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Colombian navy protecting parrotfish after Seacology-supported ban takes effect

November 12, 2020

Parrotfish, brightly colored inhabitants of coral reefs named for their beaklike mouths, are essential for a healthy reef. The fish use their namesake beaks to scrape vegetation from the coral, removing algae that would otherwise smother and kill coral polyps. Unfortunately, the slow-moving fish are an easy target for spearfishers.They have been in decline in many reef ecosystems, damaging coral already stressed by ocean acidification and rising water temperatures.

But around some Caribbean islands, parrotfish are getting a chance to do their vital work undisturbed: The Colombian government banned catching parrotfish in the enormous Seaflower marine reserve in the central Caribbean. The country’s navy is enforcing the new rules and seizing illegal parrotfish catches. And according to a new report in Mongabay Latam, there is growing support among regional governments and NGOs to expand the Seaflower reserve across national boundaries, as far north as the Mesoamerican Reef.

Seacology played a big role in making the parrotfish ban a reality. Two years ago, we set out to help save parrotfish around the remote Colombian island of Providencia, in the Seaflower reserve. There, working with local NGO Fundación Providence, we launched an educational campaign in support of a ban on taking parrotfish. Restaurant owners, the local fishing community, and other stakeholders all got on board and agreed to stop catching and serving the fish. Local schools competed to write an official theme song for the campaign, which was broadcast on local media across the island.

With the public in support of parrotfish protections, the government announced its fishing ban. We were thrilled that it included not only Providencia Island but also the much larger neighboring island of San Andrés.

Much work remains to ensure that the ban is enforced. Even since the ban went into force, filleted parrotfish–labeled as a different kind of fish–has sometimes been sold to restaurants. Historically, most of the parrotfish catch was served to tourists, who make up an important part of the economy of San Andrés. Travel restrictions due to COVID-19 greatly reduced the presence of tourists, but when visitors flood back in, parrotfish populations may be threatened again. 

With coral reefs in decline worldwide because of spiking water temperatures and acidity, they need all the help they can get. Hungry parrotfish, munching away beneath the waves, are making the outlook just a little brighter.

Read a translation of the Mongabay article here.

Editor’s note: As we go to press, Providencia was hit by Hurricane Iota, a category 5 storm, causing widespread damage across the island.