Saturday, 25 October 2008

Bai protects marine life

Bai protects marine life


WHEN you talk about diving whether it be scuba or free diving, Bai Whippy knows everything about it like the back of his hands.

They say home is where the heart is but for 56-year-old Bai, as he prefers to be called, it’s obviously the sea which has been an integral part of his entire life.

Nestled in the pristine blue waters off Kadavu is a small island called Galoa on which the Whippy family resides.

Bai’s great-grandfather was a boat builder who came from America and settled on Galoa after he built a sailboat for the local chief.

“After building the boat for the chief he was given this piece of land which we are now living on, and then my father also become a boat builder and married a local woman,” he said.

It’s not only diving that Bai is passionate about but everything about the sea and its protection.

He believes in conserving the environment especially protecting the marine life and its habitat.

“I love diving and going down to see the beautiful creatures and be in that environment where you forget everything because everything is silent and very peaceful,” he said.

Bai is Kadavu’s first scuba diver, an honour he first held when he was just 18-years-old and age has not deterred him from this passion.

He said a European couple encouraged him to take up diving lessons which he did and received an open water certificate, then to the advanced stages of rescue certificate, dive master certificate and now a dive instructor.

Whippy loves to show people who love to dive the fish that live in the nearby reefs.

“We have manta rays (large ray fish with wide pectoral fins, a long tail and two fins resembling horns that project from the head) on those reefs,” he said pointing out to the sea.

The manta rays were about 12 feet or less and fed on planktons or a mass of tiny animals and plants floating in the sea or in lakes, usually near the surface and eaten by fish and other water animals.

He said they would come around, summersault, float and at times stay still as the divers watched them.

“We also have sharks with white tips which are about six feet long,” he said. And then there is a place we call the ‘supermarket’ because one could see so many different types of table corals in different colours which is like going to a supermarket, “ he proudly said.

“And then there is the lettuce garden which is also made up of corals.”

Galoa Island is very close to the island of Kadavu and the calm waters that separate it from the main island is frequently used by large boats for shelter whenever there is a storm warning.

It is also a nesting area for sea turtles. It has a vast area of mangroves, which provide a protective breeding habitat for crabs and fish.

Whippy said that in the ‘60s and ‘70s, people would just fish along the coast and only spent a few hours to bring in their catches. But now they have to go out further to catch enough fish for the family.

“We also have a lot of people not from this area who dive at night in our reefs and they are taking everything they find. They take sea cucumbers, sea slugs as well and anything they can sell,” he said.

“Even turtles can hardly be seen now and in the ‘60s, our people used to look for turtle eggs here. They would just take sticks and start poking in the sand and whenever they hit something soft, they will start digging and then the eggs would be there.

“But now we realize how important those eggs are and also the importance of the reefs so we have stopped. Because I take tourists and friends to see the corals and fish I know the importance of conservation.

In the village when we sit around a bowl of kava I would tell them the importance of corals and creatures in the ocean.”

He also advises them on the importance of watching where they place their anchors when
out fishing and use of “duva” or poisonous plants.

However, he said the best way of conservation is the use of “moka” which is a traditional fishing method in which stone walls are placed around a reef which is usually near the foreshore. At low tide the fish are trapped inside that is when the bigger fish will be taken out and the smaller ones left in. For bigger functions used the “yavi rau” or the fish drive in which only leaves and vines are used as nets and only big fish are caught.

He said people should always be reminded on the proper methods of catching fish.

The dumping of plastic bags into the sea also used to be a problem in the village but now each tribe has its own pits in which they place their rubbish.

“We used to use paper bags before and then the plastic bags were brought in but I think the best one was the use of woven coconut baskets usually used by our mothers to carry food,” said Whippy.

Mangroves is also important to people of Galoa because they believe that is the reason they have so many mud crabs and fish.

“We do not cut them for firewood but when the old bakery was working many years ago they used to cut mangroves for its firewood,” he said.

“When we used to sell copra we also used mangroves for firewood because of its heat. The roots of mangroves are also used as firewood and the trunk as dye for tapa.”

Whippy concludes that children have to be taught by parents on the importance of conservation and not to be idle.

He said when children wake up in the morning they should do a chore first before breakfast and learn to be responsible especially on the dumping of rubbish.

“That is what I teach my children and I was also taught that by my parents. The turaganikoro or the village headman should be the first one up in the morning and see that the village is always clean.”

He also emphasised that parents should be role models for their children and see that they have healthy habits and conserve.

Bai also has a boarding house on his property which could house 12 people and says he is lucky that he has a group that comes in every year from Europe, but he also welcomes locals who want to visit his home.

This way Bai believes people could learn to appreciate the wonders of the ‘underworld’ and importance of protecting our marine environment.

Alumeci Nakeke

Fiji Daily Post: News Features - NAKEKE - Bai protects marine life

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