Flying along the coast in Senegal, it's impossible not to notice thousands of dots below in the water. These are large, planked fishing canoes, the product of centuries of design and tradition, and a vital part of the local economy.
When the fishing crews come home, Senegalese beaches come alive with activity. Women sort the catch and prepare it for sale in the local market or sell it to wholesalers who may put it on a truck to Dakar, the country's capital. Young people sell drinks or help beach the canoes while others drive carts to carry fish to markets.
The canoes and fishing activities are only a small part of a large chain that begins with boat-building and net-making and ends with marketing and consumption of the catch, often in towns far away.
These types of local fishery economies occur the world over but have often been overlooked or not well understood by policy makers when considering priorities for coastal towns and regions. Yet increasingly, international studies are focusing on local and traditional fisheries and the value they bring to their communities. In many countries, artisanal or small-scale fisheries represent most of the people working in fisheries, and in many developing countries they provide nearly half of the fish caught for human consumption.
We are a research team that includes a scientist, who studies how people in fishing communities solve problems together, and a policy expert, who works with national governments to support local fisheries.
During the two decades we've worked with tropical fisheries, our experience and the wider field of research has shown that small-scale fisheries are central to solving many problems in the oceans, such as overfishing or loss of natural habitats, as well as on land by addressing poverty and hunger in places where jobs and quality nutrition are limited.
A Deep Connection to the Ocean
In 2012, researchers from the World Bank, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the research organization WorldFish published a report entitled "Hidden Harvests," which provided admittedly rough first estimates that small-scale fisheries take 38% of the total fish catch from the ocean and, when inland waters are included, almost half of the global fish catch.
According to this report, these small-scale fisheries could account for more than 90% of the world's commercial fishers, processors, and other people employed along the value chain — roughly 108 million people.
This would make small scale fisheries the ocean's largest employer — greater than oil and gas, shipping and tourism combined. We suggest that because these small-scale fisheries are often found in coastal waters with high biodiversity but outside formally protected areas, fishers can and have served as traditional stewards of these ecosystems. They are often the first to know when changes occur, such as the effects of the changing climate.
Small scale fisheries are also estimated to provide more than half the animal protein intake in many of the least developed countries. Beyond this contribution, research shows that the micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, that fish provide are far more important than the protein itself.
Local Knowledge and Fisheries Management
Despite their importance to societies around the world, small-scale fisheries are often marginalized from power and decision-making processes.
As fisheries and ocean use have become more industrialized in the last century, national government agencies have, for the most part, not taken into account the needs of small-scale fisheries as they design new policies. The resulting policies may not recognize traditional and customary practices, or large-scale fisheries may be prioritized to maximize fish harvest and profit without considering the cost to local communities. That can lead to conflicts between small-fisheries economies and large-scale fisheries, such as trawlers and canoes, or between small-scale fisheries and other sectors like tourism.
For example, in Mexico, on the Baja California Peninsula of the Pacific Ocean, members of the fishing cooperative of Punta Lobos rise at daybreak as they have for two generations to fish for tuna and other finfish. Fishermen defy the six-foot waves and launch their boats from the beach in a collective effort.
Increasingly, the Punta Lobos fishers near the touristic town of Todos Santos are struggling to retain access to the beach against encroaching hotel and residential development. The concessions fishermen have made so far have enabled them to keep developers from limiting and closing access to their source of livelihoods, but this may change with future development pressure, if other fishing cooperatives that have lost access are an indicator.
The 'Hidden' Power of Local Fisheries
Governments around the world are beginning to recognize the unique and shared characteristics of small-scale fisheries and the challenges they face. In 2014, they agreed to international policy guidelines written specifically to protect them. These guidelines commit governments to recognizing and securing access of small-scale fisheries to ocean resources and coasts in the face of competing interests and, above all, to protect and respect the rights of people to earn a living and feed themselves and their families.
