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GBR fish respond to fishing ban -

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GBR fish respond to fishing ban

Scientists have seen a doubling of fish biomass over five years inside the fishing exclusion zone
on the Great Barrier Reef. The reef is now cited as an example of what can be achieved in marine


Robyn Williams: Australians made a big splash at the American Association for the Advancement of
Science meeting in San Diego, announcing with a paper published through the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Science, how the no-fish zones on the Great Barrier Reef have performed, and
the news is brilliant. Terry Hughes of Townsville.

Terry Hughes: The paper which is about the be published is a summary of the work of 21 people from
lots of different institutions working on tropical reefs, and basically it's a success story, so
their paper documents a doubling of fish biomass inside these new no-take fishing zones, so-called
green zones, in less than five years. And that's really quite remarkable.

Robyn Williams: That's absolutely amazing, isn't it, and I suppose from the fishers' point of view
what they get is not simply a doubling in the exclusion zone which doesn't allow them in by
definition, but presumably outside the immediate area of the no-fish zone as well.

Terry Hughes: That's right, there are more fish inside the exclusion zone and they're bigger and
fatter, and that's important because big fish produce disproportionately more babies and those
larval fish are dispersed far outside the no-take zones into the areas where fishing is still

Robyn Williams: Was it with any pattern? Did you find that some fish did better than others?

Terry Hughes: Obviously the targeted fish are the ones that are responding because before the
rezoning typically in the older green zones there was about a five-fold difference in the numbers
of fish. So the zones where fishing was occurring are quite depleted. Not by world standards, there
are still a lot more fish in the Great Barrier Reef compared to just about anywhere else, but
there's a huge difference between the green zones and the blue zones, the zones where fishing is
allowed and isn't allowed.

Robyn Williams: Presumably you could imagine that this is a continuing effect which may in fact
increase, or do you think you've reached a kind of ceiling?

Terry Hughes: No, this is very much at the early stage of the recovery of the fish populations
inside the new green zones. So we've seen a doubling in less than five years but we can expect that
to go on. We're not quite sure how much more it will increase by but I won't be surprised if it
doubles again in the next five years.

Robyn Williams: So it might even double again in the next five years, which really has huge
implications for policy. I understand that there is a move possibly to get the Coral Sea made into
a similar sort of no-fishing zone, and that's a gigantic area, three times bigger even than the one
on the Barrier Reef.

Terry Hughes: That's right. The issues in the Coral Sea are quite different from the Great Barrier
Reef. Obviously it's further offshore, so the fishing pressure there is negligible at the moment,
and for that reason it's one of the last few places on the planet where you've got intact
populations of big mega fauna; things like pelagic sharks, reef sharks, big populations of turtles,
sail fish, bill fish, all the big things are still there in reasonable shape, whereas in the Great
Barrier Reef they're quite depleted. One thing we've found in our study is that the network of
small zones in the Great Barrier Reef is quite effective for reef fish but it only has a negligible
impact on the recovery of the mega fauna, the turtles and dugongs and sharks, which remain quite
depleted. So having a very large exclusion zone directly seaward of the Great Barrier Reef I think
would be of benefit to the Great Barrier Reef as well as to the Coral Sea.

Robyn Williams: Incidentally, at this conference I actually heard somebody say (talking about
sharks) that the great white shark...they said there are as few great white sharks as there are
tigers, but people don't appreciate that fact.

Terry Hughes: That's right, the mega fauna everywhere, to a lesser extent in Australia than most
places, is severely depleted, and almost by definition they're slow-growing, slow-reproducers. They
have a life history like people, so they take a long time to reach sexual maturity, they have
relatively few babies compared to, say, small fish, and they're very prone to even small amounts of

Robyn Williams: Okay, the overall implications? Do you think that this example will convince the
people who have been hesitant about applying this sort of no-fish zone in the future?

Terry Hughes: The Great Barrier Reef is a global icon for how to do it properly in terms of looking
after the marine environment. So people here in the States are really just starting their national
efforts to improve governance of marine resources, so there's a huge amount of interest in the
Great Barrier Reef story.

Robyn Williams: Terry Hughes is director of the ARC Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in
Northern Queensland, standing in windy San Diego. And I saw Professor Hughes sharing his good news
with Dr Jane Lubchenco, one of Professor Obama's top scientific appointments. She's head of NOAA.