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Investigating the trochus 'El Dorado'

Scientific and indigenous knowledge must join together to better manage disappearing marine resources in developing countries, such as shark, trochus, and sea cucumber stocks on the islands to Australias north.

Thats the view of Dr Simon Foale, a researcher with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University, who studies coral reef fisheries in the Solomon Islands as they undergo rapid and dramatic change.

"Cultures change as the societies become more modern the people become more detached from old beliefs and traditions erode," says Dr Foale. "Once large amounts of money enter a region, it undergoes an abrupt power shift and the traditions are marginalised," he says.

"Traditionally, Melanesian cultures believe in nature spiritsit is seamlessly part of nature and part of their cultureThey would manage their reefs by prohibiting fishing for periods of time. Anyone who broke these rules would come under a curse.

"But traditional management tends to fall apart when the external pressure increases. When global markets expand, demand rises and marine products command high prices, the traditional rules are no longer sufficient to prevent overfishing," says Dr. Foale.

In studies of the Solomon Islands Trochus fisheries (a mollusc whose pearly shell has been a valuable source of cash for almost two centuries for Pacific Islanders), Dr Foale found that gaps in the locals knowledge of the species were making their harvesting practices unsustainable.

"The Nggela people have a tradition of harvesting trochus during a certain time in the lunar cycle when they are easier to find. However, while they identified these times as good for harvesting, they seemed oblivious to the fact that the trochus are breeding at that time too.

"They assumed the trochus they harvested were replaced by individuals from an El Dorado of trochus living in deeper water that wandered up to shallower pa
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Contact: Simon Foale
Simon.Foale@jcu.edu.au
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies
15-Feb-2007


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