Myths and fallacies part 9

Dissected by Dr J Floor Anthoni (2004)


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More Fish Anyone?
article for the Barrier Bulletin, 1 April 2004
By Dave Hansford.

Why would a Wellington based writer write for the Barrier Bulletin?

As life swarms back to places like Kapiti Island, arguments against marine reserves are starting to sound a little hollow.
Ashore, on Kapiti Island, a few choppy kilometres off the north Wellington coast, troupes of daytripping birdwatchers are panning their binoculars for a glimpse of kiwi, kaka, kokako, and saddleback. Charismatic stars of the conservation stage. But just below the waves that lap lightly against the island’s northwestern flank, I’m communing with the brainless, the heartless, the spineless. Through clearing bubbles, I let myself fall a leisurely 10 metres or so to Kapiti’s submerged foothills. Here, the sea surges through The Hole in the Wall, an undersea arch perhaps eight or 10 metres across, pumping in plankton and nutrients with every pulse. The Hole in the Wall is less than 3x3m and at a shallow depth of 7m.

This ceaseless food drop is greeted with a billion open arms. Jewel anemones, lumps of gaudy protoplasm, throng over the giant boulders and the sheer walls, spearing tiny plankton with barbed harpoons. Some are neon pink, others white, or lemon yellow. Flashy sea slugs glide among them, oblivious to the stinging needles. Life here is epidemic. Not a centimetre is left uncolonised by some bizarre expression; an anemone, a zoanthid, a bryozoan, or an ascidian. All species unaffected by fishing

Above, lilting in the wash, the silhouettes of butterfly perch pluck plankton from the current with delicate nips, while a mob of wrasses hang at my heels, waiting for me to dislodge some morsel. Blue cod sit propped on the seabed, their fleshy jaws set into a permanent scowl. Butterfly perch are found in calm water and are not fished.

Over the summer of 1999-2000, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) divers jumped into this marine reserve to take its pulse in a five-yearly programme of health checks. They counted and measured, surveyed and quantified, and by the time they’d finished, even the believers were amazed. Kapiti Marine Reserve committee chairman Dr Ken Grange says the divers found that crayfish (rock lobster) had more doubled in the reserve since 1992, while their numbers outside had kept on falling. This is a very poor result for a closed fishing area, and certainly doesn't justify the title that life has swarmed back. and the statement even believers were amazed What's wrong?

And while the fish hadn’t boomed to quite the same extent – Grange says it all goes to show that there are many other forces at work under the sea - he was encouraged nevertheless. Because underwater, numbers aren’t everything. Size is. The increase in fish numbers in the reserve and their increase in size was also very discouraging. Whole areas of the reserve facing the mainland have degraded beyond recognition, affecting even the large macrocystis seaweeds there. Degradation is what the other forces at work under the sea are.

Big fish lay more eggs – the old grandmother snapper at Goat Island marine reserve just north of Warkworth, many of them in their eighties, are estimated to pump out 35 times more eggs than their neighbours beyond the boundary. A spurious claim, dispelled in science/paper3.

So when divers at Kapiti found cod inside the reserve 25 per cent larger than those outside, and four times more large butterfish, they knew the reserve was starting to work. For such tiny benefits it is not worthwhile to have closed areas. Fishing regulation can achieve the same or better, over larger areas. But the main question is: in what state are the other organisms? Our observations have shown serious degradation in places not directly cleaned by waves and currents.

Marine biologist Dr Bill Ballantine, a pioneering marine reserves proponent, says this is why we need more of them. On land, he says, parents and offspring stay close and populations spread only slowly. Underwater, the process more closely resembles the fluffy seeds billowing from a thistle in the wind, to be carried who knows where. Unfortunately Dr Ballantine does not dive, and being unable to verify what he is claiming, remains ignorant of the facts. The thistledown hypothesis is a myth, see FAQs/thistledown.

So it is with the eggs of not just fish but sponges, corals, jellyfish and all the other myriad creatures that carpet places like Kapiti, all wafting along on the ocean currents. These are not threatened by fishing, but they are seriously affected by degradation. The Hole in the Wall draws a fierce current that feeds and cleanses organisms in its path but outside, degradation has taken its toll.

