This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Read our other articles on the National Geographic Voices blog featuring the work of our iLCP Fellow Photographers all around the world.
Text and Photos by iLCP Fellow Sergio Izquierdo
Los Cayitos de Utila (Honduras). – Elizabeth Diamond, an elderly woman, a fighter, with English ancestry, and the owner of the only fishery in Los Cayitos de Utila, Honduras. Early every morning she supplies gas and ice to the fishermen, and air diving tanks in case they fish lobsters. After that, the fishermen go to their favorite and partially assigned spots to fish for hours. And it’s funny to see each fishermen has a friend, the same friend that accompanies them each and every day, during the whole day, and this friend is a pelican. The fishermen catch their fish, they share with their pelican friends and after a long day under the harsh sun, they return to the fishery’s dock in the afternoon.
The fishermen come with different types of fish, red snapper, yellow tail and barracudas. They deliver the fish to the fishery, weigh them, and sell them to Elizabeth. Afterwards, there are people who clean the fish to be stored in refrigerated rooms so they can be exported to Miami, or are heaviliy salted and dried to sell months later in the local market as “dry fish”.
At the end of this year, Elizabeth Diamond says never in her life has she seen this enormous quantity of barracuda being fished out of the sea. This is a very rare fishing season. During the last 35 years, she has never seen anything like it. The comments she makes are based only on her experience, she has no written information to back it up, but then again, she has been doing this for a long time. And this phenomenon raises questions like, is it because of climate change? Or maybe because of the hurricane that just passed by? Or is it because these fish can’t find any more food in the open oceans because the large scale of fishery is affecting them? The answers to these questions can provide more information to scientists to discover the impacts of climate change, and also for governments to take better decisions regarding fisheries, declaring no take zones and to define marine protected areas (MPAs).
The Smithsonian Marine Conservation Program is developing an app for tablets and cellphones, to be used by local fisheries and local restaurants. This app will work to gather data on how much they fish (there is significantly more data on large scale fisheries, but almost none for small scale fisheries), what type of fish are caught, and provides tools to small scale fishery owners to track their buys, loans to the fishermen and so on. In other words, this app will be helpful for small scale fisheries, for local restaurants, for fishermen, governments, the scientists and consequently will be helping the conservation of marine life. This project will start in the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) region and then replicated in Myanmar and other countries around the world.
Four iLCP photographers and videographers, joined an expedition to Honduras and Belize lead by Steven Canty and Stephen Box, both British living in the US, from the Smithsonian Marine Conservation Program. All four iLCP photographers came from different parts of the world, Trip Jennings came from the United States, Luciano Candisani from Brazil, Pete Oxford from Ecuador and me, Sergio Izquierdo, from Guatemala with the assignment of documenting the fishery and the use of the app, with the objective of having the material produced be helpful for this project to be successful. The photographs and videos will help the Smithsonian Marine Conservation Program promote the use of the app, educate the small scale fishery owners to see its advantages, help the government decision makers to understand the impacts about the app, show them the benefits they will have and the process of implementation, and also have material to be embedded in the same app.
This app project is an incredible idea brought to life. There’s a saying “it’s easy to talk about conservation with a full stomach”. Fishermen fight each day to live, obviously by fishing, and at the very beginning they can only be concerned about fishing. They don’t care where, they just need to fish. So if a community does overfish in certain areas, they can alter not only the area, but other areas as well because, in the sea everything is connected and will consequences for ocean life. And the consequence of this is that later people will have nothing to fish, and then nothing to eat. But with this app, the outcome data will help show the fishing communities the importance of having MPAs and no take zones, define fishing bans during the year, so they will always have something to fish, something to eat, and sea life will be conserved. People like Elizabeth are key components that will help make this project be successful. Each time the world is threatened more and more in terms on conservation and each time we have to raise even more the conservation efforts, and search for solutions involving local people, science and governments.
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