Sustainable Fishing: Balancing Livelihoods and Conservation

Sustainable Fishing: Balancing Livelihoods and Conservation

Sustainable Fishing:

Balancing Livelihoods and Marine Conservation in Costa Rica 

What is Sustainable Fishing?

Sustainable fishing is the practice of harvesting fish in a manner that maintains the long-term vitality of fish populations and marine ecosystems. This holistic approach safeguards against overexploitation, ensuring the marine environment is not damaged, and that the livelihoods of those reliant on the ocean such as fishermen and coastal communities are supported for generations to come. 

Decades of unregulated overfishing have detrimentally impacted marine biodiversity and ecosystems, necessitating a shift towards more mindful fishing practices. 

To address these impacts, scientists assess the health of fish stocks, delving into factors such as population size, spawning patterns, predation, and survival rates to maturity. Through collecting this information, fisheries can implement harvest control rules, which require catches to be reduced if the species’ population declines. By integrating scientific insights and adopting adaptive management strategies, sustainable fisheries can foster a harmonious coexistence between human activities and the marine environment, ensuring its vitality for future generations.

Indigenous cultures worldwide have practised sustainable fishing for thousands of years, utilizing techniques such as spearfishing, hook-and-line methods, and cast nets. These methods minimize bycatch, which is the accidental catch of a different species. They also set aside vulnerable areas, such as coral reefs, and have seasonal restrictions on certain species to allow replenishment of fish stocks. By observing these Indigenous practices, fisheries can learn and adapt their methods to mitigate their environmental impact.

“We need to respect the oceans and take care of them as if our lives depend on it. Because they do.”

Sylvia Earle

Why is it so Important?

Sustainable fishing is imperative in protecting ocean biodiversity and maintaining a healthy and resilient ocean. With fishers extracting over 77 billion kilograms (170 billion pounds) of sea life from the oceans annually, there are escalating concerns that this exploitation may result in a global collapse of fisheries. Climate change is already having detrimental impacts on our oceans and the health of fish stocks, making the need for sustainable fishing more important than ever.

Unsustainable practices such as overfishing not only deplete targeted fish populations, but also lead to the unintended capture of non-targeted species such as turtles, birds, and other marine life. As much as 40% of fisheries’ captures worldwide are bycatch, and an estimated 650,000 whales, dolphins, and seals are killed annually by fishing nets. Unselective and destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling and drift net fishing are also destroying delicate marine habitats, such as coral reefs, seagrass and seabed communities. 

With all of these fishing practices, over 640,000 tons of plastic waste is generated and left to pollute the ocean. This includes nets, lines and traps that are continuously trapping and killing marine life.

Beyond environmental concerns, sustainable fishing plays a pivotal role in upholding global food security, particularly in regions where seafood serves as a vital source of protein and essential nutrients. By conserving fish populations, sustainable fishing mitigates the need for increased reliance on land-based proteins, thus averting further deforestation and environmental degradation.

Furthermore, sustainable fishing practices provide critical support and protection for countless communities and organizations that depend on fishing and seafood-related activities for their livelihoods. By embracing sustainable fishing methods, we can ensure the continued viability of these industries while safeguarding the health and integrity of our oceans for generations to come.

113 million people globally are employed by fisheries

97% of employment from fisheries are in developing countries

How Do We Achieve Sustainable Fishing?

Government Cooperation

Comprehensive government cooperation, from local communities to nations across the world, is crucial in ensuring responsible fishing practices. There are numerous organizations, such as the National Platform for Sustainable Fisheries of Large Pelagics here in Costa Rica, which provide a platform for various stakeholders to discuss challenges they may face related to sustainable fishing. Establishing protected marine reserves can assist in conserving delicate marine ecosystems such as reefs and mangroves, allowing fish populations to regenerate and recover.

Fishery Management

Effective fishery management is essential in achieving sustainable fishing practices. Steps can be taken such as monitoring and retrieving lost gear as well as using biodegradable panels or locks on gear such as crab pots, preventing fishing gear from being discarded or lost in the ocean and allowing species to escape. 

Consumers

As consumers, we can choose seafood that has been harvested and produced by well-managed, sustainable fisheries. To do this, we must educate ourselves on the origin and capture techniques used by fisheries. Resources such as Seafood Watch can also assist us in making informed decisions. In Costa Rica, look out for the ‘Pura Vida’ label on seafood products as an assurance of sustainability.

