Reporter’s Journal: Disappearing Home

May 7th, 2014

By Melati Kaye

Copyright (c) 2014 Melati Kaye.

A boy takes in the sunset on Barang Lompo, one of the Spermonde Islands in Indonesia. The loss of local reef cover from destructive fishing practices and soil runoff from the nearby city of Makassar exposes islands like Barang Lampo to extreme weather. Over the last thirty years, this tiny island, like others in the region, has lost a tenth of its landmass from the erosive force of storm surges and increasingly larger waves, according to researchers at Universitas Hasanuddin in Makassar. Island communities have built cement walls to halt the loss of landmass, such as the parapet that this boy is resting on.

This photo was taken by’s Special Reporting Initiatives fellow Melati Kaye, who is reporting on the state of the fishing industry in Indonesia.

Reporter’s Journal: Fighting poachers and Mother Nature

April 7th, 2014

Copyright (c) 2014 Amy E. West

Fijians communities are largely in charge of managing their waterfront. Volunteer fish wardens in the village, appointed by the chief or the Minister, are the only official members of a village who can legally stop poachers. Though they rarely have any equipment to enforce protection of their tabus (swaths of temporarily protected marine areas inside their fishing grounds), they are harder pressed to fight the effects of climate change. Off the Fijian island of Taveuni sits Waitabu Marine Park, which has been closed to fishing for more than 15 years, snorkelers pay to jump in the water. Although bigger fish are abundant in this unusual long-term refuge, their coral reef habitat is suffering. Temperatures hit more than 30 degrees C (86 F) for an extended period of time earlier in the year, and roughly half of the corals experienced bleaching here, ejecting their color-giving symbionts, which can be seen in this image. Shallow areas of this protected reef are also prone to decimation from increasingly severe cyclones. To add insult to injury, the reef-eating starfish, crown-of-thorns, thrives here and munches corals faster than the locals can remove them.

This photo was taken by SRI fellow Amy West who is reporting on the state of Fiji’s coral reef fisheries.

Reporter’s Journal: The Lesser Fish

April 1st, 2014

Photo copyright (c) 2014 Amy West.

In Fiji’s capital city of Suva, middlemen buy directly from the fishers. The majority of the fish arrive early Saturday morning, indicating many of the reef fish are caught at night while many fish are asleep, making them easy targets for spearfishers.  In the past, larger quantities of fresh fish was available daily. Now the sellers make fewer catches stretch across the week. The overwhelming concern about the region’s overfishing and depleted nearshore fisheries is not always echoed by the fishmongers. When asked why fish, such as these grouper and parrotfish, were smaller and not as plentiful, they simply replied, “The weather has changed.”

This photo was taken by SRI fellow Amy West who is reporting on the state of Fiji’s coral reef fisheries.

Reporter’s Journal: Dock Boys

March 27th, 2014

By Melati Kaye

Photo copyright (c) 2014 Melati Kaye.

“Dock boys” take a swim break from sorting and carrying fish at Makassar’s Paotere harbor, where fish caught with hook and line, homemade bombs, and cyanide are brought to port and sold.

This photo was taken by SRI fellow Melati Kaye, who is reporting on the State of Indonesian Fisheries.

Reporter’s Journal: a different kind of leopard

March 24th, 2014

By Melati Kaye

Photo copyright (c) 2014 Melati Kaye.

March is leopard coral grouper season in South Sulawesi’s Spermonde islands. The live fish sell for $30 per kilogram. Dead fish fetch less than a third of that price. Careful hook and line fishermen can sometimes manage to keep their catch alive. But a surer method is to stun the fish with cyanide, an illegal but widespread practice.

This photo was taken by’s Special Reporting Initiatives fellow Melati Kaye, while she was in Sulawesi reporting on the live reef fish trade to East Asia.

