A Tiny Island Chain Has Big Ambitions When It Comes To Protecting Their Livelihood–The Sea

Rapacious Global Over-Fishing Leads Tiny Island Chain To Seek To Impose Its Own Rules In Order To Survive. 

When the bullies of the world won’t do the right thing, sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands–no matter your size.

In an ambitious step, a tiny island chain in French Polynesia known as the Austral Islands has submitted a proposal to the French Polynesian government to set up a million square kilometer marine reserve in the waters surrounding the islands. The proposed reserve, called the Rāhui Nui Nō Tuhaa Pae (“the big rāhui of the Austral Islands”), would ban fishing ranging out 20 nautical miles from the islands, while creating buffers near the shore where locals could continue to fish for subsistence. Thus, the residents of the island would be able to continue to fish for a living, while still protecting the deep water fish from the depredations of the industrial fishing methods currently devastating the world’s oceans.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, which assisted in the drafting of the proposal, has stated that the area boasts “…one of the healthiest marine ecosystems on the planet.” The islands and the ocean surrounding them are home to a host of marine birds, nearly 400 species of fish, over a hundred types of coral, and 60 species of pelagic fish–meaning the ones that live in the open ocean.

Interestingly the notion of conservation is an ancient one with the islanders, who have long understood that, living on tiny islands with no native land-based protein sources, preserving the balance of life in the ocean was key to their survival. In fact the Polynesian word “Rāhui” means conservation, or restricting access to certain areas, and it is a concept embedded in the culture of the people who live there.

And watching as the world’s overfishing problem grew and grew, the islanders quietly began acting on their own to preserve their livelihoods as well as their lives.

“In the 1980s, we witnessed overfishing along our coastlines as modern fishing techniques and freezers arrived to our island,” said Tuanainai Narii, the mayor of Rapa, the biggest island in the chain. “We brought our fish stocks back to healthy levels by reinstating a coastal rāhui. Now we see what is happening in the larger Pacific and recognize that more must be done to conserve pelagic fish stocks, which is why we are calling for this marine reserve as a big rāhui on the open ocean.”

The islanders are hopeful the French Polynesian government will acquiesce to the proposal.

Of course, for a tiny nation like the Austral Islands to enforce the ban on fishing in a nearly 400,000 square mile area is not feasible.

But perhaps their actions can serve as a model on which responsibility for protection of the environment falls to those who live in said environment.

Since we can no longer trust the powers that be to do the right thing on their own, we’ll just have to lead the way.


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