Traditional raft fishing is under threat as coral reefs become choked with plastic

Traditional raft fishing is under threat as coral reefs become choked with plastic

  • Off the shores of Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, biodiversity-rich coral reefs support traditional fishing, a vanishing profession competing with the high operating costs and risks associated with marine fishing.
  • Researchers who documented these reefs as part of the study found evidence of plastic waste and ghost nets, entangling marine life.
  • Raft fishermen and researchers are urgently calling for the conservation of these reefs. Marine biologists highlight that preserving coral reefs is part of climate action.

Riding three-metre-high beach waves, 72-year-old Placid Neto approached the shore on his eight-foot fiberglass raft, jumped and held on to his backside for a moment. He pushed the raft with a clever move that saved him from a wave hitting it. Then he swam, with the waves hitting his back, and walked to his friends on the beach. They helped him land his raft and discovered that Neetu’s fishing was good.

The platform reefs off the shores of Nettu’s Puthenthup village, about 15 kilometers northwest of Thiruvananthapuram, a city in the southern Indian state of Kerala, are rich fishing grounds that attract traditional fishermen. Migrants from the southern villages have built two thriving fishing villages nearby.

Unlike some other reefs that may have more complex structures with deeper crevices and passages, platform reefs generally have a flatter, more spacious surface. The Thiruvananthapuram coast has rocky reefs, platforms, hills and rare mudflats, unlike the coral reefs around the Lakshadweep Islands. Scientists from the University of Kerala, who recently documented the state’s coral reefs at depths of more than 40 metres, call them “animal forests” – home to sea pens, sea fans, rare soft corals, solitary hard corals, sponges, worms, molluscs and algae. . Marine animals and squirts.

While the murky waters off Kerala’s shores are not ideal for coral reefs, they are still stunningly scenic and diverse, and serve as some of the world’s best dive sites, professional divers linked to university research reveal.

A says. “It attracts huge schools of fish and supports traditional fishing,” said Bijukumar, professor and head of the Department of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries at Kerala University, who is leading the study. However, their underwater exploration as part of an inter-university conservation initiative, supported by the European Union, has uncovered plastic waste and ghost nets above coral reefs, entangling marine life. The team called for “immediate action” to stop dumping plastic waste into oceans, rivers and remote waters upstream. Fishermen are also demanding the preservation of coral reefs to sustain their livelihoods.

Sustainability of traditional fishing

Traditionally, coral reefs are the domain of fishermen who can discover the diverse fish that thrive in these unique ecosystems. Fish moving along and around the reef also attract trawlers, trawlers and beach seiners who pick up shallow waters near shore. However, bottom trawlers stay away because the reef’s jagged edges damage their gear. However, they sometimes hit and damaged coral reefs, local fishermen claimed.

Neto’s colleague, Richard Miranda, 55, prefers the old style Katumaram, a 12-foot raft made from a set of four logs cut, carved, shaped, assembled and tied together. These old favorites are on the verge of extinction, as old craftsmen move on and softwood groves shrink. Miranda recently purchased a used catamaran from Filey, a village near the city. Further south, across the border in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district, artisans still make wooden rafts in small batches, he says.

“These rafts are heavier and stiffer than fiberglass, and they help me surf safely,” Miranda says. Neto and Miranda are artists. They’ve seen more than their share of rough seas. Miranda even survived Typhoon Oki in 2017, which claimed 365 lives.

Richard Miranda on Katumaram, the ancient 12-foot unsinkable raft made from a set of four logs cut, carved, shaped, assembled and tied together.  Photography by Sajith Ramadi
Richard Miranda on the Kattumaram, an old-fashioned 12-foot catamaran that is believed to be unsinkable. It is made from a set of four logs cut, carved, shaped, assembled and bound together. Photography by Sajith Ramadi.

Only about a dozen other fishermen in Buthenthup, including Miranda and Neto, keep alive the fading tradition of catamaran fishing – propelled by oars (oars) and fueled by sheer muscle power. Many of them have sails from old rafts that can take them away when there is enough wind, but they rarely open them. Like their ancestors, they are confident that there are always good fish around the nearby reefs. Tours are usually six kilometers from the beach and can be reached within one hour.

The input costs for these rafts are minimal compared to the 30-34 feet long boats with two outboard motors that dominate Thiruvananthapuram’s beaches. to Katumaram, there is no cost of fuel or labor and a total of Rs. 2000 or even Rs. 1,000 fish a day – or sometimes enough fish to make a curry – can keep a solo angler going. An old wooden one costs around Rs. 20,000 and can accommodate a crew of one to three fishermen. Meanwhile, a 32-foot boat costs over Rs 2 lakh, and its outboard motors cost another Rs. 10,000. There is usually a crew of four or more people. Fuel costs increase as the boat travels further – up to 100 km offshore – and into the wind. The gearing depends on the size and nature of the operation. To break even, each trip must bring in a fish worth Rs. 20,000 or more.

Those who prefer the middle path, opt for fiberglass kayaks or rafts commonly called “fiberglass rafts.”Tsunami MaramIt is propelled by a single small outboard motor. They are small, light and fast. They are used for distances of around 20 kilometers or more – shorter than the distances covered by larger boats. This fiberglass raft can cost Rs. 30,000 to Rs. Hunters say 50 thousand.