From research conducted by MOTT Community College, 60% of tourists in Quepos, Costa Rica do not know what sustainable seafood is!

Making mindful species about the types of fish we consume is also key. Below are some species to avoid, as well as alternative options. This helps reduce pressure on fragile species and contributes to the overall sustainability of fisheries.

Best Choice

Mahi-Mahi/Dorado: Reproduces quickly

Snapper: Reproduces quickly and grows fast

 

Alternative Options

Yellowfin Tuna: Large in size

Common & Black Snook: Adaptable

Wahoo: High reproductive rate and fast growth rate

Avoid

Octopus: Ethically questionable due to their intelligence

Lobster: Overfished due to consumer demand

Tilapia: Questionable farming methods using chemicals

Swordfish: High levels of mercury

Marlin: Often caught by bycatch

Shark: Unsustainably fished

 

We recently had the pleasure of welcoming 9 students from Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, who came to help us in our progress towards protecting our oceans, as they play an important role in our way of life. Months before joining us here in Quepos, they had begun important research into the fishing industry and in particular, the sustainability of certain fish in Costa Rica. Once here, over a week, the students learnt about Marine Conservation, its importance, sustainable fishing practices, and how we have exploited it over decades. They then went and conducted primary research speaking to restaurants, tourists and fishermen in the local area to find out more about the fishing industry and its sustainability.

As a final message from us at Marine Conservation Costa Rica, we’d like to thank Aizya S, Alexis F, Angelique T, Dante W, Grant M, Joshua M, Mahmuda H, Marielle J, Shelby N and Professor Devone for joining us to educate all of us on how we can make more informed decisions about what we eat!

By Aizya S, Alexis F, Angelique T, Dante W, Grant M, Joshua M, Mahmuda H, Marielle J, Shelby N, Professor Devone from MOTT Community College and Mayella Bignell 

Want to get involved ?

With all of the projects we work hard on throughout the year, we are always looking for help. You can get involved with one of our internship or volunteer programs.

Apply Now

The MCCR Impact Report

The MCCR Impact Report

 Our Impact over the last 4 years!

 

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MCCR Impact 2019-23

Over the past 4 years, we’ve worked hard on what we do and are proud of what we’ve achieved so far. Read a small part below about our impact and click the link at the bottom to download the full report. 

We founded Marine Conservation Costa Rica in 2019 with a mission to work towards a healthier ocean through coral restoration, marine education and research. Our main project is to combat the deteriorating coral reef ecosystem in the Manuel Antonio area, we aim to restore this reef and educate the local community on how to preserve the ecosystem for future generations.

From our report, you’ll learn that, with 563 students reached from our local community and 1396 new coral colonies planted on our local reef. We are well on our way to making a difference, however, we could not have achieved this without our amazing staff, interns and volunteers. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Our supporters have put in 6020 volunteer hours.

But to make a difference to ocean health on a larger scale, we need your help….every little change that you can make will add up to a big difference! So change to eco-friendly products, shop sustainability, reduce your carbon footprint and support conservation projects, only if we all work together can a healthy ocean be a reality.

Thank you!

Georgia King and Katherine Evans

5x increase in Corals Outplanted to date

We reach the local community, directly, through our outreach to students in particular. However, many of our other actions indirectly assist the community where fishing is a vital part of their way of life. 

Since 2019, we’ve had 3,990 intern hours spent on coral restoration in particular. This commitment to the future of our oceans from volunteers around the world inspires us and we hope inspires many more too!

There are currently 3 ways in which we create an impact on the local marine environment, of which our largest project, the restoration of local coral colonies, is growing every year with the help of YOUR donations and our countless interns who volunteer their time to assist us in achieving our goals.

Our Mission statement reflects in everything we do, showing commitment to Sustainability and the Community; Our Oceans are important to our way of life and protecting them is our duty.

Apply Now

A Guide to the New MCCR Member Tiers

A Guide to the New MCCR Member Tiers

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This November, we’re launching our MCCR Member Program for your business to positively impact the local Marine Environment! Here’s why you should be interested…

By becoming a member, you are exposed to a range of benefits! You will get to contribute to environmental conservation and have the opportunity to expand the dive skills of you or your employees, all while learning how to take the proper measures to conserve our oceans. There are many benefits to becoming a member, but the most critical is that you are joining the efforts to conserve the marine environment around Manuel Antonio and beyond. 