Still, all too often, small scale fisheries are effectively "hidden" from policy makers and researchers. Despite increased attention and study in recent years, there is a great deal that we don't know. The amount of fish caught by small-scale fisheries worldwide is not consistently monitored, and it is not well understood how many jobs that fish catch provides, such as building and repairing boats, or processing and selling the catch. Another important question is the strength of the safety net that fishing creates for those who need to fall back on this work.
This may sound absurd in an age when we can track fishing activities via satellite. But typically, small-scale fisheries are not well documented because they are neither taxed nor monitored by the government, they are not counted in official statistics, or they are counted but mixed together with larger, industrial fisheries.
We are part of an international effort — led by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and WorldFish — that is working to update and expand the 2012 report in a new global assessment of small-scale fisheries. The assessment, being compiled by researchers in more than 45 countries, will provide policymakers with the best data possible about small-scale fisheries and their diverse contributions to society, and why they should be a high priority in decision making.
If policymakers can empower small-scale fishers and their communities to secure their fishing grounds and diverse uses of the ocean, it could represent a sea change for the environment and the people who depend on fishing. Elevating the importance of this sector can contribute to the universal goals of good jobs and income to help reduce poverty and increase the supply of nutritious foods to communities suffering from hunger and malnutrition.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
By Janet Larsen
Unfortunately, dust bowls are not just relics of the past. Today two new dust bowls are forming: one in northern China and southern Mongolia and the other in Africa south of the Sahara.
When most people hear the term “dust bowl,” they think of the American heartland in the 1930s, when a homesteading wheat bonanza led to the plowing up of the Great Plains’ native grassland, culminating in the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history.
Despite warnings from researchers and some farmers, history repeated itself in the Soviet Virgin Lands Project in the 1950s to early 1960s. Some 100 million acres (40 million hectares) of grassland were plowed under in Russia, Kazakhstan and western Siberia during Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s push to produce ever more food from the land. When drought hit, the topsoil started to blow away. By 1965, nearly half the newly planted area was degraded by wind erosion. Yields plummeted. Ultimately farmers staged a retreat, abandoning much of that land.
Unfortunately, dust bowls are not just relics of the past. Today two new dust bowls are forming: one in northern China and southern Mongolia and the other in Africa south of the Sahara. Whereas the dust bowls in the U.S. and the Soviet Union were the result of overplowing, the main culprit in Asia and Africa is overgrazing. Although arid or semiarid grasslands are typically better suited for grazing livestock than for farming, once they are overstocked their protective grass covering deteriorates and they face erosion all the same.
Forty percent of China’s land area is grassland. Following agricultural reforms that began in the late 1970s, in which collectively owned livestock were transferred to household ownership, China’s cattle herds grew from 52 million in 1980 to nearly 105 million in 2000, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Meanwhile, China’s population of sheep and goats ballooned from close to 180 million to 280 million. Such a high concentration of grazing animals has put unsustainable pressure on the land. For comparison, the U.S.—a country with comparable grazing capacity—hosts a similar number of cattle but only 9 million sheep and goats.
The fastest growth in China’s livestock occurred with goats; starting in the mid-1980s, the herd size doubled in just 10 years. This is particularly troubling because a fast expansion of goat populations relative to cattle can indicate grassland deterioration. Goats are hardy, able to survive where few other grazers can. They can make efficient use of remaining greenery on nearly barren landscapes. Yet large numbers of goats often portend further environmental degradation because as the animals remove existing vegetation, they leave soils vulnerable to erosion from wind or rain.
Noting that an extraordinary 90 percent of China’s grasslands are degraded, the Chinese government has embarked on restoration programs, including re-vegetation, grazing bans and livestock confinement. The government also has moved nomadic herders off the land or limited their movement under the guise of environmental protection. Evidence from the field, however, reveals that disrupting traditional grazing patterns can exacerbate land degradation and leave pastoralists more vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather.
FAO data indicate that since 2000, China’s cattle numbers have shrunk by 20 million, and the growth in sheep and goat herds appears to have stalled. Whether this can be attributed to policies aimed at reducing herd size or the relocation of herders is unclear.
