Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Recommit to the Web of Life

Published in the Fiji Times 30 January, 2014

Many communities, faith or otherwise are making the move to “go green”, to be environmentally friendly and encourage sustainable, organic farming, and eating and living healthy. The faith community I belong to has taken responsible stewardship of the environment and use of available land for sustainable farming as a key priority over the next few years. Sustainable land use, protection of the environment and healthy lifestyles are a good example of the interconnectedness or the web of life that exists and that we recognise within the understanding of the Vanua – not just the people but the land, sea, sky and all within it.

My old friend (old as in long-time not as in qase) Captain Jonathan Smith recently shared his concerns about the lack of this connection being made by people in Fiji. As the original skipper of the Uto ni Yalo and currently based on the Naia, Captain Jonathan travels the Fiji archipelago and Oceania and has seen firsthand some of the destructive practices we, in our ignorance or arrogance have adopted. Last Saturday, Jonathon released his tenth budle of undersized Qari or mud-crabs at the Suva Yacht Club. This bundle of undersized  qari was bought from the Suva market, some of which could fit in the palm of skipper’s hand. On sale that day were also undersized and pregnant or berried crayfish, octopus and fish.

“What meat can you get out of these? Nothing!” posted Captain Jonathan next to a picture of crayfish barely 6 inches long, in his Facebook album that records the event. “It’s sold in public and no one is doing anything about it.”

Captain Jonathan, who was this newspaper’s  Letters to the Editor writer of the year for 2012 is passionate about the conservation of marine life.

Although we heavily depend on the ocean, new fishing technologies, pollution, lax regulation, and a growing global human population with its higher demand for fish have all put the oceans health at risk, he said.”

In May last year, on the issue of beche-de-mer, he wrote, “Listen to the stories of your elders and live and learn by their examples. If the coastline and ocean was better looked after by not harvesting sea cucumbers (beche-de-mer, dri), which filters the sand and keeps the sand clean, there would be a lot of small fish along the coast which would attract the feeding bigger fishes and, in turn, would attract the bigger feeding fishes then you wouldn't have to paddle out far to fish because fish would be right there on your doorstep. Money made from sea cucumbers, dri, beche-de-mer is only short term”.

“Every animal that was put here on this Earth has a purpose to keep this Earth alive which in turn keeps us alive. You want to live longer, learn to respect nature.”

“In the old days, people weren't educated that much but they had a lot of common sense. Don't think of past generations as only memories. We can still learn a lot from them to better our lives.”

Whenever, I venture out onto Laucala Bay on my Stand-Up paddle board for a dawn paddle and have to walk over the rubbish from those who enjoy My Suva Park, or come across Styrofoam takeaway containers and plastic bags floating on the water, I wonder what it will take for us to change our attitudes.

Are the hundreds of people who use the seawall for lunch, or the beach willing to put in some time to clean up? Or do they regard it as someone else’s job?

Are the many people who go to the market and see the undersized seafood on sale willing to do something about it? Or will Captain Jonathan have to be a sole crusader?

Are we willing to control our appetites for long enough to allow the fish, crabs, kuita etc to grow to a size where we don’t have to wipe out the entire qoliqoli to satisfy our tastes?

The tuna industry is collapsing because of overfishing.

We are taking the gifts of nature for granted.

Perhaps it is because in this day and age even the proud human being has been reduced to a production resource to be managed and exploited for the profit of a few. We are no longer part of the web of life – we have become disconnected and nonreciprocal. We consume and we destroy and discard what is left.

Or maybe, we can take steps and encourage others to return to the web, to embrace our role, not as owners or exploiters of creation, of the environment – but as stewards, as guardians, as one of creation, part of the environment.

We can be part of a sustainable, environmentally-friendly family, community, even nation.

We can reconnect to the web of life, something that used to be a matter of pride and honour for us. In doing so we make an attempt to leave this world in a better condition than when we entered it.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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