Accepted Paper:

Sustaining vitality in coral reef waters: a case study from Sri Lanka  


James Howard (NomadIT)
Sandra Bell (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

A complex relationship exists between ornamental fish collectors and other stakeholders of the marine aquarium trade and their coastal waters in Sri Lanka. This was explored by integrating ecological and ethnographic field data to identify ways to restore the lost vitality of their reef ecosystems.

Paper long abstract:

For centuries humans have utilised tropical coastal waters as they harbour the most diversity of the oceans, often demonstrating deep connections with the ocean due to its resource provision as well as respect for the animals they hunt and the power of the water. More recently, increasing human pressures on these systems, a decoupling of coastal people's traditional interaction with the ocean and wider climatic forcing are degrading reefs irreversibly. It is important to understand the relationship between coral reef degradation and the livelihood activities of coastal people, as research often tends to focus exclusively on biodiversity conservation. An example is the collection of ornamental reef fish for the aquarium trade in southern Sri Lanka. Within a generation, waters that harboured fish stocks thought impossible to reduce are now referred to as "dead" waters and systems of marine tenure are developing as competition for dwindling resources intensifies. Using an interdisciplinary approach to gather ecological and ethnographic data, it was found that while fishing for ornamental fish is a substantial threat to coral reef sustainability, it also contributes to local household incomes and the development of economically viable fishing skills. The ethnographic data provided a deeper understanding of the complex relationship of different stakeholders at all levels of the trade with the coastal waters. This allowed for realistic exploration of alternative income generating opportunities that can replace or greatly reduce the current destructive fishing methods as well as attempting to restore the lost vitality, diversity and services of these essential ecosystems.

Panel P11
Living water: the powers and politics of a vital substance