High price of dynamite fishing

Photo credit: © Alex Smailes/Panos Pictures

This fisherman in the Philippines lost part of his arm while carrying out dynamite or 'blast' fishing - one of the most destructive fishing methods, both for the fishers and the marine environment.

Scientists estimate that 56 per cent of the coral reefs in Southeast Asia are at risk from fishing methods that destroy the fish habitat, of which dynamite fishing is the most common.

Dynamite fishing is done easily and cheaply with dynamite or home-made bombs created from locally available materials. Explosives are typically thrown towards the reef and explode on the water surface. Fish are killed by the shock waves from the blast and are then skimmed off the surface or collected from the bottom by divers. In some cases, fishermen are left injured, or seriously maimed for life

These explosions not only injure humans and kill large numbers of fish and other marine organisms, they also destroy the physical structure of coral reefs. On average, a 1-kilogram (35 ounce) beer bottle bomb can leave a rubble crater of approximately 1 to 2 metres in diameter, killing 50 to 80 per cent of the coral in that area. It can take hundreds of years for the physical structure of a coral reef to rebuild after being reduced to rubble in this way.

Although illegal, dynamite fishing is practised in up to 30 countries in southeast Asia and Oceania and is also common in eastern Africa.

Many efforts are being made to counter this threat. In Tanzania, for example, a collaborative effort between fishing communities, the government and environment groups, has virtually eliminated dynamite fishing from the shores of that country.

Often referred to as the "rainforests of the oceans", coral reefs host an extraordinary variety of marine plants and animals (perhaps up to 2 million) including one quarter of all marine fish species. But some 58 per cent of the world's reefs are reported as threatened by human activities, including dynamite fishing. Scientists at the recent International Coral Reef Symposium warned that half the world's coral reefs will disappear within 25 years unless action is taken now.

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