Nudibranch

There are three levels of membership, each of which allows different yearly benefits. The Nudibranch is the basic level of membership, where members can get signage for your businesses, cross-marketing opportunities with MCCR, members-only quarterly newsletter, environmental education seminar for your staff and company, and so much more! As a Nudibranch member, you will first-hand contribute to the environmental conservation protection and projects we are working hard on. You will get to participate in various conservation projects such as coral reef restoration, beach cleanups, and wildlife monitoring.

Nudibranch level membership
seahorse membership

Seahorse

As a Seahorse member, the second level, you will receive signage for your business, cross-marketing opportunities with MCCR, members-only bi-monthly newsletter, environmental education seminar, 1 free coral restoration course for staff and members of your company, and 2 free entries for MCCR special events. You will contribute to the community and meet like-minded individuals that share a passion for marine conservation and diving. You will increase your dive skills and work with others in the community to preserve conservation and increase our efforts. 



Turtle

The highest level of membership is the Turtle. This includes everything mentioned above, with 1 more free coral restoration courses for staff and members of your company, and 2 more free entries for MCCR special events. These events will encourage your staff to learn about the ocean that surrounds us, and the urge to protect the wonderful biodiversity that Costa Rica is so proud of.

Turtle membership

As a corporate member, you will not only get to help us reach our goals, but you get to contribute to our community as well. Our Environmental Education Seminar will teach your staff about the various diverse marine ecosystems in Costa Rica, including coral reef, mangroves, and coastal habitats. We will highlight the unique biodiversity and ecological importance of the areas, and address current threats and real-life examples of the challenges we are facing. We will discuss corporate responsibility, explore the role of corporations in marine conservation, and create group action plans that you as a corporation and as an individual can partake in.

octopus Tier

Octopus

Not a business but want to play your part? Not to worry; the Octopus tier will be for you! You’ll also have discounts on MCCR merchandise receive access to the bi-monthly newsletter and of course, make your own positive impact on the local marine environment. This is on top of free access to our designated Education portal designed to teach you about Marine life and how you can be more sustainable in everyday life! You’ll have a username and password that’ll grant you access to all the resources available in the portal with regular updates of the materials available.



Have any questions or want to find out more? Contact us below!

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The Threat of Ocean Acidification

The Threat of Ocean Acidification

What is Ocean Acidification and its Impacts? 

 

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The oceans on this planet are facing a profound threat: ocean acidification. It poses a crucial risk to the delicate balance of life within marine ecosystems and to their structure. In this article, we will discuss the complex process of ocean acidification including what it is, what causes it, and the far-reaching implications it has for marine life. 

“Due to climate change, the ocean is warmer, more acidic and less productive today.”

The United Nations 

But What is Ocean Acidification?

Ocean acidification is the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans due to the absorption of excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. As atmospheric CO2 levels rise, a significant portion of it is absorbed by the oceans, forming carbonic acid. This acidification process disrupts the chemical equilibrium of seawater, leading to lower pH levels and higher acidity.

The primary driver of ocean acidification is the burning of fossil fuels, which releases CO2 into the atmosphere. This excess CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, altering their chemical composition. Deforestation, industrial processes, and other human activities also contribute to the problem.

Coral Reefs in Peril: Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. The increased acidity inhibits the ability of corals to build their calcium carbonate skeletons, leading to weaker, more brittle structures. Putting entire reef ecosystems at risk; threatening the multitude of marine species that depend on them for habitat and food.

Disruption of Food Webs: As foundational species like plankton and shellfish struggle to survive due to ocean acidification, entire marine food webs can be disrupted. This has far-reaching consequences for marine organisms at all levels, including commercially important fish species.

Biodiversity Loss: The cumulative effects of ocean acidification, combined with other stressors like pollution and overfishing, can lead to biodiversity loss and reduced resilience in marine ecosystems. This loss of biodiversity can disrupt ecosystem services that support human communities as well.

How does Ocean Acidification impact Marine Life?

Shellfish and Calcium Carbonate: Ocean acidification disrupts the availability of carbonate ions. Many marine organisms, such as molluscs and shellfish, require carbonate ions to build their shells and skeletons. Weakened shells make these creatures more susceptible to predation and disease, with potential ripple effects throughout the food chain.

