Pandemic, climate threats and economic hardship in illegal sea cucumber harvesting on Ontong Java

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Honiara – As a result of the growing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the everyday challenges of climate change, some people of the Malaita Outer Islands (MOI) claim to have had no choice but to engage in illegal out-of-season harvesting of sea cucumbers and other marine resources as a means of survival. 

The MOI are part of the Solomon Islands province of Malaita.

One of the islands in the MOI group is Ontong Java Atoll. It is surrounded by a protective layer of coral reef which is closer to the Solomon Islands’ Roncador Reef than to the island of Malaita. It is regarded as one of the more remote places in Solomon Islands. Being an atoll, it has a very low elevation: its highest point is about 13 metres above sea level, so it is already severely affected by sea level rises and other effects of climate change. 

However, Ontong Java is rich in marine resources. Sea cucumber is a means of people obtaining their needs and wants, and making their livelihoods – and it has become the most cash-generating commodity, overtaking the two traditional cash commodities of fish and copra. 

With quick, huge cash to make in a short period, sea cucumber is arguably a blessing to the communities of Ontong Java.

The harvest period is controlled by the government. Most villagers go from “zero to hero” when the sea cucumber harvest opens. The sale of the smoke-dried sea cucumber to buyers who are mostly Asians helps bring much-needed cash into the communities. This has contributed enormously to the vibrancy and robustness of the atoll economy. During the harvest, there is enough money to go around as people have more to spend on their needs and wants. 

However, not all families and individuals have the foresight to save for a rainy day, or to use the blessings brought about by the sea cucumber trade to plan for their future. It is evident that poor financial management is widespread, and money drains out of the communities quicker than it comes in. 

According to one Solomon Star newspaper report, well over 80% of the people go on spending sprees as though there is no tomorrow. Hence, the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the atoll economy hard, as villagers have not been able to sustain themselves, partly due to the low cash circulation. 

There are no longer grounds suitable for gardening as rising sea levels have eaten most of the soils that were once used to plant root crops and other produce. Peoples’ only means of survival now is to revisit their sea cucumber grounds. 

The reef needs the sea cucumbers, too: they are a vital contributor to reef health, filtering the water with their continual suck and blow, making a major contribution to water quality on reefs.

Honiara seizes illegally harvested sea cucumbers 

In early November 2020, officers from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) confiscated sea cucumber stocks valued at over SBD$500,000 (USD$62,000) at the Honiara wharf. When the passenger vessel MV Onogou arrived from the atoll with a load of illegally harvested sea cucumbers, it was welcomed by an official raid.

The confiscated sea cucumbers were packed in pillowcases, bags, suitcases, and cartons. They were destined for local Asian buyers who operate illegally in the city.

MV Onogou on a trip to Ontong Java. Alongside it are the small outboard speedboats that locals use for transport. Photo: Iggy Pacanowski.
MV Onogou on a trip to Ontong Java. Alongside it are the small outboard speedboats that locals use for transport. Photo: Iggy Pacanowski.

It is understood that the current sea cucumber ban in Solomon Islands came into effect on 31 May 2019. The ban covers harvesting, possession, and selling of all sorts of sea cucumber species. 

This seizure was a slap in the face of the Ontong Javan people, with many calling for sympathy from the government in dealing with the matter, as they are finding it hard to cope with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We are caught up in a desperate dilemma, first with the ongoing impacts of climate change and now COVID-19 is further compounding the situation on the atolls,” one elder of Ontong Java told the Solomon Star.

“Can the government and responsible ministry show some leniency towards our people and allow them to sell their sea cucumber catches? We do not have plantations and enough land to plant food crops.

“All that we depend on for survival is our marine resources and sea cucumber is our lifeline at this point in time.”

Small speedboat moving through shallow atoll waters. Small outboards like this are the only means of transport between the islands of Ontong Java. Photo: Iggy Pacanowski.
Small outboards like this are the only means of transport between the islands of Ontong Java. Photo: Iggy Pacanowski.