Ballantine says the only way to ensure all that productivity is adequately harnessed is to have a comprehensive network of marine reserves laid out along their path. Places where they can settle and thrive in total protection. The thistledown myth continues in the idea of networks, which has not been proved, even after decades of trying.

And all those millions of extra eggs don’t just mean more fish – they mean healthier fish, and healthier populations of fish. A 2002 study of snapper in Golden Bay found they weren’t just heavily overfished (biomass was down by 85 per cent) but they were genetically threadbare. It turned out that a population of about 3 million snapper was actually being sustained by just 180 breeding individuals. In other words, the genetic variation, the richness within DNA that keeps populations healthy - was badly depleted. (oops) Marine reserves would not have helped this migrating population. Remember also that the same scientists proclaiming marine reserves, were also responsible for their fisheries advice which resulted in overfishing. Saving the Golden Bay snapper population which is hampered by recruitment failures, can only be done with fisheries regulations.

Some fans of marine reserves point out that the “thistledown” effect actually benefits their most outspoken critics, fishers. They hail marine reserves as wellsprings of bounty that will go on sustaining fisheries of the future. More thistledown myth.

But while fishers are enjoying better catch rates in places, they’re reluctant to credit them to marine reserves. Malcolm Lawson, CEO of the CRA8 Management Committee, says his Fiordland crayfishers have noticed no difference, despite surveys that found seven times more lobsters within Te Awaatu Marine Reserve than without. As far as he’s concerned the “spillover effect” is “a long-held myth that’s slowly being debunked.” Lawson is right. It has now also been debunked scientifically.

And while Leigh Fishermen’s Association president Gavin Perry says local crayfishers “probably get some benefit,” the snapper longliner puts increasing snapper catches down instead to less fishing effort and better management. “The marine reserve’s got nothing to do with the fact that we’re catching more fish.” Fishermen are more realistic than scientists, and they know better what they are talking about. Better lend them a good ear.

As far as the Department of Conservation (DOC) is concerned, marine reserves have nothing to do with fisheries management anyway. DOC is charged by Government policy with getting 10 per cent of the country’s coastline into some form of marine protection (not necessarily marine reserves, but includes the fisheries management instruments of taiapure and mataitai), a process sitting on the backburner as the seabed and foreshore issue boils over on the front. The Biodiversity Strategy (Marine) is seriously flawed, as is the 10%-20% target, and the haste behind it.

Officially, marine reserves exist solely for the purpose of scientific study. For now. That will change if and when the Marine Reserves Bill gets a final reading in June. The Bill, sitting before select committee, was introduced by Sandra Lee in 2002,  and will officially shift the raison d’etre of marine reserves from science to straightforward intrinsic worth.

That means an anemone, or a hermit crab, or a strand of kelp, is no more or less deserving of our protection than a snapper. However, these are not threatened by fishing.
The idea is protect the whole ecosystem, not just the tastiest residents. Put on a mask and a snorkel and you can see this logic at work on any rocky reef outside of a marine reserve. You’ll still see kelp, and crabs. Perhaps a few spotties. But you’ll also see large, bare tracts of rock, grazed to a stubble. These are the “kina barrens”, and they happen when we fish a place too hard. When we take the snapper out of a picture, kina, or sea urchins, rampage unchecked among the kelp forests. Those forests are – were - home to an incorporation, a web of other animals and plants that have vanished with them. That web is the ecosystem that everyone talks about. The snapper-good urchin-bad myth has never been duplicated and the science done is seriously flawed, laid to rest in science exposed.

It’s a lesson we learnt long ago on dry land. The first National Park, Tongariro, was gazetted in 1887. Since then we’ve protected eight million hectares – over a third of the country - in parks and reserves. It’s a different story at sea. Take away the distant offshore reserves around the Kermadec and Auckland Islands and just 0.1 per cent of our coastline is left protected. The sea is more pristine while fished than our national parks where major pests such as possums, deer, stoats, rats, cats, pigs, goats and so on still roam free, threatening native flora and fauna. What's happening to the kiwi? Possums don't eat kelp! The WHOLE of the EEZ is now protected by the Quota Management System which is gaining strength as it is fine-tuned.

