Try to imagine a nature paradise that is open to the public and geared towards resource utilization for economic development. Do you think that area will sustain and survive for long without suffering a long-list of bad consequences?
While that may be the case for areas with poor management initiatives, Abrolhos islands is lucky to be protected under Australian laws and that its natural beauty will continue to exist for the next generation to come. The protection and conservation of Abrolhos islands was solidified through the plans, programs and policies of the Department of Fisheries through the Western Government of Australia, as follows:
Abrolhos Fishing Regulations
The policies under this section is applicable to those who intend to gather fish and other marine wildlife, regardless of fishing method and target quantity. You should also be aware that the fishing regulations in the West Coast Bio-region in terms of bag limits and minimum legal sizes is still applicable in Abrolhos islands. Here are some fishing regulations that are specific to Abrolhos islands, as follows:
10-Kilograms Daily Bag Limit per Person
Consequence: Even if you exceed over just a kilo of fish, or any other marine commodity for that matter, the excess will exponentially grow if everybody is doing it. Just imagine if there are a hundred fishermen with over a kilo of excess catch, that would easily convert to 100 kilograms of unregulated and prohibited catch. And that figure is just for a single day and will eventually sum up to 35 tonnes per year.
Fishing Ban for Baldchin Groper starts from November 1 up to January 31
Consequence: Before we proceed, please take note that Baldchin Groper are not groupers and you may think it is just a typographical error. Baldchin gropers (Choerodon rubescens) are a species of parrotfish that may grow up to 90 centimeters (35 inches). And if you think that it is okay to fish them out since parrotfish are the main culprits in the natural scarring of corals, then please think again since the species behind this natural coral damage comes from smaller species.
But why November 1 to January 31? The fishing ban for Baldchin Gropers is set in line with its spawning season where majority of the population congregate the inner islands of Abrolhos to facilitate the cycle of their existence. So, if you fish them out during spawning season, you will disturb its life cycle and potentially break the local cycle of food chain where other fish forage from their eggs and sperms. This ultimately will lead to a negative balance in the ecosystem of Abrolhos islands.
Lobster Season is only Open from October 15 up to June 30
Consequence: While lobster fishing is a major fishing industry in Abrolhos islands, regulating their catch would sustain their population existence. The open season for catching lobsters (in particular Panulirus cygnus or the Australian Spiny Lobsters) is only good for 8.5 months.
If you try to catch lobsters outside the open season, you will potentially disrupt a particular life cycle where its population is still recovering from the last open season. Just imagine, harvesting 10 kilograms per day of lobster outside the open season would equate to 2.5 tonnes per person per offseason. And this may include juveniles or undersized specimens.
Fish Spot specification to include Sea Lion Exclusion Device
Consequence: Sea lions are always attracted to lobster trapped inside the fish pot. However, getting inside the fish pot for an easy meal would also jeopardize them and may get in trouble with entanglement and would risk themselves with drowning.
This is the reason why all fish pots are equipped with a sea lion exclusion device to protect both the lobster catch and the life of a sea lion. Otherwise, you will expose your fish pot to damage, preying of the lobster and hurting the sea lions all at the same time.
Unauthorized Netting is not Permitted
Consequence: Before you are allowed to go fishing, regardless of method that you will be using, you need to secure a permit. This restriction is very valuable especially for net fishing. Net fishing is projected to gather more fish compared to fish pots and may potentially damage the marine ecosystem if deployed in areas where entanglement possibilities are high like coral reefs.
Gathering of Corals, regardless of form, type or species, is strictly prohibited
Consequence: For non-educated person, a piece from a mother coral would be the perfect gift you can bring back to your friends and family. While this can be a really good idea, you should know that by mere touching could stressed-out and damage an entire colony of corals. And just imagine how much damage if you break off a part of it? Worst if you gather an entire colony.
Allow us to give you a vivid projection: If there are 1,000 divers gathering at least a piece from a mother coral and these thousand divers equate to damaging an entire one square kilometer of healthy coral reef, this will result to the collapse of both corals reefs and the fish that relies on them as their home.
Trivia: Did you know that 1 square kilometer of healthy coral reef can support at least 20 metric tons of fish?
Wildlife Watching Regulation
Observing wildlife in Abrolhos islands is not prohibited. However, there are some policies being implemented to insure your presence will not disturb them and will leave little or no impact at all.
