NatureVolve

Q & A - Fabio Fa­voretto

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Please tell us about your back­ground and how you be­gan to spe­cial­ize in ma­rine ecol­ogy.

While div­ing I al­ways won­dered why things are where they are, why that co­ral is in that par­tic­u­lar po­si­tion? Why in some places do you see only some species of fish? These kinds of ques­tion lead me to study ma­rine ecol­ogy. Now those ques­tions just be­came more elab­o­rated, but it is re­ally an end­less pur­suit to sat­isfy cu­rios­ity that makes you want to be a sci­en­tist. I grad­u­ated at the Univer­sity of Tri­este in Italy in Ma­rine Ecol­ogy and then I moved to Mex­ico in the Gulf of Cal­i­for­nia to do my PhD in Ma­rine Seascape Ecol­ogy. In the Gulf of Cal­i­for­nia, the beauty and the bio­di­ver­sity of the seas­capes in­spired me to use my re­search to im­prove mon­i­tor­ing tools and help in­form stake­hold­ers and the gov­ern­ment for im­proved con­ser­va­tion strate­gies.

Why are reef en­vi­ron­ments in the south­ern Gulf of Mex­ico im­por­tant to study and pro­tect from over­fish­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age?

The south­ern Gulf of Mex­ico is a land of leg­ends, pi­rates, and beau­ti­ful beaches. To­day, this area is a huge tourist des­ti­na­tion. Pop­u­la­tion in­creased and as a re­sult, there has been in­creased in­ter­est in eat­ing more and con­sum­ing more of what the ocean and its reefs can give. How­ever, there are some places that have not yet been com­pro­mised so much be­yond the point of no re­turn, where you can still see glimpses of the majesty of pristine na­ture. The im­mense bio­di­ver­sity of the sec­ond largest co­ral reef sys­tem in the world is not only a hotspot to de­fend for the beauty of it, but also be­cause, on it, de­pends the liveli­hood of mil­lions of peo­ples di­rectly and all of us on the planet in­di­rectly. Over­fish­ing cause im­mense dis­rup­tion, it can turn co­ral reefs into waste­lands, com­pli­cate the re­la­tion­ship hu­man be­ings have with na­ture and be­tween them­selves. The en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age is more ob­vi­ous when we see the di­rect dam­age caused, such as with pol­luted river dis­charge and the changes in coastal ar­eas made to make room for ho­tels or in­dus­tries. All these can co­op­er­ate in a dread­ful con­certo that we can stop only by giv­ing na­ture its space and time to re­cover by de­fend­ing the last pillars of wilder­ness.

Why have you fo­cused on iso­lated reefs in your re­cent study, as op­posed to only study­ing coastal reefs?

Iso­lated co­ral reefs are con­sid­ered to be so far away that hu­man ac­tiv­ity does not af­fect them. In par­tic­u­lar, they are con­sid­ered safe from over­fish­ing be­cause are dubbed too far for be­ing over­ex­ploited.

How­ever, in our study we show that due to the tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ment of the fish­eries (e.g. bet­ter en­gines, boats etc.) even those once pristine places are un­der di­rect threat. So, we wanted to com­pare two iso­lated reefs sys­tem, one pro­tected by a Ma­rine Pro­tected Area where fish­ing is reg­u­lated or pro­hib­ited, against an­other reef sys­tem that was un­der no pro­tec­tion and fish­ery could be un­reg­u­lated.

What tools did you use to help you monitor reef sys­tems? Was re­mote sens­ing in­volved?

We didn’t use re­mote sens­ing tech­nolo­gies in our study, all we did was go div­ing, and with un­der­wa­ter slates and tran­sects, man­u­ally counted and mea­sured fish, in­ver­te­brates (corals, sea urchins etc.) and al­gae.

With that data we can use sta­tis­ti­cal tech­niques that al­low us to es­ti­mate over­all biomass and cover of key or­gan­isms that we use as en­vi­ron­men­tal in­di­ca­tors.

Please ex­plain the first part of your re­cent pub­li­ca­tion’s ti­tle: “Be­ing iso­lated and pro­tected is bet­ter than just be­ing iso­lated.” How does your re­search jus­tify this state­ment?

In our study we com­pared two iso­lated (i.e. re­mote) reef sys­tems: one is The Alacranes Reef, pro­tected by a Ma­rine Pro­tected area where fish­ery is reg­u­lated; the other the Ba­jos del Norte is not pro­tected and fish­ery is not reg­u­lated.

We show in our study that the non-pro­tected reef showed much less fish biomass and less co­ral cover than the pro­tected sites, thus in­di­cat­ing that pro­tec­tion was help­ing in main­tain­ing a higher eco­log­i­cal health. There­fore, in the An­thro­pocene, no place on earth is safe from our im­pacts and we need to de­fend those last places be­fore it is too late.

Fi­nal thoughts

The im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing reefs was made crys­tal clear in Fabio’s study. The re­search team found that the reefs that weren’t pro­tected had much less fish biomass and co­ral cover than the pro­tected sites - show­ing that even those ar­eas that seem to be cut off enough to be safe from hu­man im­pacts, can be harm­fully de­pleted when not pro­tected.

Fabio en­cour­ages us to con­sider that even places that seem ‘cut-off’ from the out­side world may not be en­tirely free of hu­man im­pacts, par­tic­u­larly in mod­ern times as tech­nol­ogy ad­vances.

 ??  ?? Right: Beau­ti­ful co­ral reef seascape in Alacranes reef full of life.
Photo credit: Mares Mex­i­canos, Diego Gamero. All rights re­served.
Right: Beau­ti­ful co­ral reef seascape in Alacranes reef full of life. Photo credit: Mares Mex­i­canos, Diego Gamero. All rights re­served.
 ??  ?? Above: A seascape in “Ba­jos del Norte” with very low fish abun­dance and higher al­gae cover, a sign of lower reef eco­log­i­cal health.
Photo credit: Mares Mex­i­canos, Diego Gamero. All rights re­served.
Above: A seascape in “Ba­jos del Norte” with very low fish abun­dance and higher al­gae cover, a sign of lower reef eco­log­i­cal health. Photo credit: Mares Mex­i­canos, Diego Gamero. All rights re­served.

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