Scientists have described about 8000 marine creatures from New Zealand waters so far. They include 964 fish species; 61 seabirds; 41 marine mammals; 2000 snails, shellfish, octopus and squid; 350 sponges; 400 kina, starfish and brittlestars; 900 seaweeds; and 700 species of plant plankton. Many of these are found nowhere else in the world. But laboratories – and the sea – are full of new ones waiting to be added. We probably only know the half of it. Not one water-breathing species has been found to be threatened.

Like a car, or a human body, an ecosystem only works when all of its parts are present and correct. And by that yardstick, marine reserves work. Take the Kapiti result and apply it to any marine reserve in the country. Cape Rodney, better known as Goat Island; up to 50 times more rock lobster inside the reserve than out. Overall biomass ten times greater. The Poor Knights Islands; snapper up 302 per cent a single year since fishing was stopped. Tarakihi up 101 per cent, pink maomao up 129 per cent. Piopiotahi in Milford Sound; 174 lobster counted inside the reserve, 25 outside. These statistics are major lies. Nearly all coastal marine reserves are degrading seriously. The rocklobster population of Goat Island crashed in 1998 six-fold. At present there is 2-3 times the number of lobsters than outside because Goat Island is a lobster hot spot. The majority are juvenile, not threatened by fishing. The increase in biomass is exclusively due to the stalked kelp which is not sufficiently grazed, rotting away and causing problems. It is a symptom of degradation, not of reserve benefit. The Poor Knights statistics are wrong, see next article. The Pink Maomao at the Poor Knights collapsed by 50% but because schooling fish were not measured by scientist, this was not noted. Instead, surviving pink maomao sought refuge in the shallows where scientists did their counts. After their collapse in 2000/2001, their numbers started to show up in their counts, which was then interpreted as an increase in their numbers - bad science!.

And if the statistics don’t cut it, try this simple test instead. Drive out to Goat Island any weekday and wade into the sea – up to your knees is plenty. Now watch the blue maomao swarm around you, the blue cod sizing up your toes, the huge snapper patrolling just beyond. Take in a sight that vanished from the rest of the coast decades ago. Seafriends who guides school children in the water, has to cancel more and more school trips because the water is too murky to see anything at all. Since DoC banned fishfeeding, most fish have disappeared. People are now asking: "Where are all the fish?"

Most likely, the people will be swarming too. In 2002, 300,000 of them came here to do what you’re doing. And they spent $12.5 million dollars while they were doing it. Only DoC mentions these figures, but when asked by the Outdoor Recreation NZ marine reserve committee to substantiate on what measurements and science they are based, they refuse to provide answers. What are they hiding?

More fish anyone? More DOC anyone?

A DOC trick
Article for the Barrier Bulletin, 15 April 2004
by Floor Anthoni

Dave Hansford's article is but a small part of DOC's new propaganda campaign in which it uses innocent and uninformed frontmen to front the battle for more marine reserves. Supplied with disinformation, these unwitting victims then fend the flak aimed at DOC. Why else would an unimportant guy from Wellington with so little sea experience, wish to write in the Barrier Bulletin? Let's face it, Dave Hansford was paid by DoC. Such acts are as despicable as sending young kids into war armed with popguns! [2]

All Great Barrier Islanders (GBIers) know that consenting to the 52,000ha marine reserve will bring them endless amounts of goodies. Hundreds of thousands of NZ and overseas vistors will fly in on Okiwi International Airport, to be whisked away in buses and limousines over three-lane highways toward condominioms and five star hotels where a fleet of charter boats and glassbottom boats awaits them to show the wonders of the sea, the locals never knew of . . .

But let's not be too hard on Hansford, after all only twenty years ago I was like him, until my eyes opened and I pursued to find answers to: why are we losing so much so fast? At the time there was no knowledge or information and scientists either did not want to believe that degradation has become our seas' worst enemy or they were plainly uninterested. That journey took me 15 years of study and now the answers are there for all to see on the Seafriends web site. So the likes of Hansford today cannot have a valid excuse for not having informed themselves. In the end he too must make a decision to either corrupt himself by The Hand That Feeds or to pursue and defend the truth. We'll follow his writings carefully.

