The over-harvesting of marine resources for seafood or as ornamental souvenirs poses a serious threat to the health of near-shore and coral environments. There is great potential for short-term monetary gain through the sale of popular seafood such as fish or lobsters, as well as ornamental souvenirs, including corals, turtle shells and other reef-dwelling organisms. As a result of consumer demand, many species are now harvested from coral reefs and other marine habitats in an unsustainable manner.
Removal of key components of an ecosystem leads to cascading changes that are often not visible until serious environmental degradation begins to occur. For example, the popularity of particular seafood dishes has already led to serious declines of spiny lobsters, crabs and conchs, and fish such as groupers, jewfish, snappers and jacks throughout the oceans. Compounded by other existing environmental problems, over-consumption can negatively impact the health and marketability of the same natural areas that attract and support tourists in the first place.
Tourists are often unaware that a seemingly harmless purchase of a seafood dish or marine ornamental souvenir can have serious negative consequences for the environment. Tour operators and marine recreation providers have a unique opportunity to influence the choices tourists make by practicing and promoting low-impact, non-consumptive activities. Additionally, operators can provide information to tourists on where they acquire seafood and what types of local species – whether for sale as seafood or souvenirs – are threatened, endangered or otherwise protected by law and thus should be avoided.
Why Should I Care?
Loss of Key Ecosystem Species: Over-harvesting of particular species that play a vital role in the ecosystem can lead to numerous environmental changes. For example, when too many carnivorous fish such as grouper and sharks are harvested, it triggers the survival of sick, deformed and unhealthy individuals that will eventually affect the species as a whole, creating a ripple effect of negative changes throughout the ecosystem.
Reduction in Marine Biodiversity: The over-harvesting of ornamental objects, such as corals, aquarium animals and shells, negatively impacts overall near-shore marine health and diversity and diminishes the attractiveness of an area. Some species, such as black coral, are protected under international agreements and their introduction to most countries is illegal.
Increase in Illegal And Destructive Fishing: Driven by the potential for short-term financial gain, many fishers will turn to destructive fishing methods to harvest popular seafood or ornamental species. In reef systems, this often includes nets that damage reef structure, dynamite blasting and the use of cyanide to poison and catch fish.
Fewer Fish: The popularity of seafood species such as groupers and snappers has already led to severe declines in these types of fish. Further consumption will likely lead to the listing of several of these species as endangered, threatening the survival of the species and limiting their availability for food and sport.
What Can I Do?
Be Informed Consumers: Find information about the sensitive nature of coral reef ecosystems, including which species in a given region should not be consumed as seafood or purchased as souvenirs because they are rare, threatened or endangered.
Support Ecologically Sustainable Fisheries Practices: If you serve or consume seafood cuisine, do not choose fish that are threatened or endangered. Instead, support suppliers that harvest non-threatened or endangered fish and other species in an ecologically sustainable manner.
Avoid Selling or Purchasing Marine Ornamental Souvenirs: Inform tourists how they can help prevent the removal of key components of marine ecosystems for short-term gain by avoiding the purchase of marine ornamental souvenirs. Always ensure that you ask for and receive a CITES permit for species that are listed and if in doubt, don’t buy or sell. For more information, visit www.cites.org and www.traffic.org. Refuse also any offers of coral souvenirs or coral jewellery, particularly black coral, starfishes, shells, seahorses, sponges or any objects made from sea turtles
Observe the Law: Abide by all regional, national and international laws regarding the harvesting of marine species.