I have been doing diving jobs for Greenpeace as part of our campaigns for 7 years. I have seen beauty, destruction and saved little lives under water. Some very bizarre dives also fit into these years. Once I was even in a telephone box at the bottom of the North Sea “calling for action”. And I have just been diving with cardboard tunas in Taiwan together with local divers, with questions marks, Chinese and English slogans written on them deploying the message “the last tuna?”.
We had over 30 fantastic and enthusiastic local divers join us for the first photo shoot with this message last Sunday at Kending national park, but the weather wasn’t on our side and the visibility was too poor to make justice for the image. So we gathered some local enthusiastic divers again at our next stop, the small island of Xiaoliuqiu, in the south west corner of Taiwan. With the winds calmer and the sun out - we managed to pull off our little underwater theatre.
With the images we gathered comes a serious message that I hope will spread here in Taiwan. The island of Xiaoliuqiu is in the Pingtung county of Taiwan. A place where for generations the local community has an annual bluefin tuna festival. These majestic and valuable fish migrate by the east coast of Taiwan supplying food, income and joy to the local communities. It has also been a major tourist event for the county bringing far reaching economic benefits. Now these valuable fish, the pinnacle of Japan’s sushi culture, are so depleted that the county is looking into alternatives for the annual festival as a tourist attraction.
With bluefin tuna, we really are at the point of the last tuna. When a species of fish stops being economically viable it brings ruin to those dependant on it for food and income. Xiaoliuqiu Island is a beautiful spot with an abundance of green turtles and the county is now looking for ways of promoting eco-tourism instead of fishing.
There is also more of a tuna story in Xiaoliuqiu than meets they eye on its sleepy streets and beautiful beaches. Many of the hundreds of captains working on Taiwanese tuna long-liners in other oceans come from this island. They often spend up to three years at sea. The salaries are too low these days for a Taiwanese work force below the captain’s rank so the crews often come from South-East Asia.
I have searched for, met and taken peaceful action against many of these fishing vessels involved in legal and illegal tuna plunder and destruction of marine life in the international waters of the Pacific. I can't help feeling a bit spooked and humbled being at the home town of the men who risk their lives at sea to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the world’s luxury seafood markets. Often for little economic returns as the big powerful traders and middle men reap the majority of the profits.
The root of the problem is that there are too many of these fishing boats out in the oceans. They are simply too efficient in catching fish. Taiwan and other fishing nations must cooperate and reduce fishing capacity to sustainable long-term levels. If they don't - the bigeye, yellowfin and albacore tuna will follow the the fate of bluefin tuna.
During our East Asia Oceans Defenders tour, we hope to engage local communities and ocean lovers such as the wonderful divers. Fixing the mess on the water will take some bold decision from the fishing industry and Taiwan's Fisheries Agency. I sincerely hope these will be done before it is too late and we have to face the prospect of the last tuna in the Pacific. If this happens the way of life of thousands of people such as those in Xiaoliuqiu will be changed forever.
Sari Tolvanen is the international coordinator of our global campaign to Defend the Pacific Ocean. She is from Finland and based at our International office in Amsterdam when not on board Greenpeace ships (or underwater).