Social and Ecological Dynamics of a Coral Reef Fishery

Montecristi region, Dominican Republic

           Coral reef fisheries are incredibly complex social-ecological systems. The waters off of the Montecristi region of the Dominican Republic - which borders Haiti on the northern coast - are home to an incredible network of coral reefs that boast among the highest fish biomass and live coral cover in the country. While the area is technically zoned as a marine national park, a lack of management resources has left the region largely unprotected. Heavy dependence on artisanal fishing in the region threatens the health of Montecristi reefs, which in turn threatens the food security and livelihoods of the many people who depend on them.

I am working with collaborators from Dartmouth College and AgroFrontera, a local nonprofit, to understand both the ecological and social dynamics of fisheries in the Montecristi region in order to guide effective fisheries management. On the social side, our aim is to engage with the individual fishing communities along the coast to understand the needs and practices of each community, develop community-level management plans, and bring communities together to create regional management that spans the Montecristi reef chain as a whole. Ecologically, we are interested in understanding the impacts of different fishing gears and practices as well as the spatial distribution of fishing effort within the region. We can use this information to guide our efforts in facilitating shifts from more destructive fishing practices to more sustainable ones. Our research has included ecological surveys in reef, seagrass and mangrove habitats; in-depth interviews with local fishermen and fish buyers; detailed catch and fleet effort data; and spearfishing selectivity studies using GoPros mounted on spearguns.

Collaborators & acknowledgements: Tyler Pavlowich and Dr. Michael Cox of Dartmouth College, Frederick Payton of AgroFrontera, the Buen Hombre fishermen - a quienes les dudamos muchisimas gracias - and Dartmouth's Dickey Center for International Understanding.


Wilson, M., T. Pavlowich, and M. Cox. 2015. Studying Common-Pool Resources over Time: a Longitudinal Case Study of the Buen Hombre Fishery in the Dominican Republic. Ambio: 1-15.

Cox, M., M. Wilson, and T. Pavlowich. 2016. The challenges of local governance: gear-based fragmentation in the Dominican fishery of Buen Hombre. Marine Policy 63: 109-117

Cox, M., F. Payton, T. Pavlowich, C. Resor, M. Wilson, and N. Dewees. 2017. The Dominican fishery of Manzanillo: A coastal system in transition. Ocean & Coastal Management.