An Ontong Java chief, Bartholomew Kokolopu, was also vocal. He said that, with the COVID-19 situation the country was facing, the Ministry of Fisheries should sympathise with the sea cucumber owners. 

He also blamed the fisheries ministry for ignoring a request made by the Ontong Java chiefs in 2018, when the government discussed how they could help the chiefs in raising awareness and explain the regulations to the people. But nothing forthcoming, he said.

“I was also one of the member delegation that travelled to Honiara twice to dialogue with the Director of Fisheries for a possible way forward for us, and for their officers to pay us a visit and educate our people about issues regarding the sea cucumber and its importance to the economy of Solomon Islands,” Chief Kokolopu said.

“In our discussion we told them that it will be effective once anybody from the office comes down to our people and tells them why the ban was imposed. Instead, our request fell on deaf ears.”

He said fisheries officers should at least work with the atoll chiefs so that any decision made was fair to them and the resources owners.

“Earlier this year we made a call to the fisheries again [to ask] if they could allow us some time do the harvesting just for our survival. They refused our request, and because of no other means we can earn money our people continue to harvest illegally,” the chief added.

Mr Kokolopu said that, as the fisheries ministry had refused to visit their communities and also refused to consider their call, they should be blamed for the people’s action.

“Since the fisheries office did not respond to our call, we, the resource owners ,decided that since the sea cucumbers are our property, we continue to harvest because it is our God-given resource,” Mr Kokolopu stated.

While Ontong Java is known as a hotbed for sea cucumber in the country, the trade needs to be regulated. Most importantly, the locals need to be protected from manipulation and abuse at the hands of Asians from the freedom to sell their products to buyers who offer the best price.

Public calls for review of law to reflect economic hardship

Following the unfortunate incident, Solomon Islands popular Facebook pressure group, the Yumi Toktok Forum, quoted outspoken Ontong Javan activist Lawrence Makili lashing out against the action, saying the action was killing his people, especially during this pandemic and the economic hardship it had brought. 

“We [Malaita Outer Islands] submitted a proposal for the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) to support us in the sea cucumber harvesting and help contribute directly in stimulating the economy, but it was turned down. How can we survive during this pandemic and economic hardship?” he asked. 

Mr Makili also called on the Government to be lenient and help his people harvest and sell their products.

Other commentators have also highlighted that the enforcement of the law during the pandemic must not override the realities that struggling rural people are facing, and especially vulnerable communities such as those in the MOI. 

“While laws are there to keep peace and order, it is equally important not to jeopardize people’s welfare and livelihood,.” one commentator said 

“Laws are there for a reason – to provide boundaries from which we can all live, work safely and in harmony. But there comes a time when issues need to be viewed given realities pertaining to the issue itself. Much of Solomons is blessed within land and rivers that allow inhabitants to forage the forests and/or cultivate the land for nourishment and sales. 

“However, there is a minority which has very little arable land, such as Ontong Java. They rely entirely on the ocean for sustenance and income generation. From the ocean they build houses, pay for school fees, pay for medicine and so forth. 

“It’s realities like this that should be considered by authorities. The Ontong Java people do not demand special treatment; all they want is a fair go at life. It makes perfect sense to grant them the right and licence to harvest and export their sea cucumber resources. Similar to larger islands that have land and work the gardens for sustenance and sales, the ocean is the atoll’s ‘garden’. 

“The current law does not serve the wellbeing of MOI people. It marginalises them and denies them the right to their resources. Whose interest does the government actually serve?”

One commentator also suggested that special reviews on the sea cucumber ban should be considered to further contextualise the different situations of low-lying atolls and the livelihoods of the people living on them. These reviews should include the implications of climate change in the long run, when climate change had destabilised peoples means of sustaining themselves. 

“The early harvest of their sea resources strongly indicates a sign of desperation that they need financial support in exchange for their resources for sustainability purposes, especially during this pandemic,” the commentator said.

“I think the Fisheries Act does not have any provision to cater for any other circumstances, please revisit and make amendments.”

