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Poverty and Reefs

1.6 Regional distribution of coral reefs and poverty

Based on our current understanding of the global distribution of poverty and coral reefs, six areas are particularly important. Four of these regions stand out as poverty-reef hotspots for their high levels of poverty affecting large numbers of people and extensive areas of coral reef, namely: Eastern Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Western Caribbean. The Pacific also has a very large coral reef area with a high percentage of the population being dependent on the reefs. However, the overall population figures are significantly smaller in global terms. Finally, the Eastern Caribbean has a much smaller reef area than the other key areas and a smaller population.

Of these six areas, the South Pacific is known to have the largest expanse of shallow coral reef, where a very high percentage of the population depend directly on the reef, and where local economies are highly vulnerable to future large-scale reef damage. Southeast Asia is home to the second largest area of reef in the world, as well as the largest number of people employed in fisheries and aquaculture, many of whom are likely to rely on the reef resources which occupy almost 38% of the region’s coastline (Tables 1 and 2). However, in terms of poverty it is Eastern Africa and South Asia where the greatest proportion of people are found living below international and national poverty lines (Table 2).

Beneath these regional statistics, however, considerable variation exists in terms of reef area, poverty and numbers of fishers and other reef dependents. These variations are summarised in the following sections, details of the individual countries for the four poverty-reef hotspot regions are shown in Annex 1.

1.6.1 Eastern Africa

Countries on the coast of mainland Eastern Africa and Madagascar are some of the poorest countries in the world, while the small islands off their coasts include both poor, and developed countries. Coral reefs border 35% of the coast of mainland Eastern Africa and encircle many of the smaller barrier and offshore islands (Table 3).

In terms of reef area four countries stand out: Tanzania, Madagascar, Mozambique and Seychelles. Of these Tanzania, Madagascar and Mozambique have a Low Human Development Index. Tanzania has a large and rapidly growing coastal population and is bordered by the largest area of shallow coral reef in Eastern Africa, which is found along most of the coast and surrounding offshore islands (Spalding et al., 2001). Livelihoods are still based predominantly on agriculture and fishing, with estimates of the numbers of full-time marine fishers ranging from 10,000 to 15,000, who predominantly operate from small non-mechanised craft (FAO 2001c).

Mozambique ranks as the sixth poorest country in the world. Coral reefs dominate the northern coast of Cabo Delgado, one of the poorest provinces in the country, and Nampula province. Reefs are also found scattered along the southern coast.

In Madagascar coral reefs are widespread in the north and off the southwest coast, and support fishery activities, which are mainly focused on reef formations and reef-associated species, accounting for 43% of the total production and involving approximately 50,000 people living in 1,250 villages (Gabrie et al., 2000).

Kenya although classified as Medium Human Development Index, has a large fisheries-dependent population many of whom live on the coast and depend on reefs. Coastal areas are densely populated and coral reefs border much of the coastline and surround offshore islands and barrier islands in the north (Spalding et al., 2001). A large small-scale marine fishery operates along the coast associated with the coral reef and nearshore resources.

1.6.2 South Asia

The coastal nations of South Asia are some of the most populated countries, with significant proportions of the population living in coastal areas. South Asia also represents one of the world’s poorest regions, second to Eastern Africa in terms of the proportion of people living on less than 1US$ a day (Table 2). Coral reefs border nearly 21% of the coastline, varying greatly in extent from vast expanses of reef in the Maldives, to only limited areas in Bangladesh and Pakistan (Table 4).

India is one of the lower ranking Medium Human Development countries, with over a third of its population living on less than 1 US$ a day (Table 4). India’s coastal areas are heavily populated, but coral reefs are limited to only two main areas of the mainland coast: the Gulf of Mannar, in the south, and the Gulf of Kutch, in the northwest, with the remaining reefs associated with the remote islands of Lakshadweep off the west coast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands off the east coast. Reef fisheries have been estimated to contribute to between 5 and 10% of the total marine landings (Pet-Soede et al., 2000; White and Rajasuriya, 1995, respectively), but contribute significantly to the subsistence and income of coastal fishing communities in the four reef areas.

The Maldives has the highest ranking Human Development Index of all the South Asian coastal nations. It is also the country with the greatest expanse of coral reef, associated with a chain of 22 coral atolls running 800 km from north to south and including 1200 low coralline islands, of which 199 are inhabited. Coral reefs are the foundation of life on the Maldives, providing land area, construction materials, the source of bait fish for a large tuna fishery, and supporting smaller reef fisheries for limited local consumption and growing exports. Island and reef-based tourism also represents a significant industry.

