Last week the Karachi University Centre of Excellence in Marine Biology and Institute of Marine Sciences published a report proposing that a number of sites along the Sindh-Balochistan coast be declared as marine protected areas (MPAs).
In the wake of environmental concerns emerging from recent mangrove case studies, the paper, ‘Conservation and management of biodiversity in Pakistan through the establishment of marine protected areas’, highlights the increasingly urgent need to safeguard existing marine ecosystems. These areas are under constant threat from human activity, pollution and climate change, and the proposal for MPA status would be a preventative measure to sustain such ecosystems and promote species biodiversity.
Many of the suggested sites are wildlife sanctuaries or Ramsar sites—wetlands protected by the Ramsar Convention for the preservation of such ecosystems worldwide—and are home to a great diversity of marine flora and fauna, such as corals, coral reef fish, marine turtles, whales, dolphins and plankton.
The selected sites are the Indus delta (Ramsar site and wildlife sanctuary), Sandspit/Hawkesbay (wildlife sanctuary), Buleji, Charna Island, Miani Hor (Ramsar site), Ormara (Ramsar site), Astola Island (Ramsar site) and Jiwani (Ramsar site). The Indus delta is considered to be the most significant of these sites.
The report outlines possible benefits for commercial fishing, stating that, ‘The fact that the creeks are sites for fish and shrimp juvenile development and use of katra net (small mesh net) in this area clears the juvenile population from the creeks, it is required to establish pockets of no-take zones (NTZs) along the Indus delta to provide space for juvenile growth while allowing small fishermen to fish in certain creeks’.
It adds that, ‘Fishery stocks will be enhanced as a result of the MPAs’ establishment by observing regulatory measures and standard fishing practice and by securing potential spawning and breeding grounds. The increase in fish population in NTZs will have a spillover effect on the adjacent areas where fishermen are allowed to fish. Reduction in fishing activity in NTZs will result in the reduction of accidental mortality of humpback dolphins, which are frequently observed in creeks’.
The report also pushes for increased research into food web structures and stresses the threats posed to these organisms by pollution and climate change.