IMPROVING LIVELIHOODS THROUGH EDUCATION AND CORAL REEF CONSERVATION TO ENCOURAGE SUSTAINABLE BEHAVIOUR CHANGE
This project is aimed at informing and educating stakeholders to allow them to develop an understanding of the negative ecological and economic impacts of fish bombing despite previous declarations aimed at stopping fish bombing activities. The project will also establish a community-based programme to demonstrate sustainable approaches to reducing fish bombing at the source and conserving coral reefs.

Human activities are destroying the coral reef ecosystems on our earth, where reefs are overfished, bombed and poisoned, smothered by sediment, and choked by algae growing on nutrient rich sewage and fertilizer run-off. They are damaged by irresponsible tourism and are being severely stressed by the warming of the world's oceans. Coral reefs support the livelihoods of millions of people, but these livelihoods are now being threatened by increasing populations, especially in developing countries. The key threats today to coral reefs result from poverty and overpopulation. This project is an awareness programme on how to reduce the incidence of fish bombing in Sabah.

The illegal practice of fish bombing (also known as dynamite fishing or blast fishing) by using explosives to stun or kill schools of fish for easy collection, is extremely destructive to the surrounding ecosystem, as the explosion destroys the underlying habitats (such as coral reefs) that support the fish. The frequently improvised nature of the explosives used also means danger for the fishermen as well, with accidents and injuries common. Extensive, hard-to-patrol coastlines; the lure of lucrative, easy catches; and in some cases outright apathy or corruption on the part of local officials, make enforcement of blast fishing bans an ongoing challenge for authorities.

The underwater shockwaves produced by the explosion cause the fish's swim bladder to rupture, killing or stunning them. A small number of fish float to the surface, but most sink to the sea floor. The explosion indiscriminately kills large numbers of fish and other marine organisms in the vicinity and can damage or destroy the physical environment, including extensive damage to coral reefs. Areas around the blast are reduced to lifeless rubble and do not recover very fast because coral larvae are unable to find places to settle on unfavourable substrate such as unconsolidated coral rubble or dead coral covered with algae. Without the coral reef, fish populations do not easily recover.

Although banned in Malaysia under the Fisheries Act, both fish bombing and cyanide fishing are widespread in Sabah. Many fishermen using these methods are either temporary pass holders from neighboring countries (who often overstay and become illegal immigrants), or stateless/undocumented people, for whom it is difficult to find legal jobs, and so they must rely on illegal methods to feed their families. Given the illegal or undocumented status of many fish bombers, it is difficult to find ways to involve them in government projects promoting alternative livelihoods such as seaweed farming and aquaculture.

Despite numerous on-going environmental, ignorance of the value of coral reefs remains high among stakeholder groups. Communities practising destructive fishing are often remote and fragmented, and outside the reach of day to day communications. Consumers purchasing fish are often unaware of the damaging processes involved in catching the fish they consume; boat owners and fishermen are often unaware of the damage they are causing to the future source of their livelihoods.

RCM’s programme to address fish bombing must address different stakeholders with appropriate messages and information. It is necessary to find the right message for different groups, and position the case for stopping destructive fishing practices accordingly:

- As a conservation issue (destroying important ecosystems)
- As an economic issue (addressing the source is cheaper than treating the problem)
- As a safety/health issue (injuries to fishermen; bomb/cyanide chemicals still on fish).

Sustainable change will require the establishment of good relationships with the relevant communities. This will require a coordinated, long term campaign which builds over time to include:

- School education programme (targeted at specific communities where destructive fishing practices are commonly used, such as Kota Belud and Sepanggar)
- Public education through media coverage (raising awareness for the general public; how to identify fish caught using destructive methods)
- Community consultation (to reach out directly to communities involved in dynamite and cyanide fishing, both boat owners and fishermen)
- Programmes to promote alternative/supplementary livelihoods
- Strengthening enforcement.

Activities include;
- School Environmental Education Programme by establishing a mobile “Roadshow” education programme for primary schools, which will form the core of the school education programme. It will travel to schools in the following major towns and cities on the West coast of Sabah, which are recognized as being fish bombing “hotspots”:
- Public awareness campaign to generate support for the anti-fish-bombing campaign through awareness raising among the general public on the importance and value of coral reefs and detailing the damage caused by destructive fishing practices and how members of the public can play their part in coral reef conservation
- The education and awareness activities will also provide direct contacts with various communities and institutions that will form the basis for a consultation programme with communities known to be involved in destructive fishing practices.
- Building Long-term Sustainability: Conservation Actions will educate the public on the negative impacts of fish bombing, and establish the necessary community relationships necessary for further progress. To demonstrate the long term potential to create sustainable change, RCM will work with the community on Pulau Mantanani (island) to implement the conservation actions necessary to change habits and reduce dependence on destructive fishing methods as a source of income for fishermen, replacing them with alternative or supplementary livelihoods.
- For the Rehabilitation of Coral Reef, RCM will establish a community-based coral reef rehabilitation programme to demonstrate low cost approaches to reef rehabilitation. This will include training for villagers on the island to dive so they can participate in reef rehabilitation activities, establishing a closed, protected area for rehabilitation and building coral nurseries to contain coral fragments (nubbins) before transplantation to damaged reef areas.
- Establishing Protected Areas is instrumental in the protection of the reef and RCM is proposing to work with the local community on Pulau Mantanani to establish an LMMA (Locally Managed Marine Area). This will require extensive consultations with all stakeholders (villagers, resorts, fishing communities, state government, etc).

The objectives of establishing an LMMA are aimed at:

- Protecting coral reef areas
- Establishing no-take zones to allow fish stocks to recover
- Creating opportunities for sustainable fishing operations, supplying sustainably caught sea food to the growing demand from resorts in Kota Kinabalu.
- Generating revenue from user fees to support supplementary/alternative livelihoods and,
- Demonstrating the effectiveness of community-based managed areas that can be replicated in other areas of Sabah.

 
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Project Snapshot

Grantee: Reef Check Malaysia Berhad
Country: Malaysia
Area Of Work: Biodiversity
Operational Phase: Phase 5
Grant Amount: US$ 50,000.00
Co-Financing Cash: US$ 51,840.00
Co-Financing in-Kind: US$ 7,824.00
Project Number: MAL/SGP/OP5/STAR/BD/12/07
Start Date: 7/2012
End Date: 1/2015
Status: Satisfactorily Completed
Project Characteristics and Results
Emphasis on Sustainable Livelihoods
Degraded coral reefs lose value because they are less productive, providing fewer goods and services than healthy reefs. For instance, although a healthy coral reef might provide an average sustainable fisheries yield of 20 tonnes per year, the yield of a reef damaged by destructive fishing practices is likely to be much lower, under 5 tonnes per year. Lessons are drawn that focus on how the future of the reefs affects the future of local populations in terms of food source and employment opportunities, particularly in fishing and tourism.
Policy Impact
For longer term actions, contacts will be established with relevant state bodies, including fisheries, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and, where appropriate, Sabah Parks with the aim of setting up no-take zones to allow fish stocks to recover and establish protected areas.