Sri Lanka has a Medium-level Human Development Index with fringing coral reefs estimated to occur along approximately 2% of the coastline mainly in the northwest and east (Spalding et al., 2001), patchy reefs also occur in the southwest and in deeper waters off the west coast. Near-shore fisheries have been estimated to contribute to 60% of total landings in 2000 (NARA, 2001), of which 15 to 50% are estimated to be reef-associated species (Berg et al., 1998; Spalding et al., 2001, respectively).

1.6.3 Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is home to the largest coastal population in the world and some of the greatest expanses of shallow coral reef (Figures 1 and 2). In terms of poverty, all classified countries fall in the Medium Human Development group, with the exception of Brunei and Singapore ranking as High Human Development countries (Table 5). However, as with the other regions discussed here, this ranking disguises the nature of coastal poverty, and in many countries in Southeast Asia the coastal population includes some of the poorest people, whose livelihoods are becoming progressively more vulnerable (see Chapter 3).

The two countries with the largest reef area in Southeast Asia are Indonesia and the Philippines. Indonesia has more than 56 million people living on less than 1 US$ a day. The majority of the population live on the coast, which stretches over 95,000 km encompassing over 17,000 islands (including sandbanks and rocks), of which 6,000 are inhabited. Shallow coastal waters are home to 18% of the world’s coral reefs, the largest extent associated with any single nation (Spalding et al., 2001). 80% of Indonesia’s fisheries production has been estimated to originate from small-scale production in near-shore waters (UNEP, 1996). It has also been estimated that the coral reefs, which dominate the near-shore, form the foundation of livelihoods and food security for hundreds of thousands of subsistence fishers (Cesar, 1996).

In the Philippine Archipelago most of the population lives in coastal areas, which are bordered by the third largest expanse of coral reef associated with a single nation (Spalding et al., 2001). Reef fisheries constitute 10% of the total fish production in the Philippines and as much as 70% of the total harvest on some small islands (Cesar, 1996; White and Cruz-Trinidad, 1998, respectively). It has been estimated that more than one million small-scale fishers depend directly on reef fisheries for their livelihood and coral reefs contribute significantly to protein supplies, in a country where more than 50% of animal protein is derived from marine fisheries and aquaculture (White and Cruz-Trinidad, 1998).

Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, China and Vietnam also have large reef areas. Of these, Myanmar and Vietnam stand out as having a high number of people employed in fisheries and aquaculture.

1.6.4 Western Caribbean

The Western Caribbean countries are among some of the poorer and most populated countries in the Wider Caribbean. Around 60% of the coral reefs in the Wider Caribbean are found in this region (Tables 2 and 6), as well as 84% of the total numbers employed in fisheries and aquaculture.

Cuba, Mexico, Belize and Jamaica have over a 1,000 km2 of reef each. All have Medium Human Development Index ranks, although the GDP per capita in Jamaica is notably low (Table 6). The reef fisheries provide an important contribution to the livelihoods and food security of many coastal people in all of these countries. The importance of fisheries to livelihoods is particularly noticeable in Mexico and Colombia where a high number of people are recorded as employed in fisheries and aquaculture.

1.6.5 Eastern Caribbean

There are no countries in the Eastern Caribbean with a reef area over 1,000 km2 but there are many countries with reefs (Table 7). The largest expanses of reef occur in Dominican Republic, followed by Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Haiti and Netherlands Antilles. Of these Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Haiti have a high number of people employed in fisheries and aquaculture. Haiti in particular has a Low Human Development Index rank.

1.6.6 South Pacific

The reef area of the South Pacific is dominated by the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Half of the countries listed in Table 8 have a reef area greater than 1,000 km2, the largest after Australia being Papua New Guinea, followed by Fiji, Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Vanuatu and Kiribati. Of these Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Kiribati have the highest numbers of people dependent on fisheries, mostly inshore reef fisheries. Samoa with a relatively small reef area also has a significant number of fishers.

The Pacific’s dependence on reefs represents a particular, and rather unusual, case. Most of the countries in the Pacific that have been ranked, rank as Medium Human Development Index countries, but this belies the degree of vulnerability that these communities are exposed to. The smaller island states depend on the reef, not only for their main source of food security and livelihood for the majority of the people, but also as a critical barrier from the erosive forces of the sea, and as the main source of locally available building materials. Whilst the reefs of the Pacific are in the main in good condition, climate change poses a major threat to the livelihoods of a high percentage of the populations of many of these island states (as described in Chapter 3).
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