Travelling through these islands, the first thing that struck me was how untouched it looked from the surface. Lush landscapes, trees reaching to the heavens, no signs of the clear-cutting that was so prevalent in the Solomon Islands. But where are all the birds? Would it be the same below the surface?
Greeted with big shy smiles and warm welcomes wherever we went, we ventured into villages accompanied by our crewmembers who joined us from Fiji, one a native to Vanuatu. The locals would gather to listen to us preach the good word of Mother Nature.
It was astounding to learn that most, if not all who we spoke to were scared of sharks. Most had never seen a shark, it was simply word of mouth throughout the islands, ‘sharks are big with sharp teeth and want to eat us’. We learned that if sharks were caught in a net they would be killed out of fear. A culture and way of life whose very survival relies on the living breathing ocean, killing the very animal that keeps all that they treasure healthy.
We wanted to see sharks. Island fishermen took us to some reefs where there was supposed to be ‘plenty sharks’, beautiful reefs and ‘plenty fish’. My heart sank, smashed bleached corals, tiny schools of fish, and no sharks! That the water around the islands might be as untouched as the lush green forests, any thoughts of that were now gone. My interpretation of the word ‘plenty’ and that of the locals couldn’t have been more different.
The shark fin trade is having a devastating affect on the health of the oceans here. Korean businessmen are coming to these small villages offering twenty US dollars per kilo of shark fin. There is overfishing of Parrotfish and Yellowfin Tuna, illegal long lining, unreported catches, ships without licenses coming and going, and zero enforcement.
Outreach, education and enforcement are vital and much needed throughout the islands. The waters around Vanuatu are in big trouble, let us hope there is ‘plenty time’ to reverse the damage done.