Addition to ‘Wilderness’

Yesterday’s blog entry triggered the following comment from Joachim (SY Atanga). We cannot put it online without internet, but would still like to respond to it, clarify and give more background:

“Comment: Why do you think that you are disturbing nature less than anyone else.
If you really wanted to preserve the environment, you should fight for: rigid ancoring restrictions , closure of atolls for cruisers, visits of small morus only on organized tours….”

We are extremely considerate and cautious not to disturb wildlife, only observe from the distance with binoculars and tele lens.
Many other cruisers also act environmentally friendly, but unfortunately we witness many examples of the opposite. Reckless or simply thoughtless sailors anchor in coral, hunt coconut crabs and lobsters on remote atolls, neither considering that they are stuffing their freezers with endangered species nor that they disturb bird colonies with their behaviour. We see boaters letting their dogs roam freely ashore and leave their children to their noisy games. They have beach parties and bonfires. Kitesurfers spend days on the beach and in the shallow water off sandy motus.
Of course all that’s perfectly fine to do on 95 % of all motus here in the Tuamotus, because they have been ‘cleared’ long ago and are now barren, lifeless coconut plantations. On the few remaining bird motus with decidious trees and shrubs on the other hand, it’s not okay. Even a harmless beach walk can cost lives–a young masked booby chicks dies within 15 minutes from exposure when the parents are shied away. Ground nesting species (e.g. brown boobies, masked boobies, tropic birds, sooty terns, etc.) have disappeared almost everywhere.

We try to inform fellow cruisers, put up info sheets how to anchor around coral, write articles and directly address neighbours in the anchorage (not always a way to make new friends). We fully agree with Joachim that only a strict ban on certain areas (that unfortunately hits eco-friendly cruisers as well) can achieve the necessary protection. The inner zone of a biosphere reserve (like in the Commune of Fakarava, Aratika, Kauehi, Raraka, Niau, Toau and Taiaro) is supposed to achieve just that. Theoretically those inner zones are off limits for everybody. Theoretically. Unfortunately those laws are not enforced (or only partly and rather senselessly, like when we were told that it was forbidden to sail over a protected corner in the lagoon of Aratika…). Locals are exempted in Fakarava and Aratika anyway…

In fact not only cruisers cause damage, the local population often shows even less awareness of nature or inclination to protect it. Copra workers keep burning wooded motus, introduce rats and nonos with their boats and copra bags and actively steal eggs and chicks from seabirds. Cruisers who make local friends are often encourage to join in this ‘traditional lifestyle’. It’s true, the Paumotu (people of the Tuamotus) have always hunted and collected, but the village elders used to ensure sustainable use by putting a rahui (ban, taboo) on certain species or areas for a while. Due to the influence of the European colonialists this traditional knowledge was unfortunately lost in most places.

It would be ideal if the government revived the tradition of the rahui, or if that fails, to replace it with modern rules. The population should be educated and informed. Unfortunately Tahiti is not really concerned with environmental protection and the few existing laws (biosphere zones, ban on hunting turtles, etc.) are not executed.

We have been working actively for years to protect the environment. We inform Te Mana o te Moana (organisation to protect reefs and turtles, based in Moorea) and send reports to the ornithologist society in Tahiti (SOP Manu, the reason for our visit here). Whenever we find motus worth protecting (there are only a handful left in all the 78 atolls) we approach officials (mayors, principals, teachers) to raise awareness of how precious their wilderness motus are. Sometimes we get positive feedback–locals often don’t even know that it’s a special feature for an atoll to have land and sea birds. The people of Raroia were thrilled when we assured them that their motus with primary forest are a nature gem and agreed that they must be protected for future generations.
Unfortunately we sometimes just hit walls, like in the case of the wildlife gem Tahanea, which we struggled to get some protection for years. After it was left uninhabited for decades, many rare species had returned until people from the neighbouring atoll Faaite started doing copra again. We watched the sea bird colonies dwindle, talked to the mayor of Faaite, informed environmental protection organisations and even bothered the ministry of environment–to no avail. Tahanea belongs to Faaite and they can ruthlessly use its ressources.

We keep searching for spots with wilderness, get disappointed in many cases, but sometimes we find a place that is a really pleasant surprise (like this one here).

1 comment

  1. Phillip Perfitt says:

    As cruisers in the atolls, we have done some of those things without realizing the impact. Thanks to Pitufa’s crew speaking up without condescending, we now know better. You turn your concerns into actions, not always successfully, but always with conservation of nature in mind. Don’t ever change! You’re doing great work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.