Imagine being able to walk out your front door and select the fish you feel like eating right out of a trap. That’s life people here in the atolls. Families commonly build ‘fish traps’ in areas with shallow reef and current close to their homes. The traps are built from iron rebar or local wood stakes and some kind of plastic or metal fencing, and then fixed securely with nylon cord. The fish swim in with the current, then can’t find their way back out. For those without refrigeration, fish come right out of the trap before each meal. Many families here also make a living exporting fresh fish to Tahiti and Bora Bora, where demand is high due to more people, and overfishing and coral damage–which have caused severely decreased fish populations.
Unfortunately, the traps often catch species that the Puamotu people don’t eat—like sharks. They don’t like the taste of shark meat, but that doesn’t keep smaller reef sharks from accidentally swimming into the traps.
A friend came by one afternoon after an outing across the lagoon. “Look what we found in a fish trap!” Tevai said, holding up a sea turtle about the size of a turkey platter. “I don’t think she has eaten in a long time. She’s really weak. There were about 10 sharks in the trap with her and no fish left…soon enough she would have been lunch. We’re going to nurse her back to health before we let her go…”
I was thrilled, as many locals still don’t think twice about eating sea turtles, even though they are now illegal to hunt and extremely endangered. Before there were ships bringing beef up from New Zealand, sea turtle was the local ‘filet mignon’.
“And the sharks…” I asked. “Did you free them too?”
“No, we left the sharks. The owners of the fish trap recently moved to live in the village on the other side of the atoll, so they don’t often pass to check the trap. We reached in and grabbed the turtle, but we didn’t want to break their trap to let the sharks out.”
“Oh, I see.” I said. “Where is it anyway?”
“It’s far.” He said, pointing north. “About 7 miles up. Just past where that point sticks out…”
They sped off and I dove back into my whirlwind week of ‘spring cleaning’…
…but even up to my elbows in mildew and musty gear, I couldn’t stop thinking about those sharks…