Story and pictures by DAVID NALU
With all the hype and focus on environmental conservation and global climate change summits, the western world are only now touching on what the ethnic peoples of the world have always had - a deep understanding of the delicate balance between man and nature.
Sadly this knowledge base was classified as primitive, misunderstood, overlooked and not tapped into, much to the detriment of the world we live in, now faced with the imminent change of global warming, melting ice caps and rising sea levels.
“You only harpoon the giant yellow fin tuna on its way out of the serene mangrove lined inlets after it has laid its eggs, (spawn) and only take what you truly need” whispers an echo from the past when an old man of the sea, once spoke to his grandson as they paddled their canoe over the same serene waters in the evening sunset.
These words were reflective of the profound understanding of the delicate balance of nature which permeated ancient fishing practices and determined when and how it should happen upon the signal of the seasons, tides, wind, moon, birds and even the flowering of certain plants.
Whilst accompanying fishermen to the bustling Kapari/Viriolo market in Cape Rodney, Central Province in mid January of this year, we came across quite a sight.
As our dinghy pulled in alongside a large double hull, catamaran style boat with shelter built in the middle, I noticed on the deck, the yellowish brown of turtles turned belly up.
A closer look revealed that, sprawled across the entire deck of the double hull canoe, allegedly from down Mailu way, was not 1 or 2 but up to 30 or so, quite large turtles.
The cargo awaited road transport into Port Moresby, had been apparently caught with commercial nets.
Wholesale sale to smaller resellers in Port Moresby can easily fetch up to K300 to K400, which obviously was a timely and lucrative catch early in the year especially with children returning to school.
“These people have no respect for the sea, turtles are supposed to be harpooned one at a time not in caught in nets” said Vanua, a subsistence fisherman from Viriolo showing his obvious disgust at the blatant disregard of this ancient practice.
Sales profits to cover basic cost and the ever increasing demand for seafood in urban centres has contributed to overfishing often using unscrupulous, fishing methods such as commercial nets and dynamite.
Unchecked, this trend stands to destroy a way of life and needs be addressed and stringently policed at community level.
We’d all do well to remind ourselves of the basic message that marine life conservationist purvey – do not overfish and always use sustainable fishing practices.
This is nothing new from the ancient wisdom passed through in the words of my maternal grandfather to me, “take only what you truly need”.
Only then will we still be able to enjoy a true delicacy - an occasional treat of turtle meat with its green fat, spiced and cooked with cherry tomatoes, bought from the local fish market on a Sunday afternoon for many more years to come.
And if all the conservation thing goes really well, I might even be able to one day suck the gooey white and yolk out of soft shelled, boiled turtle eggs pushed down with cold taro and black sweet tea, nostalgic of my childhood, and of a era gone by when the collection of turtle eggs was not yet deemed illegal.