More there appears a simple lack of understanding surrounding cost, alternatives, available options and a more innate sense of how to extend resources for future generations.

Often, the most striking examples of unsustainable practices are among the easiest to resolve. Should government cash, NGO's, campaigners or the fishermen themselves take responsibility for how Koh Sdach manages its fisheries? The questions remain timely, urgent and presently without answer.

What future for Koh Sdach's marine ecosystems?

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