Ironically, Katumaram Elsewhere in Thiruvananthapuram, fishermen are being prevented from fishing amid intense competition, overfishing and declining catches, says Kumar Sahayaraju, a fisherman and marine biologist. “It is these biodiversity-rich coral reefs that allow safe near-shore fishing on small boats,” he says. His doctoral research investigates how to make this possible by blending scientific studies with traditional and local knowledge. Kumar’s father, Sahyaraju Souza Michael, resigned Katumaram He caught the fish a few years ago because it was no longer viable in his village, Karumkulam, in south Thiruvananthapuram.

Hidden treasures

Far or near, fishermen with small boats search for fish around the reefs. Each group of villages has its own favorite local hunting ground. Historically, anglers from southern Thiruvananthapuram would move in search of nearshore reefs towards the north, notes Robert Panipilla, coordinator of the local conservation NGO, Friends of Marine Life (FML).

Pterois volitans Red Lionfis, a coral fish.  However, underwater exploration as part of an inter-university Marine Conservation Initiative (ECI), has uncovered plastic waste and ghost nets atop coral reefs, entangling marine life.  Photography by Omid Mistry.
Pterois volitans (red lionfish), coral fish. However, underwater exploration as part of an inter-university Marine Conservation Initiative (ECI), has uncovered plastic waste and ghost nets atop coral reefs, entangling marine life. Photography by Omid Mistry.

“While there is a rock reef at a depth of 22-27 fathoms (40-49 metres) off the beaches from the city center to Anjingo north, there is a coral reef at a depth of 12 fathoms (22 metres), closer to the beaches around Putinthup,” shares Panibella. The sandy beaches of these villages make launching and landing small craft and beach-net fishing easier – thus keeping the fishery low-cost and reef-friendly.

Panibella narrates in his book Eyes on their fingertipsthe story of his father Panipilla Kurishadhima, who discovered the Shirumankara reef at a depth of 24.5 fathoms (about 45 metres) – the “treasure rock” (Dravyaakakalu) kept a secret – he spent five straight days at sea. When the fishing season begins, an exclusive group of anglers secretly migrate from their native village at Valayathura, near the city, to Puthenthope, 16 kilometers northwest of the country, and launch their boats from there to catch fish from these coral reefs. Once Cordadema discovered their secret, he revealed the exact location of the reef to his fellow fishermen.

Some southern fishermen, searching for the reefs close to shore, established a new village near Puthenthope called Vathimapuram. One of the indigenous people, Davidson Anthony Adema, succinctly recounted his reef fishing experience in a recent interview with the community weather service, Munson Radio, saying: “We have a reef here that is 12 fathoms deep, which is as deep as six men standing on top of each other.” “Some.” . There is one here off Buthenthup Beach. There are (many) fish. We know all about them. there Velamineyou know, Coralie (Emperor fish). There’s this fish they call Buyer (Raml snapper) in Arabic. then Kalawa (coral cod), chemeen (white dot), ball (yellowfin tuna), azhuva (grouper), a lot (cobia), com. neymeen (Spanish mackerel). And then there Champa. These are fish that live in coral reefs. Other fish come and go – tuna and other species….”

“Save our coral reefs”

Anthony Adema and others in his community are concerned about the current state of the reef. “In these reefs, the fish used to come and stay for four to five days. Now, it’s not like that. These days, when someone spots them, they call others, and we have to go and catch them.” Adema believes this is due to coral reef damage and pollution.

“The underwater sites were littered with various forms of plastic waste, including bottles, bags, fishing nets and fragments of single-use plastics. This alarming discovery highlights the urgent need to increase efforts in waste management and recycling and adopt sustainable practices to prevent further degradation of our oceans.” .

“Many deep-water coral reefs are covered with plastic nets, which may be either waste discarded from the ocean, or abandoned by fishermen due to entanglement. These ‘ghost nets’ catch many creatures every day, and remain a constant threat to underwater life.” “It has not been removed.”

Relax at Placid Netto on Puthenthope Beach.  He's one of the few fishermen here keeping alive the fading tradition of catamaran fishing – propelled by oars, fueled by sheer muscle power.  Photography by Sajith Ramadi.
Relax at Placid Netto on Puthenthope Beach. He is among the few fishermen in the village who preserve the fading tradition of catamaran fishing. Photography by Sajith Ramadi.

The University of Kerala plans to digitally document Kerala’s coastal marine biodiversity through deep-water diving and use of remotely operated vehicles. “Divers can go down to 50 metres, but after that, we will need remote-controlled boats, lights and probes,” reveals Bijokumar.

Meanwhile, FML claims to have found coral colonies on reefs near Puthenthope and elsewhere. “We need a basic study and urgent steps to conserve these coral reefs,” Bijukumar adds.

Panibella believes that coral reefs should also be viewed as part of the cultural heritage of fishermen, and proposes a social and environmental study to map the local seabed. “Preserving coral reefs must be part of climate action and sustainable development,” Sahayaraju points out.


Read more: Artificial reefs breathe new life into fishing communities in Tamil Nadu


Banner image: Rocky reefs with soft corals and solitary hard corals. Photography by Omid Mistry.

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