Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tiffany Laitame's Speech at Our Ocean 2015

Tiffany Laitame
Ladies and gentlemen, Buenos días, Iaorana, Aronga

First of all, I want to pay my respects to all countries and cultures present here today.
I come from the island of Rapa, one of the most remote islands on Earth.

It is located in French Polynesia in the Austral Islands archipelago. There is no airport in Rapa – the only way to get there is one commercial boat from Tahiti every 3 months.

I am here today to represent Mr Tuanainai Narii, the mayor of Rapa who was invited to speak on this community panel. Mr Narii would have been thrilled to participate at this important event, but he was not able to leave his island and his population for a long time. I am Mr Narii’s niece and I also created the main environmental organization in which I’m the vice president. (I left the lead role to my auntie to let an elder and her wisdom guide us).

There are about 500 people living on Rapa, most of them are farmers and fishermen. Due to the island’s remoteness, and limited influences from outsiders, Polynesian traditions are still very present on Rapa. And one of the key traditional heritages of my island is the “rahui”.

Rahui is a Polynesian way to manage natural resources sustainably, with a set of protection zones and restrictions placed by chiefs, for the benefit of the whole community. It has existed in most of the Polynesian islands, but has disappeared in almost all of them, probably due to western influences and the loss of traditional knowledge and way of life. But Rapa is one of the very few islands in the Pacific that was able to maintain practices in line with the Polynesian rahui.

In the 80’s, new fishing techniques such as spearguns or fishing nets and modern freezers were arriving in Rapa and people were starting to overfish. The situation was not sustainable.

So the former mayor of Rapa, Lionel Watanabe, decided to launch a fishing Rahui for the island, as was practiced in ancient times. It was hard to reestablish the Rahui in the 80s, there were lots of complaints and some people did not want to respect the rules. But after a few years, everybody came to understand that Rahui works and that it is important for our island.

The Rahui of Rapa protects the Eastern coastal area of the island where spearguns are strictly forbidden. Moreover, all around the island, night fishing, fishing nets and lobster traps are not allowed.

In 1991, a Rahui Committee of nine members was created. This committee is elected every two years by the whole population and can propose expanding or reducing the size of the protection zone according to available resources.

The Rahui of Rapa is a very sacred notion, with a strong link to beliefs. When a fisherman does not respect the rules, his engine can break down or fall in the ocean. The local priest opens and closes the Rahui with a prayer and we all say O oe e paruru ta matou rahui which means “God protects the Rahui”.

The Rahui is lifted for fishing one day twice a year. On those days, everybody is involved. Men go fishing in the Rahui zone while women cook preparing for their return.

Fish caught during these days is distributed to the whole population according to the number of members in each family. This is a very important celebration for our community.

The Rahui is so effective in Rapa because it is based on community management and traditional values. There is no legal text supporting the Rahui; it is only a traditional custom operated locally. And the current generation of Rapa is knowledgeable in the maintenance and the management of the Rahui.

We have been able to protect our coastal resources for about 30 years because of the Rahui.

But we realize now, that our pelagic resources are declining drastically in the open ocean. This decline is due to overfishing at the international level. We are not responsible for this but we are the first victims of this problem.

This is why, with the four other Austral islands, Rapa has decided through an official declaration of our municipality council, to call for an extension of our coastal Rahui to the open ocean. We now propose to the government of French Polynesia the designation of a large marine reserve in the Austral Islands’ waters, which would include a coastal fishing zone of 20 miles around each island for our local boats. We hope that our voices will be heard.

Across the globe, we know that almost 90 percent of fish stocks are depleted or fully exploited and less than two percent of the oceans are highly protected. We clearly need to work together in order to keep our world healthy and viable for future generations. Today, we share with all of you: our Rahui, our way of managing marine resources in our small island of Rapa. We hope that it can be an inspiration for other islands or countries for sustainable management and conservation of their natural resources. We are all connected by ocean. We need to think about that.

Tongia! Thank you! ¡Gracias!

Ei hau! 

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