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Improving reef resilience through sustainable fishery management on Diego Garcia

OPL team members involved

David Curnick & Claire Collins


Bangor University & University of Guam


Chagos Archipelago


2021 - 2023

Project description

Coral reefs are threatened by localised fishing pressure, pollution and disease, in addition to global climatic change. Effective management of local threats has been shown to significantly improve reef resilience to climate change impacts.

The Morale, Welfare and Recreation Department (MWR) of the United States Military provides daily fishing opportunities to personnel on Diego Garcia, targeting ecologically important and vulnerable coastal predators, such as groupers, and removing over 20t of fish annually. The fishery is poorly documented, and its impact on reef health is unknown, as is the sustainability of current extraction rates. Furthermore, current fishing guidelines lack clarity and are too complicated to be effectively enforced (Spalding 2018). In addition, there is a larger shore-based (creel) fishery primarily undertaken by the ~2,000 support staff. This fishery remains poorly understood and unregulated. Stakeholders across both fisheries are generally disengaged with conservation and science work in the territory. It is imperative that both fisheries are conducted sustainably, recognising the ecological importance and rarity of Diego Garcia's near-pristine reefs; whilst providing  opportunities for the Diego Garcia community to engage and become active stakeholders in reef conservation.

In this project, we aim to:


  1. Systematically review the impact of the fisheries on Diego Garcia’s reefs;

  2. Identify spatial and temporal hotspots for biodiversity across the atoll (e.g. spawning behaviour);

  3. Ascertain the levels of understanding of existing fisheries regulations and marine conservation amongst island personnel.


It will also determine the societal importance of both fisheries, and how the social benefits differ between stakeholder groups. Collectively, this project will therefore provide the ecological and social baselines needed to develop implementable guidelines to improve fishery management. These will benefit all island personnel as a more sustainable fishery model safeguards long-term fishery persistence and the provision of social benefits, whilst minimising impacts to local marine biodiversity.

This project is a collaboration between the Zoological Society of London, Bangor University (Dr Ronan Roche) and the University of Guam (Dr Brett Taylor) and is funded by the Darwin+ initiative under grant DPLUS127.

GPTempDownload 6.JPG

Recreational fishing opportunities around Diego Garcia are varied and include trolling for game fish such as tuna and wahoo

Image courtesy of David Curnick

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