Effects on Fish Behavior and Sensory Systems: Studies suggest that ocean acidification can affect fish behavior, including their ability to navigate, locate prey, and avoid predators. Altered sensory perception could impact the survival and reproductive success of fish populations.

But what can we do to help?

While the challenge of ocean acidification is significant, there are actions that can be taken to mitigate its impacts:

Reducing CO2 Emissions. The most effective long-term solution is to curb greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2. This can be through sustainable energy practices, reduced fossil fuel consumption, and afforestation.

Sustainable Fishing Practices. Managing fisheries sustainably helps maintain the balance of marine ecosystems and reduces additional stress on vulnerable species.

Marine Protected Areas. Establishing and maintaining marine protected areas helps preserve critical habitats, offering safe spaces for marine life to thrive.

Research and Monitoring. Continuous research and monitoring efforts are essential for understanding the effects of ocean acidification. Greater understanding of the impact of ocean acidification will help us in devising effective strategies to combat it.

A Summary of Ocean Acidification

In conclusion, ocean acidification is a pressing issue with widespread consequences for marine life and the ecosystems we depend on. By addressing its root causes and implementing sustainable practices, we can work towards protecting our oceans and preserving the intricate web of life they support. As stewards of the Earth, we have the power to make a positive impact and ensure the health and vitality of our oceans for generations to come.

Want to learn more?

Global issue of Coral Bleaching

Global issue of Coral Bleaching

The Global issue of Coral Bleaching

Imagine this, you are on vacation and pay good money to scuba dive in the wonders of the sea. You are thrilled to see an abundance of the world below us, filled with happy ecosystems, baby sea turtles, huge sharks and incredible colors. To your surprise, the ocean lacks its beauty and majestic glow. The coral isn’t its vibrant, healthy self but instead decaying and dull. There are far less fish and aquatic plants than expected, and instead you find yourself surrounded in a never-ending vast blue, longing for the return of a lively reef.

Unpleased and disappointed, you question what happened and how you can help, thankfully the Marine Conservation Costa Rica (MCCR) is actively striving to educate and take action.

What is Coral Bleaching?

Due to global warming increasing the temperature of the sea, coral eject zooxanthellae, (the symbiotic algae that lives in most hard corals and provides the coral with most of its energy to build reefs). With the zooxanthellae gone, the coral’s beautiful colors fade and turn white. This process is called coral bleaching.

The good news is the loss of color does not mean the coral has died, it is still alive and can survive a bleaching but undergoes stress and is much more vulnerable. Coral can recover from bleaching if the ocean’s previous conditions return to normal, and zooxanthellae in reabsorbed. By adapting to a lifestyle focused on reducing global warming, we will help regrow those reefs and see them thrive again.

coral bleaching

How Global Warming Hurts Coral

Global warming has become a widespread issue across the world, and unfortunately the ocean has been the number one victim. The sea life thrives in a specific climate and temperature range, with little to no wiggle room. When the ocean begins to warm up, even just a couple of degrees, living organisms struggle to survive. Thus, leaving the coral lifeless with only the calcium carbonate skeleton remaining. Now what was once a lush and thriving community of organisms is a bare and lifeless area of sand and coral skeletons.

Pavona gigantea - Corals of Costa Rica

Why does Coral Matter?

Coral may look like a simple plant, however, it is actually a sessile animal that relies on the oceans floor and algae to thrive. A healthy reef provides an entire community for its residents to live, eat and be protected. It is home to millions of varied species like fish, algae, crab, clams, seahorses and turtles. Without it, essentials like food, shelter, and biodiversity would become scarce resulting in food-web changes and relocating or dying of needed species.

How are we Affected?

The health of coral is significant to the health of our earth and humans. Since coral reefs are the center for ecosystems in the ocean and supply the food chains, we are losing food too. For us, they are vital for feeding many coastal populations of people since they provide us with most of the seafood we eat.

Furthermore, coral reefs play a significant role in protecting our precious coastlines and beaches. During the time of storms or natural disasters like hurricanes, the reefs act as a barrier to protect land from flooding and erosion.

Coral reef research

Simultaneously, coral reefs do an excellent job of storing carbon dioxide, which aids in the regulation of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. As you can see, coral reefs hold many responsibilities to organisms of all levels.

Just as we rely on coral reefs, they are dependent on us! It is now our turn to take a closer look at how we as humans are treating our wonderful corals and helping rebuild their sustainability in the natural world.

Respect the coral reefs.

Written by Danielle Brittle