Sailing with the ship, flying with a helicopter, diving in the middle of the sea, I am on the journey of defending the Pacific Ocean.
I am born and raised in Hong Kong, a city built on the oceans through trade, fishing, and famous seafood. This year marks the third year of my job as a Greenpeace oceans campaigner, yet yet this is my first time joining the Pacific tour with Greenpeace’s biggest ship, MY Esperanza.
It is one thing to know about the issues, but it is another to actually go into the fishing grounds in the Pacific to witness how the tuna fisheries empty our oceans and to be able to experience the fragility and beauty of nature.
On day one, we sent out the helicopter, and luckily, we spotted the first vessel just in the first flight. Last year, it took almost one week to find a vessel -- this can also give you an idea how big the oceans are. The vessel we spotted was a Taiwanese longliner, who has a license to fish in the Palauan EEZ. After we inspected the vessel, we asked the friendly Taiwanese captain if there are other fishing boats nearby. Then he told us that he saw some FADs (fish aggregation devices) in Palau’s waters, and he gave us the coordinates of the FAD location.
We decided to change the course of the Esperanza to chase the FADs. At the break of dawn the next day, our helicopter found 5 FADs in the area!
Those FADs are not authorized to be set in Palauan EEZ according to the Palau enforcement officer. So we were asked to sink them as part of the joint surveillance agreement between Greenpeace and the Palau government.
How to sink a FAD? This is the first question that came up to mind as a new comer of the Pacific tour. We sent two inflatables, approached the first FAD at N04 30.5’ E13532.0’. It is an anchored cylindrical barrel object with only a number #77 on it. No information of the owner could be found. Schools of fish were swimming under the only floating object in the middle of the sea. Divers documented the marine life that was attracted by this deadly evil device.
I was one of the dive team members trying to swim hard against the crazy strong current to reach the FAD. I saw school of rainbow runner, small trigger fishes and a baby oceanic white tip. I felt like I am part of the ocean, living in this blue world. And I also know it is not easy for animals living in this condition, they have to fight with climate, current, food, escape from predators. Everything was in harmony until the fishing boats came to this far region to take all the fish out of the water.
Looking into the deep blue ocean, my mind is as clear as the sea. I know what I am trying to protect now -- the fragile ecosystem, the declining stock of tuna, the endangered species and the beautiful blue world.
We used a home-made “FAD hammer” to make holes on the FAD and let it sink. Everyone there were enjoying the “titanic moment” when we saw the FAD finally rest in peace at the bottom of Pacific. It may turn to a new home for other marine life after years, much better than helping the fleet to scope up the lives in the ocean.
It was a long and exhausting operation. Everyone was so tired but we were so happy at the same time. We sank two more FADs afterwards and left the other two to the Palau authority to follow up because we need to head to the high sea, which is the enforcement loophole in the Pacific. We have to go and see if there is any illegal fishing activity and stop it. Time is running out for tuna and the ocean defenders.
Help us defend our blue planet! Sign up as an ocean defender at www.defendouroceans.org.
Chow Yuen Ping is Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, currently on-board the Esperanza.
Image: Diver Joel Gonzaga of the the Philippine purse seiner 'Vergene' at work using only a single air compressor hose to the surface, in and around a skipjack tuna purse seine net, in the international waters of high seas pocket No1. © Alex Hofford / Greenpeace