Imagine if you only have one supermarket – it is the ocean, and it is running out of stock? That is the reality for the people of Yap, a volcanic tropical island in the Pacific Ocean.
“The people of Yap have a deep cultural connection with the marine environment. Fish play a hugely important role in the local culture,” says Prof. Bill Jeffery, of the University of Guam.
Prof. Jeffery is a world specialist in underwater cultural heritage. He is currently documenting Micronesia’s fascinating practices. He works closely with local people to understand how culture plays out underwater.
Overfishing due to modern techniques have seen fish stocks dwindle in Yap. Local people are looking to the past to change the future, through the revival of an ancient and unexpected form of fishing.
By catching only what they need, fish stocks are being protected.
Stone Tidal Weirs are intricate, handmade stone structures – a bit like a giant net, made of stones. These stone nets fill with water when the tide comes in, bringing fish with it. As the water flows out, the fish are left in the Weir ready to be caught. With every tide, fresh fish are delivered daily.
In Yap, there is a strong cultural connection to the practice and the technique has been used for thousands of years. According to local myths, the first Stone Tidal Weirs were built by spirits, to teach humans how to live and harvest the ocean alongside Mother nature.
By using traditional fishing techniques, the people of Yap are working towards a sustainable fish harvest. By looking back into past, the community has been brought closer together, and the youth have been taught new skills.
But it’s not easy. The fishing method faces issues outside of the local people’s control. Sea level rise is changing the efficiency of the weirs, and increased storm events and intensity are damaging the stone structures.
These are things we can all do something about, together, by preventing climate change and building a more sustainable planet.
You may not use the ancient fishing technique of Stone Tidal Weirs, but you can help people in other parts of the world.
In doing so, you can help the people of Yap feed themselves with a sustainable food source now, and into the future.
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