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6/27/2014

Pacific islands face fishing crisis

As the population on the Pacific islands grows, finding enough fish to eat is becoming increasingly difficult. Now, the fishing industry is switching to tuna to tackle the problem.

The coral fishermen of Vanuatu are facing a growing crisis: they are increasingly returning from their fishing expeditions with ever dwindling hauls. That`s because the coral reefs that they travel out to are disappearing at an alarming rate as are the fish stocks near the coast that have traditionally served as the staple diet for people in the region. It`s a similar story in the other Pacific Islands too.

A variety of factors are responsible for the phenomenon. In addition to environmental pollution, rising temperatures and a creeping acidity in the ocean`s waters – both a consequence of climate change – have taken a huge toll on the reefs.

In fact, the ocean’s chemical makeup has changed more now than it has in 55 million years. That has put incredible pressure on the region’s embattled coral reefs, which have seen their rich biodiversity diminish. More people, fewer fish

The growing population has led to a shortage of food – and climate change has exacerbated the problem

“Coral fishing in the region could shrink by 20 percent by the year 2050,” says Johann Bell, a fishing expert who lives on New Caledonia, an archipelago located some 1,500 kilometers east of Australia. Bell works with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), an organization of Pacific island countries and territories dealing with environmental and social issues. The decline of the fish catch presents a troubling problem for SPC members. “We have observed that the gap between the amount of fish available in the reefs and the amount that we need to feed the population is growing,” says Bell. And the numbers don’t lie: that gap amounts to 4,000 tons of fish a year. The disappearing reefs have only exacerbated an existing problem. The population on southwest Pacific Ocean islands continues to expand at a rapid rate, expected to reach 50 percent by 2030. If that happens, the islands would need an additional 150,000 tons of fish a year.

A fourth of the world’s tuna stock is found in the waters surrounding eight Pacific islands: Micronesia, Kribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands

But attempting to increase the catch for coral fishermen would only put the reefs under further pressure. “When you don’t cultivate an eco-system in a sustainable way, when you overfish, it is significantly less prepared to deal with the changing climate,” says Doris Soto, a senior officer of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department at the Food and Agricultulture Organization (FAO). That is why fishermen in the region are not permitted to catch more than 3 of the 50 to 100 tons of fish pro square meter of water each year. Yet, fish forms the main diet on the Pacific islands, and remains an important source of protein for residents. As coastal fishing wanes, so too does the locals’ most basic staple. Vanuautu, like most Pacific islands, has been forced to look for alternatives. But the question is just where. One alternative would be on land. For instance, the Nile tilapia is a large fish and the most prominent example of species that can be cultivated in fisheries and aquacultures on land.

The Pacific Community has recommended the increased use of freshwater aquacultures, and the Nile tilapia is the perfect solution. Since the region is expected to get more rain in future, the Nile tilapa can now even be bred in areas which have received little precipitation so far. To catch tuna, fishermen have to venture far past the coral reefs where they have traditionally caught their bounty

But the SPC’s main solution to the question of alternative food sources lies further off the coast. Far into the ocean’s turquoise waters, huge swarms of tuna swim freely, offering an enticing alternative. But the fishing sector first needs to adapt its ways to learn how and where to catch the fish before tuna can become a fixture on lunch tables. Luring tuna to the coast Fishermen have already been forced to venture further out into the ocean in their small fishing boats for catch. That means more fuel is needed, raising costs. That`s why the Pacific Community recommends installing Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) to attract ocean fish and other sea creatures back towards the coast. FADs are usually man-made floats or buoys that are anchored to the ocean floor with long ropes. They lure tuna and other marine life that often seek protection in the shadow of the floating devices. Vanuatu has already started experimenting with FADs, installing one between the islands of Nguna, Pele and Efate. That has made it easier for the surrounding 30 communities to access fish.

“Now our fishermen can fish in the vicinity of their homes,” Mariwota, a village elder from the community of Taloa was quoted as saying in a joint report by the Pacific Community and Germany’s federal development agency (GIZ). “They are now ensured a good catch,” he said. Selling by-catch at local markets

Many Pacific islands earn a lot of money selling fishing licenses to foreign shipping companies

The approach also involves pushing foreign fleets, that catch tuna in the region on a large scale, to contribute towards improving the food security of the local population. That`s because it`s not just tuna but also other marine creatures, too small to be processed in canning facilities, that end up in the huge fishing nets. The practice has long been criticized by environmental organizations as well.