But as he mentioned a 300% increase in snapper numbers at the Poor Knights, let's stir some recent smelly DOC poop that is becoming a major embarrassment. At the centre stands some excellent work done by the Leigh marine laboratory [1], still available from DoC's web site. These researchers did a massive 3686 UVC visual transects and 614 BUV camera drops to count fishes during four years after the complete fishing ban there. This graph forms the background of their main conclusion "Our study has clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve: the number and size of targeted fish species are increasing.". They even claimed that snapper numbers increased 9-fold, while DoC claims 16-fold! Hansford's claim of 300% in one year comes from comparing points 2 and 1. The scientist's claim comes from comparing points 7 and 1, and DoC's claim from comparing points 6 and 1. We say that this is bad science because the study started half a year too late, missing the high point of autumn 1998 and scientists should have drawn an average curve (red) which shows a 200-300% increase over 4 years. But the madness goes further when you look at the two control sites for Mokohinau (triangles) and Cape Brett (squares) which were taken into consideration one and a half years too late! Note how they had comparable increases, all due to two good snapper recruitment years in 98/99. The scientific conclusion should therefore have been "Although we measured increases of targeted fish species, this also happened to the same degree outside, and we can therefore not distinguish the effect of the fishing ban". But the madness does not end here either.

Chronic decline of fish at the Poor KnightsHidden in the many graphs supplied is the information shown here in colour for each of the fish species that belong to the Poor Knights and that breed there. With only one exception, all suffer from serious declines of 2-6 fold! Only sweep, the harbinger of dirty water  increased sharply in numbers. These results are living proof that degradation has arrived at our best coastal marine reserve, the Poor Knights and that marine reserves no longer protect the environment. It also shows that the decline from degradation is far worse than that from fishing, from which the area recovered in a mere two years. But not one word about this in the report! If you were a scientist, you would have concluded: "Marine reserves have a negative effect on the environment because fish numbers declined precipitously after the complete fishing ban" :-)

Perhaps the worst part of this study is that someone decided not to count schooling fish like pink maomao, blue maomao, trevally, koheru, jack mackerel and kahawai. So the scientists did not notice their collapse in 2000/2001, even while they were there! Just think about what better uses can be found for the $280,000 that this study cost the taxpayer!

The good news is that the Seafriends web site is now available on CD. For only $22.50 you can study all this and much more from over 2000 pages of no-nonsense accelerated learning containing over 2200 digrams and photographs PLUS a slide show of over 700 screen-sized images of our aquatic environment - many weeks of sheer amazement. Certainly for people with crackling internet access a treasure to own. Phone Floor Anthoni 094735433 or e-mail There exists no valid reason any longer to remain uninformed.

[1] Denny, C. M., Willis, T. J., Babcock, R. C.  2003.  Effects of Poor Knights Marine Reserve on demersal fish populations.  DOC Science Internal Series 142.  Department of Conservation.  34p.
[2] You can read a complete rebuttal of Hansford's article in

Massive boost to Barrier Reef no-fish zone
March 25, 2004 - 2:51PM 

Fishing will be banned from a third of the Great Barrier Reef from July, making it the world's best protected reef system. Federal Environment Minister David Kemp described the adoption of the new zoning plan as the most important conservation decision in the world this year. He said the plan, which had the support of the $4.5 billion a year local tourism industry, would result in more fish, bigger fish and healthier corals in the Great Barrier Reef.