On some atoll islands, there are no grounds left that are suitable for gardening, as rising sea levels are taking soils that were once used to plant root crops and other produce. Photo: Iggy Pacanowski.

Government to implement sea cucumber management plan

In his final contribution in parliament last December, the Minister or Fisheries and Marine Resources, Nesto Ghiro, said his ministry had developed a national sea cucumber management plan that would be implemented soon.

Minister Ghiro told Parliament that it was their intention that management of the sea cucumber fishery be given to communities under their respective fisheries resource management plans, with the ministry assisting with technical and legal support.

He said their research on the production of juvenile or baby sea cucumbers through a hatchery breeding program was ongoing, and they were testing suitable locations.

“Work is ongoing in two locations in Marau, East Guadalcanal, Guadalcanal Province and Buena Vista Islands in Gela, Central Islands province” Mr Ghiro said.

He said this work was funded by the Japanese Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Foundation.

If successful, the project would contribute to the restocking of overfished reefs, and create economic opportunities for fishers and communities.

Malaitan community benefits from local government FAD program

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HONIARA ­– Malaitan communities have already benefited from the provincial government’s initiative to provide coastal communities with fish-aggregating devices (FADs).

The initiative was launched in May 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is considered to be a sustainable fishing technology that can support the coastal communities of Malaita with their fishing activities.

The program was initiated following the declaration by the national government of a nation-wide state of public emergency as COVID-19 sky-rocketed in March 2020. It was reported that the Malaita Alliance or Rural Advancement (MARA) Government supported the Malaita Provincial Fishery Office with SBD$100,000 as part of its COVID-19 livelihood program through the FAD launches.

Solomon Islands Ngongosila fisher Walter shows one of his big catches of the day. Photo: Victor Suraniu.
Ngongosila fisher Walter shows one of his big catches of the day. Photo: Victor Suraniu.

During the festive season, the sinking islands of Kwai and Ngongosila in east Malaita reaped their first harvest since the FAD was launched. The Provincial Member for Ward 16, Preston Billy, led the first harvest of fish stocks.

“Fisheries is an important source of income for the coastal communities of Malaita, and also the rest of the Solomon Islands. The pandemic has brought in a lot of challenges for our local fishing communities, thus driving the local government to aid its own people,” Mr Billy said.

 “It was a great experience to be giving back to the people of my community, being a fisherman myself before heading into provincial politics. This initiative is the best that the local government can do for its people, especially during this pandemic period.

“I was also part of the first harvest and it’s good to see that the local fishermen and their families are benefiting greatly from it,” Mr Billy said.

In Solomon Islands, Malaita Ward 16 Provincial Member Preston Billy. Photo: Ronald F. Toito’ona.
Ward 16 Provincial Member Preston Billy standing inside the run-down Adakoa Fisheries Centre. Photo: Ronald F. Toito’ona.

The Kwai Island community representative, Victor Suraniu, said they were filled with pride as beneficiaries of the local FAD program.

“Thumbs up to the MARA Government for donating and installing the FADs in the last six months. Indeed, we are very proud of what you have done for the hundreds of people who have directly and indirectly benefited from the fishing project, both from the islands and the shoreline communities from Wards 15 and 16 in East Malaita,” Mr Suraniu said.

“We also wish to show gratitude to our Provincial Member, Preston Billy for taking the lead to ensure that the FAD program reaches our shores.”

However, they are calling on Mr Billy to also try all means possible to upgrade and revive the run-down fisheries centre in the area.

Mr Billy said that plans were already in place to upgrade the old fisheries centre, which is located on the mainland.

In Solomon Islands, Malaita Provincial Ward Member Preston Billy (front) works with local fishers to prepare the local FAD for its first harvest on 14 December 2020. Photo: Victor Suraniu.
Malaita Provincial Ward Member Preston Billy (front) works with local fishers to prepare the local FAD for its first harvest on 14 December 2020. Photo: Victor Suraniu.

Malaita Provincial Fisheries Office has so far launched more than 20 FADs in the province.

Principal fisheries officer Martin Jasper said they had benefited the communities.