The SPC now suggests that this by-catch, that in the past was thrown back in the ocean, should be used to feed the local populace. “We want the fleets to be forced to bring their by-catch to land and sell it in cities here before they return to their home countries with the tuna they’ve caught,” says Johann Bell. Bell also believes that the Pacific islands should reduce the number of fishing licenses handed out to foreign companies. “The island countries should hold onto more of those licenses to feed their own people,” he says. His concept could be especially helpful to the islands that lie further west, like Papua New Guinea and Palau. That`s because climate change is set to affect the distribution of tuna stocks in the region. “Our latest studies have shown that climate change will cause tuna fish to head east and to subtropical regions,” says Bell. He predicts that by the end of the century, the island countries in the west could see their tuna catch shrink by up to a third, while the catch increases in the east. That is why the Pacific islands have come up with the Vessel Day Scheme, or VDS, where vessel owners can buy and trade licenses for days fishing at sea. The scheme helps reduce the amount of tuna catch and more fairly distribute the fish among the participating islands. “Originally, the system was developed so that all the island countries could profit equally from the tuna populations, which have long traveled back and forth in the ocean’s waters,” says Johann Bell. “But it is also a good way to adapt to climate change.”

2/5/2014

Castaway

Marshall-Islands

He has spent over a year adrift in the Pacific Ocean, exposed to the elements in his tiny boat, alone after his friend died, and surviving on turtle blood and dead birds. And now all Jose Ivan wants to do is go home.

“I want to get back to Mexico,” he told his interpreter, in his first contact with the outside world since December 2012. Jose Ivan spoke to Magui Vaca, a Spanish translator based in the capital of the Marshall Islands, as he set off by ship on the 18-hour journey from the tiny atoll to the capital, Majuro.

Due to land in Majuro on Monday morning, he was to be met by representatives from the Mexican embassy in Indonesia – the closest diplomatic post to the remote islands – and a team of doctors.

“I feel bad,” the castaway told his translator. “I am so far away. I don’t know where I am or what happened.”

The details of Jose Ivan’s remarkable journey have been exceptionally difficult to piece together.

The single phone line to Ebon went out of service on Saturday and the island does not have any internet – leaving radio the only option for communication. And the brief interview on Sunday, in which he said he wanted to return home, proved difficult as the radio transmission was marred by static.

No one in Mexico has yet come forwards to say that they know the missing man.

And it was hoped that with his arrival in the capital, Jose Ivan’s story – with is obvious parallels to the Tom Hanks film Cast Away – would be told in full, to an audience gripped by the story of his survival.

All that is known so far is that on Thursday the emaciated man in ragged underpants was found on the Ebon Atoll, where he had washed up in his 24-ft fibreglass boat. He spoke no English, and no one among the 700 islanders spoke Spanish.

With drawings and gestures he managed to explain to the mayor, Ione deBrum, that he had set off from Mexico to El Salvador on a shark fishing trip, but was carried away by currents. His colleague died during the ordeal, and Jose Ivan use images to show that he survived by eating turtles, birds and fish that he caught with his hands, and drinking turtle blood when there was no rain.

“We’ve been feeding him nutritious island food and he’s getting better,” said Mr deBrum. “He has pain in both knees so he cannot stand up by himself. Otherwise, he’s OK.”

It is understood his small boat encountered engine trouble and the currents carried them out into the ocean.

Despite their attempts to attract other vessels, they continued to drift further out to sea – and it was then, as the weeks and the months dragged by, that their desperate struggle to survive took up every minute.

Jose Ivan would not be the first Mexican to wash up on the Marshall Islands.

In 2006, three Mexicans made international headlines when they were discovered drifting, also in a small fibreglass boat near the Marshall Islands, nine months after setting out on a shark-fishing expedition.

They survived on a diet of rainwater, raw fish and seabirds, with their hope kept alive by reading the bible.

Castaways from Kiribati, to the south, frequently find land in the Marshall Islands after ordeals of weeks or months at sea in small boats.

The Marshall Islands, in the northern Pacific, are home to about 60,000 people spread over 24 low-lying atolls.

Ms Vaca said that Jose Ivan was disorientated and did not know what had happened during his many months at sea.

“He feels a little desperate and he wants to get back to Mexico, but he doesn’t know how,” she said.

