Before I break into an account of our recent scintillating Uncommon Dialogues, I would like to break the ice with a brief anecdote (or a quick yarnin’ if your feeling piratey) to give you all an idea of what our stint here on Palmyra Atoll was like.
For me, Palmyra turned out to be slightly more leisurely than for most because my research project can only be conducted while in open waters. This gave me a lot of free time to explore the island, and I’ll admit what I craved most after 2 weeks on a 135 ft boat with 40 people was some solitude. Also, having just finished the book I had been reading for our conservation class, Four Fish (which is by all means a fantastic read, and for all you amazingly supportive parents who secretly wonder why half your salary is paying for your child to research the mating behavior of the wart-footed stump snail or something of the likes, this book will convince you their education is more than worthwhile), I was eager to crack the binding of my new read. Solitude and a leisurely read, however, would prove to be not as feasible as I hoped.
I decided to hike to Strawn Island, the far end of the Atoll. I began down the trail and within 5 minutes encountered my first obstacle, a boulder sitting in the middle of the pathway, brandishing club like claws up at me. It was one of the notorious Palmyra coconut crabs, hermit crabs that have outgrown the luxury of a shell and now scamper about the island gorging themselves on coconut meat, which has given them the renown of tasting just like coconut. But this crab was a monster, at least 2.5 ft across while in its wide-gaited, “bring-it-on you measly human” stance. It could have wrapped one of those pincers around my ankle and taken a foot if it was so inclined. After ample prodding and poking with a long stick, I managed to push the crab out of the way and I heard it hissing angrily as carried on.
|A menacing Palmyra coconut crab|
Not long after, I found I was again not alone, but this time being besieged from the air. Two, stark white birds were repeatedly swooping dangerously low to my head. At first I feared I had disturbed the birds from their nest, and having been warned that preventing certain birds from their nest for more than a minute causes their eggs to denature, I hurried off on my way. But the birds refused to dissipate and soon their numbers had doubled and then tripled and I was suddenly brandishing my arms, stomping through unknown terrain as a blitzkrieg of ironically dove-like birds harassed me from all direction.
|A protective bird|
Breaking out of the palm forest in a frenzy, I found I had stumbled upon a beach, and luckily the air bombers followed me no further. Before me lay a long shallow sand bar, and at its end was a series of dilapidated WWII bunkers slowly sinking into the sea. Atop the largest bunker was a small tree. “Where better than a bunker to protect me from the onslaught of the natural island residents?” I thought. The Japanese may have never made it to Palmyra, but surely all their constructions afforded the navy personnel stationed there shelter from crabs and birds. Oh how wrong I was.
Atop the bunker and beneath the tree, I finally began to enjoy my book as the crashing waves soothed me from afar. Deciding to top of the situation with yet another indulgence, I reached into my backpack for a home made oatmeal bar I had brought, and lifting the bar up to my mouth I found that it had sprouted wad of gesticulating arms and claws. I screamed and threw what I thought had been my bar, but in reality was one of 4 fist sized hermit crabs that had crawled into my bag in the few moments I had been there, heaping themselves over my delicious snack. After emptying out my bag, I turned around to see that a migration had begun; from every direction atop the bunker, swarms of hermit crabs were narrowing in on my bag. I spun around and the crabs must have known that their secret swarming had been disclosed to the true beholder of the bar (myself) because they all abashedly popped back into their shelves and pretended to not exist.
And so I was finally able to enjoy my book on Palmyra, but only between intermittently chucking a few handfuls of hermit crab out of my bag.
|Professor Joe Bonaventura looks on|
After a four-day pause while in Palmyra, we resumed our Uncommon Dialogues with a talk hosted by our resident fisherman, Martini Arostegui. Martini comes to the world of marine conservation from an interesting perspective, as he is currently ranked as being the third highest record setting fisherman in the world. Martini introduced his topic by telling us about a man he met while at Palmyra, one of the 11 current residents. Martini believed this man to be an excellent fisherman, “probably one of the 20 best anglers in the world” as he put it, yet for some reason this man lived and worked in one of the strictest Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) in the world, a secluded island where no wildlife of any kind can be removed except for the occasional rare specimen for scientific purposes. However, for Martini, this seemingly counterintuitive individual represents the most practical and worthwhile sort of fishermen you can be, one who seeks out a future for fishing while still enjoying the sport.
This is not always the case. As Martini put it, the fishing community can often be “ stubborn.” Their position, however, is not lacking in justification. As the conservation movement progresses and the borders of MPA’s expand, they are slowly zoning off the waters that the fishing community has come to enjoy and love. For this reason, many fisherman have become adamantly opposed to marine conservation, citing the lack of evidence that MPA’s are effective and claiming the ocean as an open, unlimited resource. Martini, coming from both the fishing community and the scientific community, can easily relate to both perspectives, and according to him the solution can be found in effective communication.
The manner in which the conservation community goes about protecting the oceans is often lacking in public communication, the kind of communication that is needed to persuade the people that care most about these regions, their fishermen. Not only this, but the data showing the effectiveness of MPA’s needs to be collected, consolidated, and stringently evaluated so as prove their worth once and for all. Without showing that MPA’s help to preserve the future of fishing, the fishing community will continue to be completely justified in vying to keep the oceans of the world open and available. Although the situation is frustrating, it makes our mission as conservationists and scientists clear: to establish the facts, and more importantly, establish a network of trust between those who study the world’s natural resources and those who use it.
Our next talk was hosted by Zach Gold who told us about something called the Global Warming Paradox. The Global Warming Paradox is a theory that states that the countries that will be most negatively affected by the effects of climate change are those that are developing. Conversely though, the best way for any nation to best defend itself against the adversities associated with climate change is to burn fossil fuels. This is because many studies have shown that there is a direct correlation linking countries’ GDP’s with their consumption of fossil fuels per-person.
Hopefully you now see the paradox - that the developing countries attempting to buffer themselves against a changing climate have little choice than to increase their contribution to the problem, creating a positive feedback loop that ends in our demise. Zach then posed us with the question, what should we as Americans, being the largest burners of fossil fuels in the world, do?
The conversation that followed soon turned to one of effective international aid. How do we tell people in much more precarious socio-economic positions to do what we are infamously not doing, conserving our energy resources? Many of the group believed that the best option was to bring the skills, materials, and technologies necessary for sustainable development to the countries that needed them. Others in the group were also quick to remind us that this approach still relied on us to act as hypocrites, and that few would be willing to accept our help in such a situation.
To solve this problem, it is important to keep the right perspective. We must not mistake countries’ need for basic human rights and services for a desire to buy into the American way of life. What the people of developing countries want are the benefits that come with our lifestyle; they are not seeking to be American, and trying to help them by assuming this is a mistake. The comprehensive solution lies in separating “development” from the way we were able to achieve it. However, as individuals, the solution is in our actions. How do we prove the GDP-fossil fuel assumption wrong? By being more efficient.
Zach left us by redirecting our focus to our own personal day-to-day decisions. One example was eating less meat! Until next time, this is Lucas Oswald. Reporting on Uncommon Dialogues aboard the RCS.