Animals & Wildlife Magazine

Bay of Bengal: Depleted Fish Stocks and Huge Dead Zone Signal Tipping Point

By Garry Rogers @Garry_Rogers

GR:  Dead zones will spread across marine fisheries in the coming years. With rising sea level, stronger storms, and humid low-country heat waves, humans will begin to abandon coastal lowlands and move inland. For decades, we’ve know that we needed to reduce our population and our consumption of land, energy and water. We didn’t do it. So we exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity. As geophysical systems change and biological ecosystems collapse, tipping points at sea, across arctic ice, and on land will initiate gnawing consequences. There is growing belief that dystopian Earth is unavoidable now. The article includes maps.

Bay of Bengal: depleted fish stocks and huge dead zone signal tipping point
“The Bay of Bengal’s basin contains some of the most populous regions of the earth. No less than a quarter of the world’s population is concentrated in the eight countries that border the bay1 [footnotes refer to references at the end of the original article]. Approximately 200 million people live along the Bay of Bengal’s coasts and of these a major proportion are partially or wholly dependent on its fisheries2.

“For the majority of those who depend on it, the Bay of Bengal can provide no more than a meagre living: 61% of India’s fisherfolk already live below the poverty line. Yet the numbers dependent on fisheries are only likely to grow in years to come, partly because of climate change. In southern India drought and water scarcity have already induced tens of thousands of farmers to join the fishing fleet3. Rising sea levels are also likely to drive many displaced people into the fishing industry.

“But the fisheries of the Bay of Bengal have been under pressure for decades and are now severely depleted4. Many once-abundant species have all but disappeared. Particularly badly affected are the species at the top of the food chain. The bay was once feared by sailors for its man-eating sharks; they are now rare in these waters. Other apex predators like grouper, croaker and rays have also been badly hit. Catches now consist mainly of species like sardines, which are at the bottom of the marine food web5.

“Good intentions have played no small part in creating the current situation. In the 1960s, western aid agencies encouraged the growth of trawling in India, so that fishermen could profit from the demand for prawns in foreign markets. This led to a “pink gold rush”, in which prawns were trawled with fine mesh nets that were dragged along the sea floor. But along with hauls of “pink gold” these nets also scooped up whole seafloor ecosystems as well as vulnerable species like turtles, dolphins, sea snakes, rays and sharks. These were once called bycatch, and were largely discarded. Today the collateral damage of the trawling industry is processed and sold to the fast-growing poultry and aquaculture industries of the region6. In effect, the processes that sustain the Bay of Bengal’s fisheries are being destroyed in order to produce dirt-cheap chicken feed and fish feed.

“In Myanmar, until a ban was enacted in 2014, the catch collected by foreign fishing boats was 100 times greater than that of local fishermen10. In the troubled Arakan region, where 43% of the population is dependent on fisheries, catches have declined so steeply that many families are mired in debt11. Conflicts over fisheries and other resources are a significant but largely unnoticed aspect of the explosive tensions of the region.

Bay of Bengal: depleted fish stocks and huge dead zone signal tipping point

Green spots seen from the International Space Station are the lights of fishing boats used to attract squid across the Gulf of Thailand. Photograph: ISS/Nasa

“The dead zone of the Bay of Bengal is now at a point where a further reduction in its oxygen content could have the effect of stripping the water of nitrogen, a key nutrient. This transition could be triggered either by accretions of pollution or by changes in the monsoons, a predicted effect of global warming.” –Amitay Gosh and Aaron Savio Lobo (More:  Bay of Bengal: depleted fish stocks and huge dead zone signal tipping point | Environment | The Guardian).

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