“This is a very successful program thus far, however more and more people are requesting for devices to be installed in their waters,” Mr Jasper said.

“For the year 2021, a total of eight FADs will be distributed: six FADs will be for mainland Malaita and two FADs for Malaita Outer Islands. This FAD distribution is a continuation from the 2020 MARA-funded program by Malaita provincial government for its people.”

Mr Jasper said the idea behind the provision of FADs was to shift people’s fishing activities from overharvesting reefs by moving to FAD-based fishing.

He said the provincial government came in to support its people because it realised the importance of this. It could also see that it was an income-generating activity for people.

He said that the FAD assistance program also had wide support from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.

Mr Jasper’s office is also engaged in other programs such as community-based rehabilitation management for fisheries. He said work was also in progress in other fisheries programs such as the Bina Harbour project.

In Solomon Islands, the remains of the old Adakoa Fisheries Centre, which is on the mainland, adjacent to the islands of Kwai and Ngongosila. Photo: Ronald F. Toito’ona.
The remains of the old Adakoa Fisheries Centre, which is on the mainland, adjacent to the islands of Kwai and Ngongosila. Photo: Ronald F. Toito’ona.

Pacific fisheries ministers raise coastal fisheries, marine pollution and climate change concerns: media release

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A joint media release of Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Pacific Community (SPC), the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA)

Noumea, 27 August 2020 – A new-look Pacific Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting, which started virtually yesterday, has tabled key concerns on the state of coastal fisheries, climate change and marine pollution. Their decisions reflect regional priorities for the fisheries and marine sector. 

Cook Islands Prime Minister and Minister of Marine Resources, the Honourable Henry Puna, addressed the meeting stating that “one undeniable and tangible resource, asset, and lifeline that we all possess is our shared fisheries resources” and called for initiatives to diversify the use of fisheries and marine resources, using innovative and collaborative approaches. 

While highlighting the Pacific’s strong response to the national and regional security threats the COVID-19 pandemic has posed, he stressed the importance of enhancing fisheries management, maintaining food and economic security. 

“Our collective response must always reflect how much we value our people, and the mana, resilience and Pacific community spirit, that underpins the very fibre of our nations,’’ he said.

The meeting, chaired by the Honourable Marion Henry, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) Secretary for the Department of Resource and Development, was hosted online, gathering fisheries ministers and officials from the Pacific Island Forum countries and territories as well as regional organisations.

The talks covered regional coastal fisheries and aquaculture priorities and the impact of COVID-19 on these fisheries, the 2020 Coastal Fisheries Report Card, and options for enhancing discussions on community-based management of coastal fisheries. Ministers also endorsed the Regional Framework on Aquatic Biosecurity. 

One of the key resources that helped to frame the meeting was the Coastal Fisheries Report Card, presented by the Pacific Community (SPC). It provides annual regional reporting on the current state of Pacific coastal fisheries across a range of biological, social and economic indicators. 

The report card highlights the importance of coastal fisheries for food security and livelihoods in the region, with 89% of households eating fish or seafood weekly and 30% of households participating in fishing.

Ministers reflected with deep concern on the results that signalled a decline in the status of key indicator invertebrate and finfish species, and reef and ecosystem health, which have direct impacts on livelihoods and food security, and called for the strengthening of coastal fisheries management.

Moving from coastal fisheries to climate change issues, ministers considered where the fisheries sector can incorporate climate change mitigation and adaptation into policies and plans, with a view to securing climate change financing to support such measures, where possible. Ministers called for an advocacy strategy to enhance high-level messaging at the UNFCCC and related meetings to advance measures to address the impacts of climate change on fisheries in the region.

In discussions relating to marine pollution, ministers supported improvements in Pacific port waste reception facilities to enable them to receive fishing vessel waste on shore rather than have it dumped at sea. Ministers expressed concern about the impact of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear, especially on coastal fisheries and coral reefs, and called for collaborative action to address this issue.

Ministers welcomed progress on the development of the 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific continent being led by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. 

