SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
October 05, 2016
18°39.2’ S 173°59.1’W
Docked in Vava’u, Tonga
Hot and humid, light breeze, partly cloudy
Our first full day in Tonga was filled with much excitement as we explored parts of Vava’u and met with people from the Vava’u Environmental Protection Association (VEPA)! Today began with a 0800 pin rail chase in which the watches competed against one another, relay style, to find each line we were told. All of the watches did great, all finishing around the same time, but C Watch won by just a hair!
Getting onto shore, we met with Karen, Courtney, Seini, Meredith, and Lisa from VEPA. VEPA began as a small grassroots organization in 2009 and has since grown in the communities. They do community education outreach, going to schools and community groups to teach about invasive species, climate change, coral reefs, agriculture, and mangroves. We heard about their efforts to suppress the Crown of Thorns invasive sea star on coral as well as the research being done in regards to whale watching and its regulations.
Following the VEPA presentations in the morning, we ate our sack lunches and split into three groups: tourism, Mount Telau hiking, and gleaning. The tourism group wandered around the downtown Neiafu area with Courtney and went to a fish market and a fruits and veggies market. The hiking group went with Meredith to the top of the mountain to learn about the invasive rat control in the national park and to listen for the endemic bird that is recovering as rats are being removed. I, along with nine others, followed Karen, Seini, and Lisa to meet with three women from the village of Makave to learn about gleaning.
Gleaning is harvesting intertidal organisms including sea cucumbers, crabs, and oysters. It was incredible to watch the women find these animals so easily in the sand and to watch their harvesting techniques. They collected three kinds of sea cucumbers, taking different parts of each species. The crabs were often buried in the sand, and I did not spot any, but the women knew just where to dig for them. The oysters were on rocky substrate, and when harvested, the shells were thrown back and only the edible parts were collected. In Tonga, regulations for intertidal harvesting are not enforced, so it is up to the women of the village to decide what size animals and how many they harvest. The practice of gleaning is done by women in the South Pacific and knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation. Tongan history is primarily oral, so fishing knowledge is passed down within the villages.
Karen, Seini, and Lisa go out gleaning with women from the village to record how many organisms and their sizes that are harvested. They compare the data with previous data looking for trends in increase or decrease in size and numbers of each species caught. The day ended with dinner on the ship with Karen, Seini, Lisa, Courtney, and two of Seini’s friends from the University of the South Pacific, Ana and Sisi. It was a day full of laughter and learning; I look forward to spending more time with them tomorrow.