Fishermen who communicate make the environment healthier.

Hakai takes a sociological look at an ecological problem, with research that shows marine environments are measurably healthier in areas where fishermen communicate openly about what they’re catching where and when:

A team led by Michele Barnes, a social scientist at James Cook University in Australia, interviewed almost 650 fishers across five coral reef fishing communities to document how they cooperated and established rules. They also looked at the gear the fishers used, the species they caught, and evaluated local reef conditions.

“Kenya is very dependent on reef fishing,” says Barnes. “And, like many places across the globe, they’re facing serious issues about the state of their reefs.”

The researchers found significantly more fish and higher biodiversity in the hunting grounds near three of the five communities. These were sites where competing fishers communicated more openly about where and how they fish. These fishers also tended to discuss their operating rules and worked to resolve conflicts. “They had less variation in their vision of the resource and had developed stronger commitments toward managing it,” says Barnes. The team was careful to rule out other environmental and social factors that might have accounted for the differences seen on the reefs.

When people are engaged both with each other and with a common resource, they tend to form cooperative relationships, says Barnes. Not all community engagement is the same, however. The study found that only cooperation among fishers who are competing for the same species results in higher reef biomass.

You can read the study here.