For decades, dire tales of collapsing fish stocks were told, only to fall on deaf ears.
Then, in a 2008 report, “Sunken Billions,” the World Bank and the FAO began to couch the problem in entirely new terms—financial terms. They estimated that $50 billion was lost each year due to poor fisheries management. That staggering figure caught the eye of finance ministers, development agencies and economists around the globe.
At last, the conservation community discovered how to get attention, but it raised a new question: what to do about it? To truly turn the tide, they knew it meant not only taking fewer fish, but also producing more. That’s where seagrass, mangroves and other habitat come in. These habitats are nurseries to new generations of commercially valuable fish and it is time we recognize the value of those important ocean services on Earth’s balance sheet.
Juvenile fish have it hard from day one. They are at the mercy of the elements and voracious predators. The odds of a microscopic fish larva making it to adulthood are one-in-a-million. Seagrasses represent the rare safe haven, providing much needed food and shelter. And yet, like the fish, seagrass beds have also been disappearing. Some say the world loses a soccer field worth of seagrass every half-hour, further contributing to the decline in fish.
New fisheries management has to consider the whole life cycle of the fish—where they are born, where they spend their lives, as well as how they die.
In places where habitat loss harms fish, protection and restoration are a very real opportunity. A new study, supported by The Nature Conservancy, tells us just how real. The report tells us that each square meter of seagrass habitat we save in southern Australia could add nearly one kilogram of fish each year. Said in a different way, every acre of seagrass could add USD$8,000 of commercially important fish to the oceans every year.
No one is blind to the fact that seagrass restoration is both technically challenging and financially expensive, but these figures show that the benefits far outweigh the costs. Some restoration efforts could pay for themselves in just five years. In these terms, seagrass restoration is a no brainer.