Captain Pat, the ocean and the fish.
A few weeks ago I went to visit Captain Pat.Captain Pat lives in Kona on the other side of the island and kindly allowed me to stay the night in his cabin by the beach so I could make it to the Surfrider Foundation catamaran party on a Sunday morning.
We talked about Hawaii, marine ecosystems, fishing, ocean degradation etc… Below are a few sound words from this man that has lived on the Big Island for over 30 years.
“First and foremost there is the golf course problem” he says: all the golf courses were poorly designed, and every time it rains the fertiliser (mainly nitrogen) runs all the way down into the ocean causing eutrophication (nutrient enrichment), algal blooms and fish die-off.Then, there is a collection of issues that together seriously threaten the Hawaiian marine ecosystem. I must start by explaining why Hawaii, and the Kona coast is such a pristine habitat for marine life. Indeed, due to the volcanic origin of this island, about a mile out from the coast there is a huge drop beneath the surface of the water, and another mile out there is another large drop where the waters suddenly become very deep, very fast. This creates a ledge and a cliff and allows the cold water to upwell close to the coast creating a perfect environment for fish.
problem #1: no fishing licenses needed in Hawaii. You can see how a bunch of hooligans can suddenly deplete the fish population. In addition, this means there is no money coming in from boat licensing and going to the Fish and Wildlife Services to help protect the ocean
problem # 2: no laws or limits on the number of fish one can catch and keep. One can see how this leads to greed and overfishing…
problem # 3: no seasons. Indeed, Hawaii is a tropical island and there are no seasons where the fish population can stabilise and recover.
problem # 4: no enhancement strategies; no hatcheries like in Alaska to help sustain fish populations.
problem # 5: an unregulated, yearly fishing competition for marlin fish. There is no gender regulation, no quotas, no enforcements.. nothing. People from all over the world come to Hawaii every year to catch the biggest marlin and throw it back in the water. Does it survive? No, because it is worn out . Catching the biggest marlin means catching the heaviest, which happens to be the pregnant marlin carrying millions of eggs. You can start to understand the problem, but it doesn’t end here.Marlin, he says is probably “the top predator on this planet” . Why? because it is a gigantic fish that doesn’t have any predators (sharks from time to time) . Sure, elephants and tigers are big and strong, but these are terrestrial mammals, and the ocean is much bigger than land (representing 71% of the planet). What does marlin eat? tuna. One might think it’s a good thing to catch marlin for fun, that way we will have more tuna to eat! Nope, that’s not the way it works. Ecosystems are designed the way they are for a reason. The marlin keeps marine ecosystems healthy by catching the easy prey: the injured tuna, or the tuna that has a mutation. In this way, the marlin essentially keeps the tuna gene pool healthy by the process of selectivity.
In sum, humans are making the food chain collapse which is catastrophic. The fish will not just take care of themselves if we keep depleting the resources at the rate we are going.
After this frightening conversation, I felt like my contribution to ocean conservation via Plastic Tides and ocean plastic pollution awareness is such a small part of the problem and I felt a sense of helplessness. Nevertheless, that afternoon I went onboard a catamaran to go snorkelling in the protected marine sanctuary: Kealakekua Bay. I was hopeful that there would be lots of beautiful fish to observe.
As I swam out from the catamaran away from the deep blue ocean I approached the coast and saw a lot of grey beneath me. As I approached the coast the grey became more clear: it was all bleached coral.
There were some pretty fish, but after swimming around for an hour I was very disappointed. The exquisite marine life I was expecting to see in a marine protected area (one where boats are not allowed to anchor, where people are not allowed to walk on shore) the sights were very frightening.
Pat was right, the effects of our neglect lay beneath my eyes.
Sure, this bleaching can be explained by the very strong El Nino we had this year but nevertheless, humans are negatively impacting planet earth.
While this is quite depressing, it’s not too late to fight and make positive changes. Marine protected areas have been shown to help revive sea-life such as some of those initiated by the great ocean explorer Sylvia Earle.
and hopefully we will inspire the future generations enough to make a difference: