Hong Kong°«s love of fish
fuels the dynamite and cyanide fishing that is destroying reefs in
Southeast Asia. Pierre Fidenci°«s trying to bring the reefs back.
WHEN PIERRE FIDENCI was 10 years old, he realized
his passion for plants and animals. At 18, he left for the Amazon in
French Guyana and Surinam and lived with the indigenous Wayana and
Arawak tribes, studying the rainforest. There, he learned that the
preservation of biodiversity was paramount to the survival of all
species. After working with conservation NGOs, Fidenci became
disillusioned at their waste of resources, a lack of innovation and
openness, and, in some cases, bureaucratic corruption.
That spurred Fidenci to set up Endangered Species
International, an NGO dedicated to preserving vital ecosystems. Fidenci
is currently based in the Philippines, where he is trying to stop the
destruction of Southeast Asia°«s immense Coral Triangle, focusing his
efforts on identifying and stopping dynamite fishing in Mindanao.
What are your main concerns in the
We focus our conservation efforts on endangered species and critical
habitats such as rainforests, mangroves and coral reefs. We have
projects on studying and saving critically endangered animals such as
the Philippine forest turtle, restoring coral reefs and fighting
Coral reefs seem to be a primary
Definitely. Coral reefs have been our main concern in the Asia-Pacific
for a simple reason: they are under immense pressure from human beings
and we have already lost too many. We know that about one third of
coral species are threatened with extinction. Losing them is not
acceptable as they provide tremendous benefits to local communities and
the ocean as a whole. On a personal note, every time I go into the
water to look at coral reefs, I see reef cemeteries and well-damaged
reefs. We cannot waste more time!
What are the biggest dangers to the
coral reefs in order of importance?
The biggest threats are over-fishing and illegal fishing, sedimentation
and land-based source pollution. Other threats include climate change
and unsustainable coastal development. Destruction of reefs can be due
to particular local conditions, such as nearby water pollution. But the
impact of the destruction is global. We estimate that the world has
lost 20 percent of its original area of coral reefs; 15 percent are
seriously threatened with loss within the next 10 to 20 years.
About 85 percent of the reefs have been damaged or
destroyed in the Philippines, 75 percent in Indonesia, 60 percent in
Malaysia, and 90 percent in Singapore. In Papua New Guinea, the lack of
reef data does not enable us to have a good estimate, but we absolutely
need to intensify our effort as coral reefs are known to have a high
Those areas are known as the Coral
TheCoral Triangle harbors more than 75 percent of all known coral
species, but it is occupied by over 120 million people and covers six
countries that depend heavily on the ocean, so it is a very challenging
task to protect and restore coral reefs. The current state is gloomy.
We may lose more corals through bleaching, which is caused by
increased water temperatures. That is the kind of event we can expect
on a regular basis if average global temperatures rise more than two
degrees Celsius. During the last few years, the condition of coral
reefs slightly improved in the Philippines and Singapore, but declined
in Indonesia and Malaysia.
What are you doing exactly to stop
this from happening?
We are working on many fronts. We push the creation of marine reserves,
encourage livelihood alternatives, conduct reef assessments and boost
conservation awareness. We have to develop new approaches and extend
our partnerships to go beyond the conventional ones, even though new
approaches are often the hardest to implement. For example, we visit
local markets and trade centers to stop the selling of fish caught with
dynamite, and then illegal fishermen start to find themselves with a
non-lucrative market. We hope they°«ll stop using dynamite.
Hong Kong has traditionally been a
center for consumers and purchasers of fish caught by these practice.
Are we the problem?
Hong Kong is a main problem, true, but the problem is also middleman in
other parts of Southeast Asia. Many of the live fish that end
up in restaurants in Hong Kong come from cyanide fishing. Sadly, this
scenario has expanded to mainland China in the last few years and the
fierce appetite for live reef fish is killing significant fish
populations in the Coral Triangle. The Hong Kong government needs to
tackle this issue seriously.
Consumers need to be aware of the devastating
impacts of dynamite fishing and the slow and difficult recovery of
reefs. We need to conduct bigger awareness campaigns. If we
could return the reefs to excellent or good condition, then we could
increase the fish population and diversity. That°«s the
message! Nowadays, low-income fishermen in Southeast Asia
struggle more and more to earn an income. By protecting and restoring
reefs we can improve the life of people through ecotourism and better
fishing. The immense beauty and richness of the Coral Triangle support
the livelihoods of people living in this area and beyond.
How do you persuade fishermen to
abandon dynamite fishing
It isn°«t an easy task since we need to address a lot of issues such as
poverty and lack of education. We need to empower them to become
responsible fishermen. To convince them, we conduct conservation
awareness and develop sustainable alternatives incomes in local
communities. I always tell them: °»You are the solution and dynamite
fishing is a short-term suicidal practice. What will you do after
you°«ve killed all the fish and corals in your area?°…
Has cyanide fishing emerged
as a problem in response to the increasing restrictions on dynamite
That°«s a good question, but the answer is no. Cyanide fishing has a
different purpose, which is to get live fish from the ocean to
restaurants or into the aquarium trade. Cyanide fishing can be more
profitable if fishermen are well connected with networks since
exporters will pay a higher price for live fish like groupers than dead
ones. Let°«s face it, those criminal practices are still very lively due
to the lack of enforcement, corruption control, awareness, and
sustainable economic alternatives. At ESI we work hard at the local
level to stop both cyanide and dynamite fishing.
Are there artificial
methods marine biologists can employ to rehabilitate coral reefs?
The main goal is to assist the recovery of a coral reef ecosystem that
has been degraded, damaged or destroyed. It shortens the natural
recovery times. However, the artificial methods can only be used
successfully when the factors that have destroyed reefs are gone or
Marine biologists use artificial methods such as the transplantation of
corals and other organisms. The methods of coral reef rehabilitation
include reattachment of coral fragments, providing artificial substrata
and coral cultivation. Artificial methods are not a magic bullet; what
is important is to improve the management of reef areas.
How long would it take a
reef to rehabilitate itself and regain its ecological balance?
First, natural recovery is not always possible and we might lose coral
reefs forever. Natural recovery for badly damaged coral reefs can take
between 30 and 100 years. Of all the damaged reefs I have seen, I will
probably never see them in a healthy state.