Economic worth of living sharks (video)

May 15th, 2011

It turns out that sharks are worth more alive than dead. According to a new study, a single shark is worth $1.9 million over its lifetime as a tourist attraction in the island nation of Palau. Sold for consumption the shark is worth around $108. In this case a shark is worth a stunning 17,000 times more alive than dead. Sharks worldwide are being decimated, largely for the Asian delicacy shark fin soup. Some populations have fallen by over 90%.

The study did not collect data on the shark’s economic worth as providing other ‘ecosystem services’.

For more information:

Left alive and wild, a single shark worth $1.9 million

(05/02/2011) For the Pacific island nation of Palau, sharks are worth much more alive than dead. A new study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) has found that one reef shark during its full life is worth $1.9 million to Palau in tourism revenue. Sold for consumption the shark is worth around $108. In this case a shark is worth a stunning 17,000 times more alive than dead.

Conservation on the ground: how traditional fishermen saved sharks in Madagascar

April 20th, 2011

Malagasy family helping fisherman take his boat out to sea . Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Or, Guitarfish a Go-Go- Bribes and barrages in Belo-sur-Mer

By: Brian Jones, Blue Ventures Conservation in Belo-sur-Mer, Menabe, Madagascar.

YOU’VE got to admire the mettle of people who, despite the cards being seemingly insurmountably stacked against them, can still stick to their guns and stand up for what they believe in.

I didn’t give them much of a chance, but nevertheless, there they went, one-by-one, to stand in front of the assembled group of villagers and local authorities who had packed themselves into the sweltering cinderblock and sheet metal town hall. Each to express their exasperation over the arrival and unrelenting progress of the monstrosity that had come to be known simply as “the barrage”- a 4 kilometre long (although by some accounts as much as 8 km long) bottom-set fishing net aimed at catching sharks and guitarfish for their high value fins. Everyone who stood to say their bit that afternoon knew that healthy amounts of money had likely already passed into the hands of various authorities in the interest of a blind-eye being turned. Still, undaunted, there they went, to air their qualms, for better or worse.

“I mean, come on, the name gives it away – a “barrage”… barrages, by definition, block everything that comes their way. Obviously this is not in the interest of us local fishermen!” pleaded an exasperated Franҫois, the president of the local youth association.
Another young fisherman put it more bluntly: “If we allow this to continue, all that our grandchildren will know of sharks is from a picture in a book.”

The response by the representatives sent from the 70 strong team of shark fishermen who mostly hailed from Diego Suarez, a regional city at the northern tip of Madagascar, a few thousand kilometers away, was that all of their paperwork was in order, they all had their cards which proved they were registered traditional fishermen, their nets were of legal mesh size, and they were not breaking any Malagasy fishing laws. In a poverty-stricken country wrought by political turmoil, corruption and inadequate fisheries legislation, it’s quite possible they were right.

Be that as it may, considering the disparity between their 4+ kilometre shark nets and motorised vessels (bankrolled by a Chinese investor who had been denied a fishing permit by the National Fisheries Ministry, as one of them divulged after a few too many beers one evening) and the 100-200m nets cast from traditional dugout canoes by the local fishermen, it seems absurd to suggest that this is fair play.

The debate became more heated, as the “barrage-ists” became agitated, insisting, “There’s nothing you, the villagers, can do to kick us out. We’re going to keep fishing, like it or not!”

I tend to take a back seat in these type of meetings, and let the community take the lead, but I hastily pointed out that not one of the community members had mentioned kicking them out, simply that the size of their nets was unacceptable, and that they were welcome to stay if they used fishing gear more in-line with what the locals use, and more in the interests of promoting local sustainability. I suggested that their haste to mention that they were being kicked out was perhaps a sign of paranoia and indicative of the fact that they knew what they were doing was wrong, regardless of its legality.

As the meeting descended into chaos, and the unlit town hall descended into darkness, it was agreed that the barrage fishermen would produce all of their paperwork the next day (oh no, not the next day, as it’s a Sunday, and everyone needs their day off, but the day after that. . . ) which would then be sent to the regional authorities, and then on to the national authorities for verification, and then back to the blah blah blah. . . An accomplished exercise in buck-passing and stalling, resulting in a bureaucratic marathon that would surely result in the extirpation of the local shark population before anything was decided or actionable.

