THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON OUR OCEAN
THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON OUR OCEAN
Since the start of this year the COVID-19 pandemic is a topic all around the globe.
With transportation being stopped, curfews enforced, and general life seeming to be on hold for most people, what does this mean for our Ocean?
Are Koh Phangan’s reefs – and even reefs worldwide – getting affected by a standstill on humanity?
We have read through the studies and tried to find some answers for you.
Our first study comes from the UN Environment Program and points to the positive effects of the temporary shutdown of marine activities due to the COVID crisis. Reduced traffic on the seas as well as reduced demand for marine resources, could give oceans the “much-needed breathing space” to recover from pollution, overfishing and the impacts of climate change suggests Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, head of the UN office in the region, known as ESCAP.
The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific also known as “ESCAP” provides studies and assistance to governments in reaching their sustainable goals for the environment.
The well-being of our oceans in the Asia-Pacific region are edging closer to a tipping point due to the unprecedented pace of marine pollution, overfishing and climate change in recent years.
Yet the temporary shutdown of these activities as well as reduced human mobility and tourism demands due to the COVID-19 pandemic may provide marine environments with the break they need to recover.
Our next study from the UN Trade and Development Centre concluded that more than 80% of the goods we consume worldwide are transported over water. The trade in fish and seafood products generates over $150 billion annually. And coastal tourism has become a major source of revenue and jobs for many vulnerable island nations.
But the constant movement of ships has harmed our seas, mass tourism has placed huge pressure on some of the planet’s richest and most fragile ecosystems – like mangroves and coral reefs – and industrial fishing has left about 34% of global fish stocks below biologically sustainable levels.
“Our increasingly unsustainable use of marine resources for economic activities has hurt the health of our oceans, seas and coasts,” said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, UNCTAD’s director of international trade.
But there is hope as we discover later in this article.
“The coronavirus pandemic put a new spotlight on the issue of capacity-enhancing subsidies,” said Audun Lem, deputy director of fisheries and aquaculture at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
There has never been a better time for the Thai government to shift from subsidies that contribute to illegal fishing activities, overfishing and overcapacity in favour of more support for responsible small-scale fishermen and sustainable management.
Such a shift would not only help to assist in reversing the overexploitation of fish stocks but also help small-scale fishermen. Who make up the lion’s share of the world’s 9.4 million fishing operations, 90% of whom live in developing countries, like Thailand.
Some conservation groups have another worry entirely. With reduced patrolling and surveillance at sea, they say that illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing could increase. While estimates of IUU fishing remain uncertain, these include fishing at Mae Haad or Koh Ma which are marine protected areas and Sail Rock which has a fishing limit of 100m enforced by the Thai military.
“To secure the future sustainability of the sector, it’s important for the region to redouble efforts aimed at creating a low-impact tourism product,” said Stephen Fevrier, head of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States’ permanent delegation in Geneva.
He called for a “2.0 approach to coastal and marine tourism”, which would include demonstrating best practice in environmental sustainability and paying more attention to the value of local and regional cultures and ecosystems.
Mainstreaming sustainability in the industry, Fevrier implied, would also require strengthening the relationships that tourist operators, hotels and restaurants have with local communities, marine protected areas and responsible fisheries.
If you are interested in finding out more about marine ecosystems and underwater habitats, consider doing the Marine Ecology Course. You can easily learn more about our Marine Life and get your Certification from your computer at home.
Thanks to the recent drop in marine pollution our reefs have been noted to have an increase in fish density and coral reefs starting to recover. Sail Rock has seen whale sharks for the first time in months and divers around the islands are in a great position to tick things off their bucket list.
However, it is difficult to tell whether the global fishing slowdown will give marine life a chance to recover, experts say as our last study from Mongabay.org shows.
The fishing slowdown could have some positive effects on fish stocks, suggests David Kroodsma, GFW’s Director of Research and Innovation. However, the impacts can only be dramatic, depending on the fish species.
For example, studies on the impacts of marine reserves, where fishing is banned, show that slow-growing, long-lived species like cod take a long time to recover. Fast-growing, short-lived species like scallops respond more quickly. Similarly, overexploited species could rebound when fishing, the main cause of their decline, is removed.
In case you are interested in learning more about fish, their role in the ecosystem and how they’re affected, we offer the Fish Identification Specialty which can be done online from home.
“In places like China, India or Southeast Asia, where a net is passing over every square meter of ground several times a year, there could be much more of a result,” said Ray Hilborn, a Fisheries Scientist and Professor at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.
Factors include the duration and timing of the slowdown, as well as whether illegal fishing may rebound in the absence of enforcement.
This isn’t yet easy to answer with certainty, experts say.
The actual extent of COVID-19 impacts — dependent on data collected at sea, on shore, at markets, and from satellite monitoring — will likely emerge only after several months or years. You can expect lots of scientific papers on this topic later this year or next year.
After the COVID-19 crisis has passed it is important that we buy fish from local small fisheries which use sustainable fishing practices. Stay clear of large fishing corporations and rely on your local fish market or companies that promote sustainable fishing.
Look out for fisheries using the bottom trawling technique which includes dragging nets across the sea floor to scoop up fish. This technique often destroys coral reefs and everything in its way, and has the highest rate of bycatch (fish that was not intended to be caught and can not be sold) which usually gets discarded as dead waste.
So, there you have it.
Here at Reefers we want to make a difference and keep the beauty of our coral reefs alive for the next generation to enjoy. Working together with organisations like Sea Guardian Koh Phangan, CoreSea, the DMCR (Department of Marine and Coastal Resources) and Trash Hero in our effort to keep Koh Phangan’s reefs healthy and providing a sustainable way to explore our underwater World.
Big and his team regularly organise net cleanups around Koh Phangan to retrieve Ghost Nets that caught onto coral reefs. Volunteers are always welcome, so get in touch if you want to help (experienced divers only please).
COREsea is a non-profit organisation based on Koh Phangan, which is responsible for marine conservation, marine research and the education of our next generation involving protecting the oceans. From internships to net cleanups and beach cleans, COREsea is involved in many projects helping to protect the beauty of this island.
Trash Hero is an organisation that meets every second month to organise a beach cleanup around the island. They are always looking for volunteers or companies to sponsors their efforts.
Get in contact if you want to help and get a hand on the massive problem that is marine pollution. Everyone can help by doing their part.
Our mission at Reefers is to inform people about the problems our oceans are facing by doing the following:
- Spread Awareness: We need to inform our surroundings about the Ocean and its importance
- Teach: In teaching People about the Issues, Consequences and Actions they can take to help save our Oceans we empower these People to make a change
- Act: When all is said and done the only way to make a difference is by turning the knowledge into Action
The future of this World lies in your hands, it’s time to get a grip on it!
Written by: Lukas Niebel