Pacific Ocean

Background - 20 March, 2014
If someone told you that a sea horse, sea snakes and a sea turtle could save the Pacific, would you wonder how? If they said that these three could take on pirates and greedy corporations and win, would they even start to sound like superheroes in the latest computer game? Would you want to join the superheroes mission?

Korero Maori Dance Troop in Rarotonga. 06/21/2009 © Greenpeace / James Alcock

So here they are: Ocean sanctuaries already mapped out, and named – you've guessed it – Sea horse, Sea Turtle and Sea Snake  - can put an end to the relentless overfishing and theft from the Pacific. These protected areas can be the heroes that ensure a healthy tuna population and a sustainable tuna fishing industry well into the future.

The Pacific may have been named the "peaceful seas" in the past, but they are far from that now. More than half the tuna consumed in the world is fished in the Western and Central Pacific at a rate that the populations can't sustain. Ocean sanctuaries are needed to restore the peace in the Pacific.

Philippine Purse Seine Fishing Operation. 11/12/2012 © Alex Hofford / Greenpeace

Why we need the Pacific superheroes

Foreign ships take 80% of Pacific tuna. What are known as "distant water fishing fleets" sail from Japan, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, the US and the EU, leaving their own empty waters behind  – and head for the Pacific. They have to pay to fish in the tuna grounds that are in the national waters of the Pacific nations, but they rarely pay a fair rate. Normally they will pay around US$1.2billion, which may sound like a lot but it is only 5-6% of the total value of the catch. While the Pacific Island countries get just over US1billion, the foreign fleets sail away with up to US$24 billion. It's pretty close to stealing.

Action against the Biggest Tuna Fishing Vessel. 05/27/2008 © Greenpeace / Paul Hilton

Pirate fleets in the Pacific ARE stealing the fish – They are earning four times as much as the region earns in legal fishing fees from selling their stolen fish.

Nearly a quarter of all tuna taken from the Pacific comes from international waters. Because these areas are far away from land and hard to monitor, they are easy pickings for illegal fishing. Pirates also often fish in national country waters and then claim the catch came from international waters. They also use these areas to offload their catches, and refuel at sea. This makes it much easier to avoid checks on how much they have caught and from where.

Illegal Pacific Tuna Transshipment. 11/14/2012 © Shannon Service / Greenpeace

As with all our oceans – banning the transfer of fish at sea would have a huge impact on the pirates’ ability to operate.

Using blacklists like the Greenpeace pirate blacklist to keep known pirates out of the Pacific can also help.

Ocean Sanctuaries – a solution then and now

The Pacific Island countries already know what is needed and they have been doing it for generations. For thousands of years, Tabu (off-limits) areas were crucial to maintain their fish populations and make sure that there was enough for the future.

There are pockets of the Pacific between different island nations that are known as the Pacific Commons – international waters, but near to numerous countries. Zoning off these areas as ocean sanctuaries will give long term protection to fish stocks and other marine. Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Cook Islands have already expressed their support for the protection of the Pacific Commons.

Proposal for a global network of marine reservesclick to view interactive map

The orange areas on the map are the proposed marine reserves. The grey areas are the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the nations, and the green represent the islands themselves.

The map above outlines four key areas of the international waters that Greenpeace has identified as the Pacific Commons which should be closed off to fishing. All these areas are key breeding and feeding grounds for tuna. They also contain unique ecosystems, including biologically rich undersea mountains, corals and endangered leatherback turtles.

It's starting to work already

Three of the areas in the map above were named in a public competition run in the Pacific.

Seasnake – or Area 1 is called the West Oceania Marine Reserve (WOMAR).

Seahorse covers Area 2 - the Greater Oceania Marine Reserve (GOMAR) (also know as the seahorse)

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which is responsible for maintaining healthy oceans in the region finally closed this area to purse seining for tuna in 2010.  The eight surrounding coastal states took matters into their own hands also and included a clause to their fishing licenses that vessels wanting to fish in their tuna-rich Economic Exclusion Zones cannot fish in the high seas. This leaves very little tuna fishing activity in these areas: the Commission should agree to ban what remains.

But Sea Turtle or Area 3 and Area 4 are not yet protected.