Meanwhile, much damage has been done, and China’s dust bowl rages on. More than a quarter of China’s land area is covered by desert, and each year spreading sands claim additional territory. Expanding deserts in the arid northwest are merging. Since 1950, more than 24,000 Chinese villages have been abandoned or are seriously in danger of succumbing to traveling dunes, with some 35 million people directly affected.
The effects reach far beyond the desert margins. Spring is the dust storm season. The snow melts and the wind picks up, transporting dust and sand particles from northern China and Mongolia as far as Beijing and on to Korea and Japan, sometimes even crossing the Pacific to cloud parts of North America. The China Meteorological Administration reports that a single severe dust storm in 2006 dumped 330,000 tons of dust from the west onto Beijing: a stunning 44 pounds for each of the city’s residents. In 2007, a dust storm originating in China’s spreading Taklimakan Desert circled the globe in just under two weeks.
Desert scholar Wang Tao notes that in the first decade of the twenty-first century, China experienced 87 dust storms. Records of very strong dust storms (in which visibility is reduced below 200 meters) show an increase over recent decades, from 5 in the 1950s to 13 in the 1970s, 23 in the 1990s, and 21 between 2000 and 2009. (See data.)
The Korean Ministry of the Environment notes a similar rise in dust storms arriving from China and Mongolia, with talk of a lengthening and strengthening “yellow dust season” in South Korea. Dust events clouded 23 days in the 1970s, 39 days in the 1980s, 77 days in the 1990s, and 118 days from 2000 to 2011.
As bad as Asia’s dust storms are, the largest source of dust in the atmosphere on a global scale is Africa. Dust has long traveled out of Africa’s deserts and drylands, which make up two thirds of the continent’s land area; in fact, dust blowing out of Chad’s Bodélé Depression is thought to help fertilize the lush Amazon rainforest. Nearly 75 percent of Africa’s drylands are degraded. With land suffering the double whammy of drought and overuse, dust carried out of West Africa has increased over the last 40 years. Studies suggest that the larger influx of African dust may even be teaming up with rising ocean temperatures to damage Caribbean coral reefs.
In the Sahelian zone south of the Sahara the squeeze is on, with fast-growing populations trying to eke out a living by farming or grazing herds on ever less productive land. Desertification is particularly acute in Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger, as well as in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, where an estimated 868,000 acres are lost to desert each year. Conflicts over land between herders (largely Muslim) and farmers (largely Christian) are legion, with both groups exacerbating erosion. Nigerian pastoralists, largely in the country’s north, have dramatically expanded their herds, putting additional pressure on soils already vulnerable because of erratic rainfall. In 1990, Nigeria had 14 million cattle, 12 million sheep, and 23 million goats. By 2010, cattle populations had climbed just slightly to 17 million, but the number of sheep tripled to 36 million, and goats jumped to 56 million.
Both Africa and China have launched ambitious initiatives to halt the spread of deserts with Great Green Walls of trees. Political leaders—including former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (an early champion of the African Wall) and Abdoulaye Wade, former President of Senegal—tend to favor such large symbolic projects. Indeed in the throes of the U.S. Dust Bowl, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was similarly taken with the idea of a giant shelterbelt. But as happened in the U.S., desert containment plans in the Sahel and China have broadened in scope beyond basic tree belts to encompass more holistic land management and poverty alleviation activities. The limited success at holding back the sands in China thus far, where since the early 1980s an estimated 40 billion trees have been planted (although far fewer have survived), confirms that stopping desertification involves much more than planting trees.
Climate change is complicating the matter even further. Large parts of the planet are trending toward dryness, with a marked increase in aridity since the 1970s, when global temperatures started to climb. As the Earth heats up further, droughts are projected to become even more pronounced. A rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to prevent runaway global warming, along with a slowdown in the growth of both human and livestock populations to reduce pressure on the land, are what it will take to increase our chances of leaving dust bowls to history.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.