Skip to main content

Fishing for Answers in Marine Sanctuaries

Marine biologist Tim McClanahan asks if poor Kenyan fishermen can improve themselves without destroying local coral reefs? (Hint: yes)

It's a zero-sum game for people and the environment. For one to win, the other must lose — particularly for the desperately poor in tropical countries. Or so goes the conventional wisdom.

But is it actually true? Dr. Tim McClanahan, a marine biologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, talks about his research with poor fisherman in Kenya who eke out a living fishing — usually overfishing — on threatened coral reefs. When marine reserves that excluded fishing were created on some of these coral reefs, local fisherman stood in fierce opposition.

Contrary to expectations, the incomes of the nearby fishermen doubled within a year of the introduction of these reserves. Fishermen who fished near the marine sanctuary’s edge found that they caught much more valuable fish species than before and the fish that they caught were also much larger. (And it's not an isolated success story, although humans can still find ways to wreck things.)

Now, in a complete turnaround, the fishermen themselves are calling for the creation of more no-fishing reserves.