divers and fish

Brian Todd briandtodd at hotmail.com
Fri Nov 2 16:32:16 EST 2001

I have remained a quiet observer for sometime on the list, but I feel that there is another facet to the issue that is often overlooked.

Economics and the "almighty dollar" may contribute to the problem, but I think this is due heavily to the nature of the coral and fish collecting.  It is an almost perfect illustration of Garret Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons" first described in 1968 with pastures.

Because the users (ie, collectors) have no system of ownership on these reefs, they do not incur the immediate costs of their actions.  This creates the "scramble for resources" and leads to ruin and exploitation of the reef systems they visit.  The social cost of each harvester's combined actions is MUCH higher than each individual's cost and this must be modified in order to prevent and discourage such exploitive practices.

Regulations in many of these countries attempt to correct this by instituting catch limits and user fees, but they are frequently de facto "open-access" resources.

And if we consider the scenario whereby we completely remove the influence of economics from the organism collecting (ie, ceasing trade, tougher laws, moratoria, etc), we could effectively elliminate ANY concern for the surrounding reefs by those very users.  The statement  "If we don't buy, they can't sell, and then there is no use to the collecting and it will eventually stop" is very well true.  But this removes any economic value from the resource, and can potentially decrease concern for the very habitats we wish to protect.  By allowing them to derive monetary gain from the collection, we can scrutinize the relationship and find a better way to use this interest to benefit conservation efforts.  Most people do not want to lose a significant source of income, and if they realize they are rapidly accomplishing this by eliminating and ruining reefs, then perhaps they will act differently.

My two cents.

Brian Todd

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