We humans have always had the tendency to exploit our natural environment – nothing new there.
But let’s put all other environmental exploitations aside and focus on our marine ecosystems, and how human activities threaten it daily.
Guided by greed and the mindset “if I don’t take everything now, then someone else might take it instead”, we humans have given birth to an ocean of problems, problems like; overfishing, pollution, and climate change – all of which makes up the three greatest threats to our marine ecosystems.
So why is the desire to exploit our oceans such a common trait and so hard to avoid?
Well for one, modern fishermen catch fish for money and not to put on the dinner table. So in other words, fishermen aim to catch as much as possible because a bigger catch equals a bigger paycheck.
And when catching as much fish as possible becomes the primary objective, the line between sustainable fishing practices and destructive ones thins out into nonexistence.
So how does overfishing affect our oceans?
Overfishing is when fish are caught faster than its population’s ability to replace itself through natural reproduction. So obviously, the first initial impact is the decline in fish stock or even threats of extinction for some fish species.
Another impact would be the disruption of the Marine Food Chain. When a marine species is fished to the point of extinction, other marine life that rely on that particular species as a source of food will end up starving and eventually (possibly) dying out too.
In short, this causes a chain reaction meaning that when one species dies out, others may passively follow.
As mentioned above, destructive fishing practices also cause a huge problem for marine life. An example of this would be intensified fishing of a specific species like the grouper (gatala) during its aggregate spawning period (i’afaanoa) which affects the species ability to reproduce.
Furthermore, another example of a destructive practice is when purse seiners set their nets around species of special interest or concern. This is where large commercial vessels haul in everything including juvenile fish, turtles and sharks.
What about Samoa? How are our local waters faring against such issues?
According to CI Samoa’s Associate Programs Officer, Maria Fiasoso Sapatu, who has an extensive background in the marine field, Samoa’s waters faces a number of threats.
“Our coastal waters are subject to much pollution from poor waste management and destructive fishing practices such as destruction of corals in gleaning for invertebrates, fishing undersized fish that have yet to mature to spawn or have been fished during spawning such as egg bearing lobsters you see at the domestic markets,” she explained.
“While in our offshore waters, there are concerns of localized depletion of fish stocks given the increasing number of fishing effort by both domestic and foreign fleets, particularly becauseSamoa has the smallest Exclusive Economic Zone in the Pacific.
“And of course, there is the changing weather that impacts the behavior/life cycle of marine life and the health of live corals.”
So what can we do to prevent this issue from getting worse?
Ms. Sapatu explains that the key to truly protecting our waters is through voluntary compliance towards existing Government regulations and policies that are set to help sustain Samoa’s marine ecosystem.
Furthermore, she added that the great efforts by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E.) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (M.A.F.) in the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (M.P.A.) and Fish Reserves have proven successful in managing Samoa’s marine resources.
“Continuous awareness on these issues is important too as once the public are well informed, they will become the change that’s needed,” she added.
“A great example of one continuous awareness program is M.A.F.’s AGRO show which they will be running this week. I urge members of the public to visit and gain more understanding on the current status of our oceans and initiatives that are being implemented to tackle ocean threats.”
Aside from above mentioned issues, our marine ecosystems are also exposed to many other human induced problems.
One such problem is climate change and global warming leading to issues such as; coral bleaching – corals act as homes and breeding grounds for fish but are highly sensitive to the rising temperatures; fish migration – fish are escaping heating waters and are migrating towards the poles in response to this; and drowning of wetlands, such as mangroves, due to sea level rise – this also threatens coral reefs and sea grass meadows since they can only photosynthesize in relatively shallow waters.
Other related issues include; ocean acidification, increased surface run-off of soil and other terrestrial matter due to increased natural disasters and climate anomalies, and pollution (details on impacts of pollution on marine life can be found in an article titled “Apia’s growing litter problem an eyesore” published by the Samoa Observer last week).
When implementing CI Samoa’s ‘Guardians – Tausi Lou Fa’asinomaga’ campaign (campaign details can be found on Conservation International Pacific Islands Facebook Page), the M.A.F.’s – Fisheries division representative, Catherine Esau, led the ‘Wise Fishers’ Module highlighting many of the above mentioned issues.
Ms. Esau taught the children of targeted communities on the importance of Fish Reserves, M.P.A.’s, impacts of destructive fishing practices, the importance of the marine food chain and other marine related lessons crucial for those who wish to become wise fishers.
And when the majority of the Pacific is covered by ocean, protecting it should be a top priority.