The meeting having achieved very few tangible results, the community hatched a plan. With the Kirindy-Mite Marine Protected Area (MPA) having recently received official protected status, they would secretly follow the barrage fishermen out the next morning when they checked their net, and verify whether or not the net was placed within the MPA limits. Spies staked out the barrage fishermen’s camp, and as they left just before dawn the next morning, one boat headed south and one headed north to check on their massive nets, the community members sprung into action. Cell phones relayed the trajectory of the two boats, and the one headed south was soon being tailed at a distance by a motorised canoe with angry, GPS and digital camera wielding fishermen and representatives of the National Parks Service.

Despite their repeated claims that their nets were not being placed within the MPA, there it was, clear as day, about one kilometre north of the island of Nosy Andriangory, smack dab in the heart of the protected area. After a brief verbal exchange, the net was hauled in, and within days the Captain of the regional police had been called to the village and the law had been laid down: If they wanted to avoid going to prison, the barrage fishermen were to get all of their nets out of the water immediately and were to leave the village within a week.

Traditional fishermen: 1
Bank-rolled outsiders: 0

Activism: dams on the Mekong River

March 17th, 2011

Note: does not endorse the action below, but believes its readers may be interested in taking action or discussing the issue in comments.

Fishing on the Mekong. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

A coalition of NGOs, lacademics, journalists, artists and local people have started a petition against a series of dams planned by Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. According to the organization, the massive dams will upend the river’s biodiversity and undercut the livelihoods of local people.

According to the organization: “The Mekong River is under threat. The governments of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand are considering plans to build 11 big hydropower dams on the river’s mainstream. If built, these dams would block major fish migrations and dramatically change the Mekong forever, placing at risk the food security and income of millions of people.”

Save the Mekong ‘s petition: Save the Mekong: Our River Feeds Millions.

Photo: U.S. bans shark finning

January 16th, 2011

shark finning
A from the Wildlife Conservation Society shows a finned shark caught during a New York Seascape study in Delaware Bay. The photo shows where the dorsal and pectoral fins were removed. The female sand tiger shark had no anal fins, and most of its tail fin had been removed. Shark finning – the practice of cutting the fins off of a live shark and returning the crippled animal to the water to die – is illegal in the United States. There is no way to tell when the shark in this photo was finned, or how long it would live. Photo ©WCS

In early January the U.S. Senate passed the Shark Conservation Act, legislation that bans shark finning in U.S. waters.

The act closed loopholes that permitted the “finning” of certain sharks in U.S. waters—specifically large-bodied, small-finned sharks. Most shark finning in off U.S. costs had previously been banned under the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000.

The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 allows finning in only North Carolina’s dogfish fishery, a demand by Senator Richard Burr.

Shark finning is the practice where the fins are cut off living sharks, which are then left to die. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in parts of Asia.

But finning has taken a heavy toll on shark populations. By one estimate, up to 73 million are killed every year to support the trade. 30 percent of the world’s shark species are threatened or near threatened with extinction.

Activism: the great bluefin tuna boycott

December 5th, 2010

Note: does not endorse the action below, but believes its readers may be interested in taking action or discussing the issue in comments.

Bluefin tuna. Photo by: NOAA.

The Center for Biological Diversity has launched a bluefin tuna boycott after the fish’s regulatory body, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), failed to drastically limit the catch this year. The group has also created a facebook page.

“These magnificent marine creatures, famous for their race car-like speeds, are being severely overfished—in fact, the Atlantic bluefin tuna population has been reduced by more than 80 percent since industrial fishing practices began,” states a message from the CBD. Given its stark population declines, the fish is currently listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List.

To read more about the bluefin tuna:

Thousands pledge to boycott restaurants serving bluefin tuna

History repeats itself: the path to extinction is still paved with greed and waste