On August 22nd, we bid farewell to the Marquesas, setting a course from Fatu Hiva to Fakarava and then on to Rangiroa, the two largest atolls in the Tuamotus. It’s a three-day sail, about 600 miles, between the two island groups. Where the soaring volcanic mountains of the Marquesas rise to over 4,000 feet, the Tuamotu atolls are just above sea level. Yet these very different island groups are at the center of a singular global challenge: sustainable fishing.
Returning to Rangiroa
|Blast from the Past
One of my dives in Rangiroa over 40 years ago was so spectacular that I was eager to record my impressions. Here’s a 1-minute audio clip from 1976:
Click here for transcript.
I was particularly excited to revisit the Rangiroa atoll. I have such vivid memories of the diving I did there 40 years ago during my Firebird trip. In fact, the best diving of that entire 3-year journey around the world was in Rangiroa.
Returning to the atoll now is such a treat, especially with Francesca by my side and our dear friends John and Elise joining us for this part of our travels.
Time almost standing still
We anchored off the Kia Ora Hotel where we joined about 16 cruising yachts in anchorage. It’s the same spot we anchored at over 40 years ago, and things really haven’t changed that much. The hotel looks the same, although it has expanded to about twice its original size, and they’ve done some remodeling. I would have to say it’s still the nicest hotel in the Tuamotus.
Swimming among the sharks
When John and Elise arrived, we were excited about exploring the Blue Lagoon. It’s located on the other side of Rangiroa from where we stayed. We made the hour-long trip in a small motorized boat called a ponga in winds up to 20 knots, making for some good-sized waves and one pretty wild trip.
When we finally arrived, we were rewarded with a fabulous swim among hundreds of sharks, mainly blacktip reef and lemon sharks, big ones and little ones, and then off to a barbecue with great Tuamotan music. We all had a wonderful time.
Protect the fish, protect the economy
In French Polynesia, fishing tops the list of income producers, just below tourism and pearl farming, and the strength of all these businesses depends on a healthy marine ecosystem with a sustainable fish population.
The territory, it turns out, is uniquely positioned to be a leader in protecting fish stocks. It has jurisdiction over a vast area of ocean water – almost 2 million square miles – with the world’s healthiest and largest fish populations. In fact, it’s the world’s largest contiguous exclusive economic zone. So, when these waters are properly protected, it can make a positive impact on ocean conservation not only in the Pacific but on a global scale.
Essentially none of these waters are adequately protected today, so the French Polynesian government set an initial marine conservation goal to protect at least 20 percent by 2020. The Global Ocean Legacy team at the Pew Charitable Trusts is helping this important endeavor I’m watching this initiative with great interest and certainly cheering them on.
Getting the word out
I suppose that if fishing is your livelihood, it’s much easier to keep it top of mind. For the rest of us, it may take a little nudging to become better informed and ultimately take action. One quick way to get up to speed is reading World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky. It’s a great book I came across that’s actually written (and illustrated) with school kids in mind, but it’s also a quick primer for adults.
Kurlansky describes just what the crew and I experienced during our Pacific Ocean crossing, namely that the fish population is disappearing. He describes how overfishing, pollution, and climate change have combined to drive many species to commercial extinction with unintended, yet devastating, effects on other species and the environment. But he also shares ideas on what we can do to protect them.
He describes one solution that I found fascinating. Fish caught on hook and line fetch higher prices than fish by a net. He explains how this growing trend can help reduce the particularly destructive fishing practice of bottom dragging, the pulling of a net along the sea floor scooping up everything in its path.
Unlike fish caught on a hook and line, fish caught by bottom dragging spend hours crushed in the net and arrive at market mangled and bruised. The fish are sorted accordingly with line-caught fish fetching higher prices. So fisherman using a hook and line can earn more while reducing destruction to marine life. There are many types of fishing methods from bottom trawling to trolling, each with its own effect on our oceans. If you’re interested in more detail, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Fishing & Farming Methods is a good read.
Dining on sustainably caught fish
Kurlansky includes a great pocket guide (see below) in his book from the Seafood Watch program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California on the best fish to choose, good alternatives and ones to avoid based on the environmental impact of how it was caught or farmed. Take a quick look to see if you can find your favorites. Hopefully they are on the Best Choices list!
If you love sushi, you may also want to take a look at the Seafood Watch pocket guide for sushi . You may unwittingly be eating endangered species. For example, if you like maguro or toro from the sushi bar, you may be surprised to know that bluefin tuna is methodically being hunted to extinction to satisfy the world’s sushi craving.
Another good tool is looking for the distinctive blue “Certified Sustainable SeaFood MSC” logo on labels. It’s a certification program from the Marine Stewardship Council to help consumers identify fish caught through sustainable means.
Healthy fish, healthy body
As many of you know, fish oil is one of the best sources of the omega-3 fatty acids, which have so many health benefits, not the least of which is heart health, mental sharpness and joint comfort. These are my top three reasons for including Nutrilite Heart Health Omega in my regular routine, whether at home or sailing. Knowing that these omega-3s are harvested with the environment in mind is especially important.
The omega-3’s for Nutrilite products are sourced from schooling fish such as anchovies, mackerel and sardines found in one of the most productive marine enviroments in the world. This thriving ecosystem is created by the cold, nutrient-rich Humboldt Current System off the Pacific Coast of South America. Omega-3’s are also sourced from salmon harvested from cold, pure fjords at state-of-the art facilities in Norway. Harvesting a variety of fish from various locations in this way is an important aspect of Nutrilite’s environmental stewardship that helps maintain a healthy, balanced fish population.
The bottom line
It would be a sad day if fish were no longer on the menu or in our supplements. The good news is change is afoot to protect our global fish stocks including better government protection of valuable marine ecosystems, fishermen shifting to more ecofriendly practices and individuals choosing to consume more sustainably caught fish. Let’s keep the momentum going. After all, it all adds up to a future with lots of fish, which is a very good thing.
Well, that’s it for now. We will be setting a course for Ahe later this afternoon. The last time I was on Ahe was 40 years ago with the Firebird crew when we had the opportunity to meet the remarkable French sailor Bernard Moitessier. I’m interested to see how it has changed over the years and will report back soon.
Keeping Plastic Out of Fish
Research out of Stanford University shows promise for tackling one particularly troublesome type of plastic that makes its way into ocean ecosystems to be consumed by fish: the plastic foam cup.
Stanford engineers discovered that the common mealworm has the ability to biodegrade Styrofoam and other forms of polystyrene, the type of plastic used in foam cups.
When they fed mealworms a diet solely of polystyrene, the researchers found the worms were just as healthy as worms eating a normal diet. Turns out, mealworms possess gut bacteria that can safely biodegrade the stubborn plastic. Results of this plastic-eating mealworm discovery are published in the October 2015 issue of Environmental Science and Technology. Encouraged by their discovery, the Stanford team hinted that searching for a marine equivalent of the plastic-digesting mealworm could be a future area of research.
Avoiding the use of plastic foam cups is just one small change you can make to help keep plastic out of our oceans … and out of our fish.
What better time for change than now?
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PS.S. You’ll find some of our favorite photos in Double X Album 7: Tuamotus. And for a fun comparison to 40 years ago, check out Firebird Album 3: Tuamotus & Society Islands. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!