The main threat to the Great Barrier Reef has for at least two decades, come from land-based pollution to such extent that the tourism industry has begun to suffer as overseas tourists ask "where are the fish?". The fishing ban on all forms of fishing will not be of any help to most of the easily reached destinations on the Reef which are also within reach of the river plumes of mud. The local tourism Industry has to learn the hard way as fishing charters lose their business and people are banned from their places of enjoyment. If fishing was in any way responsible for the decline, a simple ban on trawling would have achieved over 90% compared to total closure.
The protection regime will come into effect on July 1 when fishing, currently banned from 4.5 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef, will be forbidden from 33.3 per cent of the reef. "This is going to mean more fish on the Great Barrier Reef," Dr Kemp said. "It's going to mean healthier corals, it's going to mean bigger fish for tourists to come and see and right through this process we've had the very strong support of the tourism industry. "It is a quite remarkable advance in protecting the reef against all the pressures to which it's subject." He said threats such as increased nutrients entering reef waters and global warming were placing reefs everywhere under great stress.
Mr Kemp does not realise that the stress from fishing does not compare with that from land-based pollution. Whereas the former affects only the tiny top of the food pyramid, the latter attacks the wide base of the food pyramid, including algae, plankton and corals (which have algae in their tissues). When this happens, all dependent species in all tiers of the food pyramid are affected. Fishing closures will not in any measurable way help against this threat. What value has big fish when the corals are dead? Will they survive?
"The best scientific advice is that the most effective way to ensure that reefs are healthy enough to cope with these sorts of pressures is to protect at least one-fifth of all bio-regions in no-take zones and that is exactly what we have done," Dr Kemp said.
It is amazing that Dr Kemp has been advised so wrongly on this matter. Marine reserves will not and cannot protect the reef against land-based pollution. Large marine reserves are a waste of resources which could have been better directed at fighting the problems on land.
He said the new fishing restrictions would mostly affect net fishers and crabbers. Dr Kemp said anyone caught breaching regulations faced heavy penalties. He announced the appointment of former Australian Fish Management Authority chairman Geoff Gorrie to head a four-person independent panel to develop terms of reference for a structural adjustment package for commercial fishers adversely affected by the rezoning. "We will ensure that there is fair treatment for people who have been affected," Dr Kemp said.
Better be prepared: if one closes 30% of the fishery forever, it adds up to a huge economic and social cost. Has Dr Kemp counted the recreational fishers and future generations?

difference between fishing and degradationThe difference between fishing and degradation
This diagram illustrates the fundamental difference between the threat from fishing and that from degradation. It shows the food pyramid through which the various organisms extend their relationships. Each higher tier is about 8-10 times smaller than the one below, which shows that fishing affects only the top 0.1-0.01% of the marine ecosystem. Although this has its problems, these are by no means comparable in size and seriousness to the threat from degradation, which affects the bottom tiers, and in doing so, also every organism in the tiers above. Marine reserves which restore the fishing related damage at the top, have no whatsoever influence on the damage done by degradation. Mr Kemp should have been better informed.

Lapse of sanity?
Letter to the editor of MPA News
12 May 2004

The above Great Barrier Reef re-zoning decision to exclude fishing from 30% of the Marine Park was extensively reported on in MPA News Vol 5 No 10 as if it were the next best thing to sliced bread. We submitted a letter to the editor with the food pyramid diagram shown above, but it was not placed.

Lapse of Sanity?
The statements reported in MPA News (Vol 5 No 10) about the need to lock up 30% of the Great Barrier Reef park, cannot be left unchallenged. 

Australian Environment Minister David Kemp was quoted as saying: "The best scientific advice is that the most effective way to ensure that reefs are healthy enough to cope with these sorts of pressures (degradation from land-based pollution, the Reef's number one threat) is to protect at least 20% of all bioregions in no-take zones." It echoes the kind of thinking that is essentially wrong. Look at the diagram to understand why.

The diagram represents the food pyramid or web of relationships, beginning with a base of phytoplankton, and ending with the kinds of fish people catch. Relationships between organisms follow mainly from the bottom up, although some top-down effects apply. But essentially no amount of fishing will influence the quantity and quality of phytoplankton (top-down), whereas the reverse influence (bottom-up) is profound.

The threat from fishing consists mainly of taking a bite out of the top tiers of this pyramid. By contrast, degradation from land-based pollution affects directly the bottom tiers of the pyramid, thereby also influencing all others. The two threats are entirely unrelated and there is no way that the ecosystem offers more resilience when fishing stops. Potato cod cannot survive without healthy corals. 

It is obvious that our children will see this decision for what it really is: a lapse of sanity.

