Buffering fishers to new regulations

A common problem in small-scale fisheries is the lack of data to make rules based on science. Rules to manage fisheries to achieve sustainability, but also to ensure the well-being of local communities. How do we know what effects these new “rules” will have on fisher communities that rely on marine resources for income and food security – especially when there are no socio-economic data to tell us? If we could rank communities on a scale of vulnerability, that would allow us to prioritise capacity building and development interventions (increasing the ability of fishers to adapt to new rules) prior to new rules being set. A new publication in Marine Policy tests whether simple landings data collection by community members can provide insight into just this:

The huge success of the ZEPA (exclusive artisanal fishing zone) in the Northern Chocó of Colombia, has garnered significant interest and is now proposed for other parts of the coast. 33 communities in Buenaventura on Colombia’s Pacific coast participated in a Bioredd+ project funded by USAID, collecting catch and effort data from fishers. By using indicators of catch species richness, boat and engine size, and gear dependence we used these data to rank communities by vulnerability to a ZEPA type model of management that banned gill nets.

The short answer is that simple fishery stats like these can actually provide very useful information, as fisher livelihoods in certain communities highlighted by our model would be severely affected by the rule system of a ZEPA. However, knowing this ahead of time allows for development interventions in these communities to help them adapt to other types of fishing, or potentially other livelihoods altogether.

Termales 1


Mangroves & People

A new publication out in Forest Ecology & Management tracks the decline of mangrove forests in the Tropical Eastern Pacific, since records began, and highlights the variation in amounts of deforestation estimated by different techniques. This paper also made the front page of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s (STRI) newsletter for May, which you can read in full here: STRINews_May_2016

This publication forms part of the work Talking Oceans is carrying out throughout the Tropical Eastern Pacific discovering the value of mangrove forests and surrounding coastal waters to local fisher livelihoods and fish populations.

STRI news May 16

Education, News & Updates, Research

How to kill lionfishes… better.

The beautiful lionfishes that float effortlessly on splayed fins in Pacific waters have never been such welcome visitors to the Caribbean since they were first sighted off Florida in 1985. In the 30 years since, they have spread on the ocean currents out to the Bahamas bank all the way south to the coast of Venezuela & Colombia, and circulated back up the Meso-American barrier reef. They are voracious predators that breed fast and eat anything, and have had profound impacts on Caribbean reef fish communities.

As with so many animal invasions on land or in the water, we are left with very few ways of dealing with these alien species once they have gained a foothold. Lionfish are no different, and despite intense scientific effort invested in trying to control the invasion, it all comes down to spearfishing them and try to convince people to eat them (which despite them being delicious, is surprisingly difficult!). The high costs of removing lionfish manually in this way, and monitoring how useful this is over time, puts immense pressure on the already stretched budgets of small island nations in the Caribbean, such as the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) – the site for our study.

In recognition of these issues, we set out to see if we could make this process more efficient in two ways: by improving how we might find more lionfish, and by improving how we more accurately monitor the result of removing them. If successful, governments could get “more fish for their buck” by targeting removals at densely populated habitats, and adapting future efforts based upon changes in density, thereby decreasing the detrimental effects of lionfish on the reef fish communities they inhabit.

In our paper published this week in the journal Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, we illustrate how we tried out a tool traditionally reserved for terrestrial biologists called “distance sampling”, to compare the “spotability” and density of lionfish at different depths and locations along a fringing reef.

 It turns out that lionfish get bigger and more abundant as you go deeper on the reef, but as you might expect they get harder to see (as reef complexity is higher and they are really good at hiding). So if fishers dive deeper they’ll find bigger and more abundant fish, but will have to look harder (while desperately holding their breath!); a frustrating trade-off. However, by combining all survey results we found a happy middle ground, where fishers can maximize the number and size of fish speared, while minimizing the effects of decreased visibility. In the TCI (South Caicos Island – to be precise), this happens to be ~15m depth, which bodes well for the efficacy of scuba divers adding to lionfish removal efforts also!


A nice trick of knowing the density of lionfish in a set area such as 1 km2, is that we can evaluate how bad the lionfish situation is compared to elsewhere. It turns out that South Caicos, with ~1650 fish per km2, is still at a relatively early stage of invasion especially when compared to some of the hardest hit areas such as the Bahamas, with other studies suggesting anything between 10,000 to 40,000 lionfish per km2!!

Lionfish tend to cluster together, and like to refuge in overhangs and holes when they are not hunting, meaning that where you find one, you find a few. Enhancing fishers’ ability to catch more fish is not something environmental managers normally concern themselves with, but in the case of lionfish, their removal benefits everyone – even end-chain consumers as they can either reap the benefits of eating large tasty lionfish fillets, or, other reef fish that come from healthy systems devoid of lionfish!!

 To download the full article please click here.

News & Updates

New Talking Oceans Channel on Youtube!

We are very happy to present the newly created Talking Oceans Channel on Youtube. Launched with our promotional video for Festival CineMar. Bringing the oceans to Bogotá this December.

Join us from 3 – 6th December at the Maloka Museum of Science in Bogotá, Colombia for screenings, kids workshops, coffee with scientists and other fun events.

The schedule for the festival can be found here. Check it out, tell your friends, and see how you can get involved and enjoy the oceans brought to your neighbourhood!!


Keeping up with the Kids

A crucial part of Talking Oceans is outreach and awareness raising about marine conservation, and recently we had the chance to interact with ~200 pupils from Alex’s old primary school, Hall Grove in Berkshire, England, and tell them a little bit about marine biology, the state of the world’s oceans, and how they can help combat some of the key issues themselves.

We covered important topics like endangered species, overfishing, marine plastic pollution and climate change, and we were very much encouraged by the interest and enthusiasm the Hall Grove students showed about marine biology and conservation, showing a broad knowledge and understanding of these ideas that we would not have had at the same age. However, it was not all about us talking to them….

DSC_1155We took the opportunity to chat with as many of the kids as possible to gain insight into their own modes of communication, and their use of social media to exchange ideas. All the comments pointed to the use of images to communicate ideas, and more specifically that Instagram was the current application of choice among children of that age to share stories.

So we listened, took notes, and the main outcome of the talks is the transition of talking oceans into Instagram!