Understanding human drivers of exploitation within the context of historical baselines can assist in better management of natural resources. Retrospective studies provide insight into the scale, nature, and timing of human influence on reef ecosystems. Using Papua New Guinea as a model, we assessed human influences on the historical status of reef resources through time. Reef resources were divided into seven ecological guilds, assessed over seven cultural periods and in reference to seven types of human influences. Ranking of ecological status and human influence was performed based on extensive bibliographical research. Evidence for periods of sustainability and depletion were found throughout historical and modern periods. More recently, acceleration in the rate of resource depletion has occurred as a result of increasing pressure at unprecedented scales. Subsistence lifestyles are becoming unviable or unattractive since the introduction of the cash economy during colonial times. Current challenges such as providing livelihood options and sustaining replenishment rates of reef resources have arisen from a long history of overexploitation that preconditioned the current status of reef resources under an economic climate of increasing demand for these resources. Studies of past human exploitation of reef resources can help to overcome the shifting baseline syndrome for fisheries management in marine ecosystems and help characterize the scale and intensity of human drivers influencing resource exploitation.
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Vol. 67 • No. 3