What can a glass bottle, some kerosene, and a little fertilizer destroy? For one thing, a coral reef. Blast fishing is a destructive fishing method that is practiced in many parts of the world. In Southeast Asia, it has been responsible for the destruction of many coral reefs, and as a result, has negatively impacted vital parts of certain economies.
Blast fishing is a technique whereby fishermen use dynamite, cyanide bombs, or homemade explosives to stun or kill fish for collection. Fisherman blast coral reefs because large numbers of fish congregate around them. The blasts are indiscriminately destructive. They stun the fish desired by the fisherman, kill other species, and physically turn the reefs into piles of rubble. Though blast fishing has been outlawed in many places, it continues to be practiced.
The long-term impacts of blast fishing are both environmentally and economically devastating. Indonesian waters boast some of the most beautiful and bio-diverse coral reefs on the planet. According to the Reefbase Reefs at Risk database, Indonesia has the largest diversity of reef fish in the world, and it’s coral reefs help support a marine fisheries industry that, in 1997, resulted in 3.6 million tons of marine fish production.
The World Resources Institute estimates that blast fishing results in a net economic loss of $570 million annually in Indonesia, and as much as $1.2 Billion in the Philippines. Economic loss comes mainly from the depletion of marine fisheries. The destruction of coral reefs contributes to the depletion of marine fisheries. With the destruction of reefs, comes the destruction of the ecosystem that supports fish populations. When coral reefs are destroyed, the number and diversity of fish that the ecosystem can support decreases. Healthy coral reefs provide food, shelter, and breeding grounds for fish, but when the physical structure of a reef is demolished, it cannot perform these functions. Thus, blast-fishermen devastate the very ecosystems that sustain the fish populations that they rely on to sustain their livelihoods.
Blast fishing also harms the reef-based tourism economy. If reefs are reduced to rubble SCUBA divers no longer have reason to visit, and even a small blast here and there can scare tourists away from SCUBA diving in an area.
The World Resources Institute argues that healthy coral reefs can contribute about $1.6 billion U.S dollars per year to the Indonesian economy. As reefs are destroyed by blast fishing, this economic potential decreases.
Fortunately, there is some hope for reefs that have been blasted. The long-term ecological impact of blast fishing on coral reefs is a question of major concern. In the short term, blast fishing is clearly destructive, but in some cases there is evidence of recovery. In their article, “Recovery From Blast Fishing On Coral Reefs: A Tale of Two Scales”, Fox and Caldwell show that certain reefs areas that suffered acute blasts recovered from damages. However, those that were extensively blasted did not recover. They write,
“Rubble resulting from single blasts slowly stabilized, and craters filled in with surrounding coral and new colonies. After five years, coral cover within craters no longer differed significantly from control plots. In contrast, extensively bombed areas showed no significant recovery over the six years of this study, despite adequate supply of coral larvae. After extensive blasting, the resulting coral rubble shifts in ocean currents, forming unstable ‘‘killing fields’’ for new recruits.”
Thus when areas are extensively blasted, an inhospitable habitat for new coral growth results, and reefs, even are unlikely to recover.
Ultimately, governments and citizens need to act in order to save coral reefs from blast fishing. Unfortunately, the regulation of blast fishing, even in places where it has been outlawed, has proven difficult. According to a paper published by the Conservation and Community Investment Forum, attention has been drawn to the problems that blast fishing causes, but Indonesian authorities are often unresponsive because regulation is expensive, and because political will to fight against blast fishing is lacking.
Thankfully, a lack to will to stop blast fishing is not universal. The video below is an uplifting story about collaboration between the NGO Seacology and members of an Indonesian community, to restore a reef destroyed by blast fishing.