Shipwrecked man survives 16 months adrift at sea: An emaciated man was discovered on Thursday when his boat washed up on a remote Pacific atoll, having floated over 12,500 kilometers (8,000 miles) from Mexico since September of 2012, according to reports.

He was found when his 24-foot fibreglass boat with propellerless engines floated onto the reef at Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and he was seen by two locals.

Ola Fjeldstad, a Norwegian anthropology student doing research on Ebon, told AFP by telephone ”His condition isn’t good, but he’s getting better”.

Ms Fjeldstad said the man speaks only Spanish, so details of his survival are sketchy, but he said his name is Jose Ivan, according to reports.

Mr Ivan has a long beard and hair, and was found dressed only in ragged underpants.

Mr Ivan indicated to Ms Fjeldstad that he survived 16 months at sea by eating turtles, birds and fish, and drinking turtle blood when there was no rain.

He says he set off from Mexico to El Salvador in September 2012 with a companion, who died at sea several months ago.

“The boat is really scratched up and looks like it has been in the water for a long time,” said Ms Fjeldstad.

There was no fishing gear on the boat, and Mr Ivan indicated he caught turtles and birds with his bare hands. There was a turtle on the boat when it was found at Ebon.

The Marshall Islanders who discovered Ivan took him to the atoll’s main island to meet Mayor Ione de Brum, who called the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Majuro, according to Ms Fjeldstad.

Foreign Ministry officials on Friday said they were waiting to get more details and for Mr Ivan to be brought to Majuro.

However, the government airline’s only plane that can land at Ebon is down for maintenance and is not expected to return to service until Tuesday at the earliest, so officials are considering sending a boat to pick up Mr Ivan.

“He’s staying at the local council house and a family is feeding him,” Ms Fjeldstad said, adding that Mr Ivan had a basic health check which showed he had low blood pressure.

But he did not appear to have any illness that was life-threatening, and was able to walk with the help of men on the island.

“We’ve been giving him a lot of water, and he’s gaining strength,” said Ms Fjeldstad.

5/8/2013

Aid agencies rush help to drought-stricken Marshalls

Filed under: disaster,marshall islands,weather — admin @ 2:04 pm

MAJURO — Thousands of gallons of drinking water and solar-powered water-making units are being rushed this week to drought-stricken populations in the Marshall Islands

“We’ve got 3,700 people without drinking water,” said national water advisor Tom Vance on Wednesday following a trip to Mejit Island.

Earlier this week, the United States and Australian governments announced $100,000 in emergency-aid grants as Marshall Islands officials elevated a drought “emergency” to a drought “disaster.”

With almost no rainfall since late last year on islands above eight degrees north of the equator, most have run out of drinking water and ground well water has turned salty and brackish. Health officials who tested the wells say the wells are unsafe to drink from. Drinking coconuts offer some relief, but there are no other sources of fresh water on these islands besides rain. “The situation is dire,” Vance said.

Four new reverse-osmosis water-making units provided by the U.S. government are expected to arrive later this week for installation on northern islands. More RO units are expected to be purchased and flown in to provide water relief, according to government Chief Secretary Casten Nemra, who is heading the emergency-relief program. Four hundred and fifty large, collapsible water containers donated by the U.S. government were filled with water in Majuro and sent to the stricken islands by ship Tuesday. Locally, groups are fundraising and collecting water and food donations for distribution on the outer islands.

“The situation will become increasingly desperate if this drought persists in the northern islands and atolls,” said Nemra. “We have yet to receive a full assessment from the deployed teams still out there but, through the radio, indications clearly are that the ground wells are not safe to drink from anymore while water tanks have been depleted in most of the affected communities.”

Several of the remote islands have RO water-making equipment. But the units are small, producing at most 300 gallons of water daily for island populations ranging from 100 to over 600 people.

The drought has severely damaged local food crops, and people’s lives and health are in imminent danger, Nemra said. Many of the affected communities have less than 11 days of drinking water left and are already rationing households to one gallon of drinking water for six people per day.

Several of the islands are reporting cases of diarrhea, conjunctivitis (pink eye), influenza and other illnesses that officials say are drought related. “The Northern Marshall Islands is suffering an incredible level of hardship and reports indicate that conditions will get worse in the coming days,” Nemra said. “We want to ensure that all affected communities in the Northern Marshall Islands get the assistance they need quickly and this declaration (of drought disaster) will give them access to all available resources of the government.”

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