The Great Napoleon Breakdown
That same week I spent hanging out with the fishes under Swell, I watched locals return day after day to fish the same spot in the reef. I could see them hauling up Napoleon wrasses. This great wrasse is an instrumental reef species, which can grow to nearly 400 lbs! One of the old men in the village explained to me that the fishermen sell the fish to the passing cargo ships for the equivalent of 1 dollar a pound. The ships then resell them in Tahiti to restaurants for triple that or more–as there are relatively no Napoleon wrasses left in the Society Islands, they’ve been almost completely fished out. This contributes to the out of control population of ‘crown of thorns’, a starfish-like organism that feeds on live coral. The Napoleon wrasse is one of its few predators.
So on the fourth consecutive day of Napoleon massacring, my curiosity got the best of me and I went to talk to the fishermen. It was a father and son, obviously fishing for a little food and money their family. How could I possibly tell them they shouldn’t take so many of these fish…How could I say anything, having lived a life of so many blessings. How could I explain that the Napoleons are
excruciatingly sensitive to overfishing, and that it was likely that they could kill off their island’s population in just a few seasons of this kind of relentless killing…? I couldn’t. They wrestled three up from the bottom as I drifted beside their boat. They proudly lifted the floorboards to show me the stock of 6 or 7 others they had caught before I arrived. One was not even a foot long.
I gently posed the question, “Would it be good to leave some that will continue to reproduce?”
“It’s ok.” The older man said. “There are SO many,”
…so many that it didn’t matter… “Would it matter to their grandchildren?” I wondered.
As the day went on, I tried to get the Napoleon wrasse off my mind, but I couldn’t. The megafauna of an ecosystem are historically always the first to take the brunt of the human hunt. And if a species isn’t prone to being hunted for something to eat or sell, it falls victim to the next wrung of human negligence–habitat loss. If it isn’t edible or valuable, then bulldoze it’s home, poison its waters, because it isn’t useful anyway…It was this kind of thinking that got us where we are today, on the brink of species extinctions in every habitat the world over.
I’d seen the same scene–island after island, port after port. But for some reason this particular island’s situation brought everything into painful perspective. It historically supported a small enough population of humans, as to be able to feed the population without depleting the fisheries and was remote enough that selling fish to other regions wasn’t possible. But like the world over, once an area had depleted its resources, populations look to neighboring areas: Tahiti now looks to the Tuamotus to supply much of its fish. But will the Puamotu people realize before they’ve taken too much? How long before their islands were as fish-depleted as Tahiti? It seems like a horrible broken record I’ve witnessed playing over and over all over the world in varied environmental scenarios. Each comes with its own mixed bag of political, cultural, and economic differences, but at the core they all seem eerily similar…And with the way the world works and basic human nature, we still seem far from where we need to be to collaborate and produce long-term, sustainable solutions to these problems!
That night I sat up on the bow of Swell. Looking up at the wide atoll sky, I suddenly started to cry. My tears came first for the napoleon fish. And then for the other reef fish that would be sure to follow. And then I cried for the next generations, who might only see a Napoleon wrasse in a photo…Tears came rushing out for the children, not only here on this tiny speck of island, but also for all the world’s children…what kind of world will be left for them? And surely they will ask us why we didn’t take better care of the Planet…The tears snowballed into sobs…and I cried on into the night, because the Earth is slowly dying: its biological richness depleting, its rivers and oceans and skies choked with our waste, its wildness tamed by bulldozers and plows…And still, the majority of the humans are either ambivalent, feel too powerless to do anything, or lack education. And individually, most of us are just doing our best to get by everyday…so who’s really at fault?
The tears eventually subsided, but one thought stuck with me: No matter how humans came to control this noble planet, I am certain we have greatly misinterpreted our role as Earth’s most ‘intelligent’ beings, tragically overlooking our duty to be stewards rather than looters, of this unfathomably awesome orb of life.
Emily ODecember 13, 2011
Liz – glad you’re back! Missed having your entries as an escape from/motivation out of my cubicle in San Francisco. It reads like you’re feeling a bit hopeless about climate change lately and I have this feeling maybe too often, so I thought I’d share how I deal w/ it.
In college I scored an internship with an environmental media company known for the film “The Eleventh Hour”. I was bright eyed, bushy tailed, and beyond excited to be involved with a non-profit dedicated to educating others on the fragile ecosystem we’re destroying, and what we can do to stop it.
Two weeks after my start date, I was more downtrodden than ever. Not only did working there highlight the impossible mass of problems before us, but the apathy of those near and far became even more highlighted. The hardest realization was that the majority of the apathy wasn’t that gross combination of laziness and evil I’d come to know in SoCal. Most countries don’t know any better, and the consequences of their actions that is so clear and upsetting to us doesn’t even occur to them.
My experience in the environmental realm was disheartening. I put so much into the movement but I couldn’t see us gaining any traction. As soon as we had a huge response from a college eco-tour, reality would smack me in the face as my roommate threw her Styrofoam in the recycle and her plastic in the trash without giving my *clearly* marked signs a second look, or I’d read an article about the ever-growing Great Pacific Garbage Patch. My own co-workers at a “green” company would buy cappuccinos everyday from the coffee shop downstairs without a reusable cup! My head was left spinning and I swore off working in the industry after that. Kind of. Five years later, I’m still preaching recycling rules to my friends and family and practicing the least consumption possible, even if I can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve learned the only way for me to handle the destruction we’re inflicting on our ecosystems (knowingly or unknowingly) is to do my part, sometimes loudly and other times quietly. So if you’re feeling hopeless and lost, keep doing your part even if it’s only because you don’t know what else to do. Lead by example, do what you can, and keep writing about it to spread the word. Then your voice and fight will return, and it will all be back on again.
