FRANCISCO United States (Xinhua) --
Researchers working around Kenya’s Lake
Victoria, a fishing community where locals battle high
rates of disease and a depleted fish stock, have found
that human illness exacerbates unsustainable fishing
Before this study, published Monday
in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, it has been known that a toxic environment is
known to create health problems for people.
While challenging the long-held assumption in
environmental research that human disease provides a
natural check to environmental exploitation and
demonstrates a new way that poor human health may harm
the environment, the study suggests that quality
healthcare could have benefits beyond human populations
and help people manage their environment and the
sustainability of those resources.
"Studies have suggested people will spend less time
on their livelihoods when they are sick, but we didn’t
see that trend in our study.
"Instead, we saw a shift
toward more destructive fishing methods when people were
ill," said Kathryn Fiorella, the lead author who was a
doctoral student in the lab of professor Justin
Brashares at the University of California, Berkeley,
during the study and now a postdoctoral scholar at
Understanding the links between human and
environmental health is critical for the millions who
cope with recurrent illness and rely directly on natural
resources for sustenance.
To study these connections, Fiorella spent three
months of each year of her graduate studies at Lake
Victoria, a place where health and the environment are
intertwined in complex ways and have been for decades.
Lake Victoria transformed after British colonists
introduced Nile perch, a predatory fish, to the lake in
the 1960s to support commercial fishing.
Nile perch quickly dominated the lake and caused the
extinction of hundreds of native cichlid species.
During the 1980s and 1990s, commercial fishing grew
around the lake and Nile perch started to decline, so
regulations were enacted to save the fishery.
During the same time, the HIV epidemic was spreading
throughout East Africa.
As Lake Victoria’s fishing community grew sicker, the
environmental exploitation of the fishery worsened.
To explore how illness was altering fishing
practices, the researchers tracked 303 households living
on Lake Victoria by interviewing them four different
times over a year.
They collected data about household health and
fishing habits and looked for trends during times of
sickness and good health.
Among active fishers, the study found limited
evidence that illness reduced fishing effort. Instead,
ill fishers shifted the methods they used.
When ill, fishers were more likely to use methods
that were illegal, destructive and concentrated near the
shoreline, but required less travel and energy.
They were also less likely to use legal methods that
are physically demanding, require travel to deep waters
and are considered more sustainable.
"When people are chronically ill, they have different
outlooks on the future," Brashares said.
"That different outlook means that they increasingly
rely on unsustainable methods because they’ re focused
on short-term gain."
"Healthy people, it turns out, are better for the
environment," Richard Yuretich, program officer for the
U.S. National Science Foundation’s Dynamics of Coupled
Natural and Human Systems Program, which funded the
research, was quoted as saying in a news release from UC
"When you feel well, you can plan the tasks you need
to accomplish more carefully.
"But when you’re sick, you often just want to get
things done fast, with the result that you may be more
"This project illustrates the complex relationships
we have with the world around us."