Secretary Marion Henry, as chair of the inaugural Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting, stressed that “the meeting marked a new chapter of strengthening regional cooperation, solidarity and friendship especially in these unprecedented times where the region has been greatly affected by the impacts of COVID-19”.

Access the statement of outcomes here.


Media contacts

Toky Rasoloarimanana, Communications Officer, Fisheries Division, Pacific Community,, mob: +687 89 93 94

Ronald Toito’ona, Communications Consultant, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), ronald.toitoona@ffa.intph: +677-7304715 

Nanette Woonton, Acting Communications and Outreach Adviser, Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP),

Lisa Williams-Lahari, Public Affairs Adviser, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS),

logos of Pacific Islands Forum (PIFA), Pacific Community (SPC), Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), and Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA)

About the Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting 

The Regional Fisheries Ministers Meeting is a joint event launched in 2020, following the 2018 decision by Forum leaders to have more comprehensive updates on fisheries work from the Pacific regional organisations: the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Pacific Community (SPC), the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). 

The 19 members of the RFMM are: Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The Fisheries Ministers report to Forum Leaders under the Standing Item on Fisheries including on progress against the Regional Roadmap for Sustainable Fisheries and providing advice and recommendations on fisheries issues requiring Leaders’ attention. The Forum Fisheries Committee Ministerial meetings and their focus on Oceanic fisheries, continues to be led by the Forum Fisheries Agency, FFA and also reports directly to Forum Leaders.

Malaitans reap benefits from conserving marine areas

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HONIARA – Communities along the coastline of Malaita Province have transformed degraded natural environments in recent years – and have improved their access to local foods as a consequence.

People in this most populous province of Solomon Islands have depended for their livelihoods directly on what nature provides: roots, fruit from forest trees, and fish and other marine animals and plants. 

But these natural resources have been under increasing pressure. As in many other places in the world, the resources here were carelessly managed in the face of growing human populations and increasing need to harvest them for food and other uses.

To turn this situation around, several communities have worked with WorldFish Solomon Islands, a fisheries NGO, which has done most of the work in setting up the conservation sites. The provincial government’s fisheries division has also helped.

Now the Malaitan people are benefiting from the conservation of local sea resources, and discovering that the “modern” conservation techniques they’ve been introduced to are the same practices that were used in the past.

The Fumamato’o success story

Manaoba Island is located on the north-eastern part of Malaita. It is the home of the Fumamato’o community, which lives along the Lau Lagoon. 

The community decided to protect its marine resources in 2013, and has already benefited greatly from its efforts. Before, this island community was a victim to overharvesting of fish, trochus, sea cucumbers, clam shells, and many other sea creatures.

But now, overharvesting is a thing of the past, thanks to chair of the Manaoba Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA), Mr Dominick Tuita, and his team.

During an interview with the Malaita Star magazine, Mr Tuita said Fumamato’o was like any other coastal community in Malaita Province. 

“The people depend heavily on their sea for income and food,” Mr Tuita said.

The island of Manaoba is well known to the Tobaita people, Mbaelelea people and Baegu people as the main provider of fish and other seafood. But Mr Tuita said that the overharvest of marine resources had taken a toll. 

In 2013, the people of Manaoba realised that they needed to change as they observed that resources were running out. They formed a committee to set up an LMMA.

“There are two areas where we restricted fishing: one is a total marine protected area and the other is open-and-close area,” Mr Tuita explained.

In the protected area, fishing is banned. In the close-and-open area, harvesting is allowed once a month. 

“We usually open it at the end of each month to allow villagers to fish for income or for community gatherings. When we open the open-and-close area, we invite fishermen from nearby communities to come and fish. During harvest day, everyone is welcome to fish,” Mr Tuita said.

Two Fumamato'o men standing in open long boat haul in a net while fishing in the open-and-close area. Photo: WorldFish/Bira'au Wilson Saeni.
Fumamato’o men haul in a net while fishing in the open-and-close area. Photo: WorldFish/Bira’au Wilson Saeni.

As a result of close management, fish were now present in greater numbers and larger sizes. 

