Monday, December 2, 2013

Where are the turtles?

Photo by: gardenofeden
While the world is lamenting about sports and the consistent disappointed resulting from men kicking a lopsided ball around, yes I feel your pain and I lament along with you, there are many more urgent matters that need our attention.  Matters that are very close to home and those that can very well affect the health of rugby in the future.

Last week on Friday, while I was sitting in the MNRE conference room, listening to brilliant lawyers explaining the foundation to the 'Trade in endangered species Bill 2013".  I reminisced about my younger days at St Mary's Savalalo, the delight of seeing a real life turtle for the first time.  This consultation provided an overview of a new Bill aiming to protect and conserve Samoa's endangered fauna and flora.  They also provided an overview of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

There are many things to fear in this world and more so for the unknown.  One of them is not having trees or animals around, we need them as much as they need us.  When was the last time you saw a mother turtle giving birth in/on the sands of our beaches?  I vaguely remember such a sight when I was a child, walking along the beach at Mulivai Safata. Have you seen a flying fox sucking on fruits high up in the tree? I did in front of my grandma's house, hanging from her soursop tree and also many times at the market, feeding on fruits as some people kept them as pets.  Have you seen dolphins in family groups guiding the ferry to Savaii? I did happily many times on the way to the big island before the nausea settled in.  Have you had the pleasure of collecting so many sand dollars you didn't have enough space for them in your pockets/buckets? I have when we used to go to the beach on Sunday, before there were sea walls and resorts.  Have you seen hundreds of fish swimming, playing around and beneath you before they go off and do other fishy things? I have at the back of the old Savalalo market where the fish market is currently located.

These are rarely experienced by our young people these days.  They have to go on their expensive phones to download an app that look like fish swimming and turtles flying in all their glory. Some of our native birds, animals and plant species are either endangered, vulnerable, critically endangered and nearing extinction.  This is not specific to Samoa, it's a global experience.  With greed and money comes more greed and money.  People ignore that small voice in their heads when it comes to poaching, exploiting, shipping, killing and selling anything and everything in exchange for a few dollars for a few beers.

The first creature that came to mind during this discussion was the gentle, slow moving, quiet turtle.  We also have the manumea and the Samoan flying fox (Pteropus samoensis).  The pe'a  is a CITES-listed species that is endangered by subsistence hunting and by commercial hunting for markets in the western Pacific (Brautigam and Elmqvist 1990).  Other species include Samoan wood rail (Pareudiastes pacificus) that are endangered, exploited and probably close to extinction. The Australian gray duck (Anas supercilliosia), purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio samoensis), many-colored fruit-dove (Ptilinopus perousii perousii), Samoan ground-dove (Gallicolumba stairi stairi), ma’o (Gymnomyza samoensis), and island thrush (Turdus poliocephalus samoensis) are all endangered or threatened (Merlin and Juvik 1983). 

Some of these species are endangered due to habitat loss and commercial hunting. While this has nothing to do with rugby, it has everything to do with health.  If we keep turning a blind eye, soon enough, more of the species that live among us will die off expanding the List of endagenered, and critically endagnered species and contracting the life experiences list.  

The next generation will keep downloading applications to know what a flying fox looks like.  The MNRE Bill has included words such as 'endangered, threatened, exploited species'.  One can apply for an export or import permit with conditions.  There are provisions to ensure the safety and protection of species coming to and going out of Samoa.  Like all other Bills, Acts, Regulations, it may look excellent on paper but if the implementation falls short of being implemented then MNRE's hard work and brilliant minds will go to waste.  Truthfully, I saw two very large turtle shells being sold on the side of the street on my way back from the airport the week before.  We may hope for the best and draft a great legislation with nice words used by academics but if we fail to deliver this to our own people, more turtle shells and bat brains will be lining the street.  

Next time we buy handicrafts, ask where they are from...think twice whether we are willing to be participants in killing off our own endangered, native species. We need them as much as they need us.  It will be a sad day when we take our children to Aquatic centres and they are empty, no turtles, sharks, dolphins, star fish or any of those squishy, fishy sometimes slimy creatures to enjoy.  If we are heartbroken, losing sleep, appetite and the will to watch rugby tv anymore because of our Manu Samoa then we should definitely lose something over ignoring the world around us.

Each species on our planet plays a role in the healthy functioning of natural ecosystems, on which humans depend. - William H. Schlesinger .

Ehhh..your grandmother was hot too!

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