An aerial view of the extremely remote Pulo Anna Island in the South West corner of the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Palau, 18 November 2012. The island has around a dozen inhabitants who lead a subsistence lifestyle of farming and fishing, and are served by one supply boat every one to two months
Vast indigo ocean, endless blue sky with different shades of clouds and a small group of determined people wanting to change something, here I am in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with Greenpeace.
It was almost like I used my instinct to decide when I was asked to join the Esperanza as a dive team leader for tuna documentation. My answer that day brought me now to day 19th of the expedition patrolling for illegal fishing vessels in the Palauan waters and the high seas.
The diving team is composed of a photographer, videographer, two campaigners, a ship crew and myself. The major task for the group is to document marine life under Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs) and fishing activities underwater. I had never done this before. In fact, I had never dived in the open ocean without a reef, never seen a FAD and the lives under it. I have to admit, this is a challenging job yet I'm willing to learn and give it my best. My personal goal is to keep the divers safe while accomplishing campaign goals.
Only two days of embarking, we had several diving operations at the FADs in Palauan waters. It was amazing to see a lot of fish including sharks swimming around there. FAD after FAD that we went under, we found almost the same things -- loads of different fishes and sharks. After the documentation, we hammered and sank these illegal floating devices to prevent schools of fish from getting attracted.
When we were at the high seas, the team documented the fishing activity of a Philippine purse seine vessel. The closed net holding a school of tuna hanged 23 meters down underwater next to the ships. Scoop after scoop filling up the carrier vessel with tons of tuna caught not far from a FAD. We were there witnessing the activity for more than two hours but the loading kept going.
The fishermen were friendly. The campaign team boarded the ship to monitor. Their mesh size seemed to be too small, some tuna seemed to be undersized and there were a few bycatches. We took pictures, videos and talked to some crew.
Back to our lovely Esperanza, I reflected. These purse seiners were legal. They have permission to fish. Unfortunately, out here in the middle of nowhere very far from everything, the implementation of the fishing regulations seems to fail, not to mention other vessels we met along the way that are illegal.
I wonder. If the fish stock calculation was correct and the quotas were given out sustainably according to the projection, when the enforcement is not there at sea, how can it be justified knowing that these fishing companies profit a lot while our marine resources continue to diminish?
Should quotas be reduced? Implement a more effective monitoring system? Who are the governing bodies responsible for the regulation of fishing in the high seas?
I can't answer those questions. I only know that as a citizen of this planet, I have to do something to prevent marine destruction from happening. I feel sorry for all marine species. What will our future be like if we continue emptying the seas? Overfishing cannot continue so I'm doing my part. It might be a tiny step but at least I started. And it won't just end there. Together with like-minded people, I believe we will succeed because every action we take will lead to our goal -- responsible fisheries and healthy oceans.
Wansiri Rongrongmuang is the dive team leader on-board the Esperanza.