Look for instance at the more than a dozen coastal marine reserves in New Zealand. None is working because they are all degrading from bad to worse, losing both quantity and quality of life. They are unsustainable in the presence of the threat from land-based pollution. Yet some people clamour for more. How bizarre.

Visit for more.

Dr Floor Anthoni, director Seafriends Marine Conservation & Education Centre, Leigh, New Zealand.

[the editor of MPA News chose not to place this letter. One merely needs to be selective in order to lie.]

The naturalness of reserves was part of the rationale behind plans to re-zone the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, says Leanne Fernandes, manager of the park's Representative Areas Program (RAP).  RAP resulted in greatly expanded no-take areas for the park, effective 1 July (MPA News 5:10). "One of the reasons for the increased level of protection was to move the system as a whole - especially within the no-take areas - toward a higher level of natural integrity," she says.  "Preventing the take of target species, and of bycatch, has the flow-on effect of helping to restore the natural integrity of the local food webs."  That integrity, she says, will hopefully provide resilience to other pressures on the system, such as climate change.  Monitoring the effects of the new reserves will require study of target and non-target species and habitat changes over time. (MPA News 54, July 2004) A question of lock-up-and-hope?

Reef down to half its former self
by Brian Williams, heritage reporter for The Courier-Mail, Australia
June 24, 2004

Scientists have found that one of Australia's great natural jewels, the Great Barrier Reef, has lost about half its coral cover since the 1960s and is in rapid decline. They say most of the world's coral reefs are in crisis and are calling for a global response to turn the tide. About 40 percent of the reef had been covered in corals but this had fallen to about 20 percent. All of the decline was due to human impact, particularly global warming that had seen water temperature rise, starting coral bleaching events that killed corals.

David Bellwood of James Cook University in Townsville, co-author of a major review to be published in Nature magazine today, said the loss of coral was not a surprise to scientists who knew of the damage done by three major outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish since the 1960s and two large-scale bleaching events in 1998 and 2000.

"Data has been accumulating for years on this and we've now gotten around to pulling it all together and looking at the overall pattern," he said yesterday. The Caribbean had recorded an even steeper decline with some reefs down to fewer than 10 percent coral cover. The greatest threat to coral reefs were global warming, over-fishing and pollution.

Coral ecologist Terry Hughes, also from James Cook, said Australia had to invest more in renewable energy and less in fossil fuels if it wanted to protect the reef which contributed $2 billion a year to the economy.

Premier Peter Beattie said global warming could only be solved by global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions although Queensland was doing its bit through the phasing out of broad scale clearing of vegetation. "I am aware that substantial scientific evidence exists to support the concerns that land-based activities are causing pollution which is affecting inshore reef systems in particular," he said. The Government also required electricity retailers to source 15 percent of their power from alternative energy sources, at least 13 percent from gas and the remainder from renewable sources from next year.

Queensland tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said the reef was one of Australia's tourism gems and the report greatly concerns him. "Many overseas and domestic visitors go to Queensland because of the reef so we understand its value perhaps more than anyone else," Mr Gschwind said. The industry was doing all it could to introduce sustainable practices, including its own studies that examined climate change, nutrient run-off and sedimentation.

Professor Bellwood said the harvest of species such as parrot fish and surgeon fish should be cut because they ate seaweed that could choke corals.

Our comments
The admission that all is not well with the Great Barrier Reef comes many decades too late, as there are no management plans in place to remedy further decline. What will be done to prevent the reef from degrading to a quarter of its former self, which is entirely possible within two decades? It is disappointing that in the face of so much scientific and observational evidence correllating decline with land-based pollution carried by ever larger river plumes, is still so underrated. When scientists mention global warming, they should have mentioned climate change because the two are not entirely related. Yes, we are seeing climate change resulting in warmer places here and there, but also places becoming colder, like New Zealand, which points to a disruption of global water circulation.
The Reef's number one problem, like everywhere else in the world's coastal seas, comes from land run-off as so extensively documented on this web site. To even suggest that a mere 20 million people can change the course of fossil fuel burning is daft.Besides, the whole global warming scare is an elaborate fraud, extensively documented by us (must-read), as is the ocean acidification scare.