And as we all know, a good surf never hurts. :D
auntieDecember 14, 2011
I LOVE YOU XOXO
auntieDecember 14, 2011
I LOVE YOU XOXO MY WONDERFULNESS
Capt LizDecember 15, 2011
Thank you so much for the note, Emily…don’t worry, I always bounce back…because we must! There is certainly nothing that crying is going to solve!…For some reason this particular incident hit home more than others, maybe because this place was still relatively so pristine that it felt more painful to witness than places that are already developed, fished out, and polluted…I’m not sure…? But this blog is all about sharing my experiences, observations, feelings…so I decided to write about it. This trip was founded on the idea in your comment. Change yourself, lead by example, and do your part to spread the word…I felt hopeless to change everybody else, so instead I decided to make my lifestyle my statement, and looked in the mirror instead of pointing fingers…I think all us tree huggers can relate to your story, it’s easy to get down about the realities of today. But it’s so nice to know you’re out there doing your best to do your part…Thanks for not giving up…maybe those styrofoam cup drinkers will surprise you with a mug in their hand one of these days!! Every bit counts! And I think the more we choose positive ways to go about spreading our message, the better chance to have to add members to the movement…so don’t worry, I’m smiling again!
And yes, a good surf can NEVER hurt!
NinaDecember 15, 2011
so true. so touching. so painful. so beautifully written. and so felt in the heart on my end.
Peace, love & aloha
NinaDecember 15, 2011
Just started reading this, but looks like it’s gonna be a good one:
“Deep green resistance” by Aric McBay, Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen….
KevinDecember 15, 2011
Well said, as usually Liz. I first read about the plight of the Napolean wrasse over 10 years ago in some obscure magazine. I think they suffer from the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. The South Pacific is so far away from most of civilization that we can’t possibly imagine that humans have negative impacts there. But reading stories from you and many other cruisers makes it obvious that the world is smaller and there are very few ecoosystems protected by mere isolation anymore.
JerryDecember 15, 2011
Liz, can I ask something of you? Please take your camera and tripod ashore one moonless and cloudless night and take a picture of the stars then post it. Most of us live in cities and have forgotten how awesome the night sky can be.
Rob SandersonDecember 15, 2011
Powerful. Those words will stick with me as I’m sure to all others reading this. Thank you for visiting places many of us don’t get the opportunity to and for bringing that world to us to help us make decisions in our daily lives.
AliDecember 15, 2011
Liz, excellent as usual. I find myself constantly conflicted as I feed myself from the sea. While I only am fortunate enough to eat meat once or twice a week, Am I not taking from the same pot as the local fisherman. I try and rationalize that I am just one person but in reality I’m the same person as those in the restaurants. The sea is dying but without it I would die. The whole reason I live the way I do is to create the smallest impact on this planet that I can. :( Ali
Sara SaloDecember 15, 2011
Liz – A wonderful story, as always. And I can totally relate. Traveling slowly is fantastic in that it allows you to experience culture on a much deeper level. However it truly is hard to find the balance between allowing people to live and voicing your opinion on how they might improve. In my world, I see kids eating unhealthy school food and yet it might be their only meal of the day. How do I tell them to make more wholesome choices when that is their only choice?
You are doing great things. Wipe your tears and set your sights on the future. We must keep believing, teaching and sharing at every opportunity. Take care!
BetsyDecember 15, 2011
Big hugs Liz. We have (all) been poor stewards of the many blessings of the earth. Continue to observe … enjoy …. respect … remember … share …. Honor the fishes with your words and memories. Love you lots xoxo ~ Betsy
WayneDecember 15, 2011
Thank you for sharing such a personal moment in your life.
It must be so difficult for you at moments like this, being alone and so many miles away from loved ones. My heart goes out to you.
When I sometimes feel there is no hope, I remind myself that mankind has been on this course for thousands of years; we can never get enough, it’s never big enough, I don’t care what it took to make it as long as I get mine, etc. It has only been a few decades that a few foreward thinking people have been sounding the warnings. It has only been a decade or so that the masses have begun to take notice. The movement is growing. More and more documentary’s are shown on the TV showing the very real consequences of our wasteful ways. People are starting to get it. People will change.
Every person you personally influence to change behavior is a victory and you should be very proud. Keep up the good work.
Capt LizDecember 16, 2011
Thank you so much for the all the supportive comments…don’t worry, I did bounce back…because we must! There is certainly nothing that crying is going to solve!…For some reason this particular incident hit home more than others, maybe because this place was still relatively so pristine that it felt more painful to witness than places that are already developed, fished out, and polluted…I’m not sure…? But this blog is all about sharing my experiences, observations, feelings…so I decided to write about it. This trip was founded on the idea in Emily’s comment. Change yourself, lead by example, and do your part to spread the word…I felt hopeless to change everybody else, so instead I decided to make my lifestyle my statement, and looked in the mirror instead of pointing fingers…I think all us tree huggers can relate to feeling down about the realities of today. But life will go on, in some form or another, with or without humans, and I find a small comfort in that…
I think the more we choose positive ways to go about spreading our message, the better chance to have to add members to the movement…so don’t worry, I’m smiling again!
And yes, a good surf can NEVER hurt! happy holidays! :) Liz