November 28, 2009
Today I saw one of the most profoundly sad scenes I have ever seen. Right before a small group of wanifunzi (Kai, Anton, Zach, Heather, Peggy and I) arrived at Maziwe, the legally protected coral reef, with some of our Tanzanian friends, some local fisherman had (illegally) dynamite fished in the area. They fled the scene as soon as we arrived, but as soon as we started snorkeling it wasn’t hard to see what they had done.
A large and fresh dynamite scar marred the bottom of the ocean floor, decimating a section of fire coral. The bodies of fish of all sizes were everywhere. Kai, Heather and I dove down and collected many of them. There were a few decent sized groupers and goat fish, what seemed like an entire school of small snappers, a few parrot fish, an angelfish or two and hundreds of tiny fish about the size of my thumb. We debated about taking them back to shore with us to dissect and study further, but ended up under the advice of our Tanzanian rafiki, leaving them at the reef because Maziwe’s status as a protected reef means that nothing should be taken from it, even if it is already dead.
It’s just incredible to me that people can continue using techniques as obviously unsustainable as dynamite fishing. The damage it does to the reef is indisputable. Can’t the fishermen understand that by hurting the reef system, they are also hurting their future catches? That there won’t be any more fish to catch if they don’t have the habitat they need to survive?
It is so easy to think of the ocean as this huge, untamed and inexhaustible expanse of open water that provides food of all sorts for the masses of the world. But it is really important to remember that massive as it is, like anything else it does have its limit. I’m not saying that I think no one should eat fish – just that like anything else, there are sustainable ways to go about doing so that are better than others. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has published a really great set of guidelines, listing tasty and sustainable types of fish to be eating depending on what part of the world one is in. If you haven’t looked at it before, I’d recommend checking it out! Whether or not it inspires you to make any changes in fish eating habits, it is pretty interesting. I’ll leave the URL for it at the bottom of this post.
I’ve got to go now and work on a power point presentation about zebras!