Some fish species that they thought were extinct had returned to the fishing ground.

“The marine protected area and the open-and-close area made a big difference,” Mr Tuita stated.

Fumamato’o man holds two fish of a species that was thought to be locally extinct. Photo WorldFish/Bira'au Wilson Saeni.
Fumamato’o local holds fish of a species that was thought to be extinct. Once the community began to actively manage the marine areas, the fish has returned. Photo: WorldFish/Bira’au Wilson Saeni.

The women of Fumamato’o also benefit greatly from the locally managed marine area.

Betty Koidi, in an interview with the Malaita Star, said that fish was now available in big number and large sizes, which greatly helped in the marketing of the fish. 

Mrs Koidi said the women of Fumamato’o could sell one fish for SBD$10.00 (US$1.20) and above. Before the locally managed marine area was set up, they struggled, as there was not enough fish and the fish they did catch were small. 

“We women will strive and work together with the men and youths of this community to maintain the open-and-close area for our benefit,” Mrs Koidi said.

Mr Tuita said the Manaoba LMMA operated under clear rules.

“If we find you fishing in the marine protected area, you will pay a fine of SBD$500 (US$61.00),” he said.

A group caught fishing illegally in the area at the beginning of the year paid a fine of $500 and a live pig. 

He said the surrounding communities knew about the rules and were working with Fumamato’o. 

“At first other communities found it hard to accept, but as they learn about the benefits of the marine protected area, they start to work together with us”, he said.

Sea resources protected on a taboo site at Mararo

The Mararo Community Based Organization in East Are’Are has taken steps to conserve its marine resources at the Puriasi Management Area. 

The area is a unique place that also contains traditional taboo sites. 

According to Tony Atitete, the community put rules in place to safeguard the area from being exploited and to scare away potential intruders.

Mr Atitete told the Malaita Star that the area was important for their tribe for the taboo site that their ancestors used to conduct their traditional form of worship. 

Thickly vegetated hillsides and heavily mangrove treed water edges of Puriasi Management Area. Photo WorldFish/Bira'au Wilson Saeni.
Puriasi Management Area. Photo: WorldFish/Bira’au Wilson Saeni.

Because the site was being managed to honour culture and to protect the natural resources, it was becoming a breeding area for marine life. 

He said the community aimed to preserve the marine resources for future generations. Rules prohibit the catching of certain animals and from some fishing methods for three years, and ban the collection of mangrove trees for firewood, and the “unnecessary” cutting of trees. 

After the three years, the taboo area would be opened only for one week for any special occasion, and then closed again. 

Anyone found to have breached the rules would face fines of up to SBD$500 (US$61.00).

Mr Atitete said the management plan had been developed and endorsed by surrounding communities. 

Although the hillsides of the Puriasi Management Area is covered with thick virgin forest, and its shoreline with mangroves, there was a persistent threat from a logging operation nearby. Mr Atitete said he feared that the Puriasi Management Area would be disturbed if the logging company went into full-scale operation. 

Head and shoulders portrait of Tony Atitete. Photo WorldFish/Bira'au Wilson Saeni.
Tony Atitete. Photo: WorldFish/Bira’au Wilson Saeni.

Conservation an ancient practice in East Kwaio

Marine conservation has been regarded as a longstanding part of the East Kwaio culture.

East Kwaio man Tome Arika said during a recent meeting with WorldFish and Malaita Province government officials that the “modern” conservation technique they were being taught was similar to the traditional conservation practices of Kwaio people.

“Personally, I find this concept blends in well with our traditional setting,” Mr Arika said.

“Before, we restricted these fishing grounds only for feast days. At that time this place was full of fish and turtles. 

“I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But today people overharvest fish and shells.”

Mr Arika, who holds onto the ancient Kwaio way of worshipping, said the increase in the coastal human population had put much pressure on the sea resources.

“Today you will hardly find fish in the fishing grounds, which were formerly conserved by our forefathers. There are fish, but they are small in size and less in numbers.

“I think we are all in support of looking after marine resources because we want to make life easy for ourselves,” he said.