Avoid Bird Watching during breeding seasons
Consequence: You should be aware that Abrolhos islands is a breeding and nesting grounds for various seabird species. Although seabird breeding is not a year-round event, please make sure to avoid visiting their breeding and nesting grounds when breeding season comes. Further, you have to take extra care when visiting sandy areas, lagoons and mangroves during breeding season as these areas are their breeding site.
Our presence, when comes in close contact with seabirds especially during breeding season, will potentially disrupt their courtship and pre-breeding rituals where finding a mate is often the result of a long-fought battle between competitors. And by doing so, will not just potentially disturb a single mating pair, but the entire flock. Observing at least 50 meters from a seabird colony is a good practice.
Avoid Feeding Sea Lions
Consequence: For a layman, it feels good feeding a wildlife, especially sea lions, knowing that you helped them consume an easy meal. However, what you do not know is that the more you feed them, you make them more dependent on our presence for food which will eventually lead to the loss of their natural hunting skills.
This policy doesn’t just apply for sea lions, but also to other species of wildlife. Another major implication for this policy goes to a popular diving activity called fish feeding. There are some areas where fish become dependent on divers while giving them human food such as bread.
Report any Injured Wildlife
Consequence: Not doing this is just like doing it to a friend. The reason why we are going to Abrolhos islands is to witness wildlife at its best. So we have to treat any wildlife just like they are our own.
The best thing to do if you see any injured wildlife is to report it immediately to the Department of Parks and Wildlife (phone # 08-9921-5955) or to the Department of Fisheries (phone # 08-9921-6800) for a quick rescue.
This policy is applicable regardless if the vessel is use for recreational or commercial purposes.
Do not use anchors
Consequence: If you drop anchors especially on a reef area, it will drag itself along corals and will only secure itself until it holds a pretty strong and solid structure. To give you a conservative estimate of anchor damage: let us assume that a single boat needs to drag 5 meters of coral reefs in order for its anchor to securely fasten and let’s say there are a hundred boats doing it in a month. That violation will easily convert into a 6 kilometer (3.7 miles) of coral damage per year.
Avoid Impact and Damage to the Reef
Consequence: By now, you should know that cruising around Abrolhos islands entails navigating in shallow waters and the possibility of hitting your boat’s hull or propeller to the reef is always imminent.
While we don’t want that to happen to us, having your boat with the necessary navigational equipment coupled with charts, maps and local knowledge would significantly decrease the possibility of having a navigational-related accidents.
Empty Sullage Tanks at least one kilometer out at sea
Consequence: Wastewater coming from sinks, showers and bath can disposed out at sea but only if you are a kilometer away. The water coming from your sullage tank is presumed to be used-water and releasing out in the open sea will easily dissolve and integrate with the surrounding waters. However, we would like to highlight that this does not include septic tank where human and other fecal matter can easily contaminate our seas.
Other Common and General Regulations
No Camping and Bonfires
Consequences: We all love to set out our tents and sleep under the starry Western Australian Skies with a bonfire near to keep us warm. And don’t forget to bring marshmallows.
However, thriving temporarily in any island around Abrolhos would potentially damage its virgin state. Like for instance, the char produced from bonfires would significantly damage nearby plant species, not to mention the rubbish that we will be leaving behind. Remember, you have to take any rubbish away with you back to the mainland and dispose it properly. Modern day trash are mostly composed of plastics and if you leave it behind, it can potentially be blown away to critical habitats and can be consumed by wildlife.
No Pets Allowed
Consequences: There’s a debate that can be brought out from this policy. Pets are wildlife too, so why prohibit them in Abrolhos islands? Remember that our pets are domesticated and require our presence for them to survive. In turn, we give them food that may be organically or chemically processed. This in turn may release chemicals into the delicate environment of Abrolhos islands. This is on top of the fact that it may bring bacteria and other diseases that could potentially affect Abrolhos wildlife.
At the end of the day, our world is not perfect, and so does the people living in it. There will come a time that someone will violate the rule and potentially harm the natural resources in Abrolhos Islands. But we also guarantee that there is someone out there who is willing to protect this fragile ecosystem. And who knows, that person might be you . . . . or us.
For more information, please read our related article about Abrolhos islands.
Department of Fisheries – Government of Western Australia: www.fish.wa.gov.au/
Department of Maritime Archaeology – Western Australian Maritime Museum: www.museum.wa.gov.au/