When I was discharged from hospital in Cape Town after The Big Fright with jelly legs and strict instructions to rest up until I was allowed to fly back to England, I would spend lazy zen-like days gazing out to sea from my splendid eyrie above the rocks in Bantry Bay. One morning, while I was idly watching a gull soar and dip in graceful circles against the flawless blue of an African sky, something dark caught my eye slightly further out to sea. At first I thought it was a boat silhouetted against the glitter light of the sea. Then it lifted its distinctive tail and waved. Waved right at me - of that I am certain. A Southern Right whale had come into Table Bay in early March…..especially for me. She stayed out there blowing and tumbling and waving for almost an hour. Three or four boats sailing in the bay spotted her and carefully came in for a closer look. A final wave and a blow to us all and she was gone.
Just after she disappeared, my cell phone rang. It was our daughter, Georgie, calling from England to check how I was doing. I told her with breathless excitement about the Southern Right just out in the bay..…right slap bang in my line of vision. “That was Fifa and G’Pa,” she replied calmly and firmly. “They are sending a message of love and encouragement to you, Mama.” Fifa and G’Pa are the names the then 14 month-old Georgie had given my mother and father and, yes, I’m sure she was absolutely right. “Keep on keeping on, darling girl,” was their message.
Now I’m going to ask you all a big favour by urging you to also keep on keeping on by doing something proactive - no matter how tiny -to help conserve the oceans both for ourselves and for future generations.
I recently watched, with stunned horror, a documentary called The End of the Line about the crisis in the world’s fish stocks and the future of marine life. Filmed around the world – from the Straits of Gibraltar to the coasts of Senegal and Alaska to the Tokyo fish markets – The End of the Line truly is a wake-up call to the world. The gruelling truth is that if fishing continues in the mostly unsustainable manner in which it does today, there will be no more fish in the sea by 2048. A chilling thought.
Our grandson, James, gazes in wonder at life under the sea (Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town 2010)
This film should be compulsory viewing for everyone – particularly for those who enjoy eating fish and for those who want to preserve the beauty and sea life of our oceans. Imagine – no more sushi or freshly caught fish grilled over the coals……and swimming in seas full of jelly fish is just no fun! I simply cannot imagine a world without fish, but if things continue at today’s speed, it will be a reality in our lifetime.
Seabream, Funchal Fish Market – Madeira 2009
A friend on her annual family summer holidays in the Finnish Archipelago, recently told me that it had really stuck them how the impact that overfishing has had in the Baltic – no more fishing off the pier because the waters are empty, and there were many days when they couldn’t swim because of the algae blooms in the water.
Waiting for the catch – Zanzibar, April 2008
Globally there is mass unemployment due to unsustainable fishing. Take for example the traditional fishing villages on the Senegalese coast, where huge international trawlers sweep kilometres of ocean at a time, decimating the coral reefs and throwing away much of their unwanted dead catch back into the sea. We have all seen photos of many of those unemployed local fishermen in the papers – boatloads of them crossing the Med to try and find work in Europe.
Sunset Beach, Mahé, Seychelles – February 2010
When Guy and I were in the entrancing Seychelles in February, we were appalled to see the harbour on Mahé chock full of enormous Japanese owned Tuna Trawlers which towered menacingly over the colourful local fishing boats. This must surely mean that these island jewels in the middle of the Indian Ocean could face the same fate as places such as Senegal or the Finnish Archipelago.
Fishing boats in Struisbaai Harbour – Cape Agulhas, South Africa 2010
It really is within our power to do something about this - and I’m absolutely sure many of you already do:
- Only buy fish from sustainable sources – always ask your fishmonger/supermarket fish counter for fish which has been sustainably caught. The supermarkets are cottoning on - look for the MSC logo or Good Catch label on the packet.
- Don’t eat endangered fish which many restaurants still serve – bluefin tuna for example is on the same endangered list as are the panda and the tiger – and I’ll bet you wouldn’t dream of eating either of those!
- Try and avoid farmed fish, because farmed fish need 5kg of fish meal (from generally trawled fish) for every 1kg of fish produced!
If we all act now and spread the sustainable word, then hopefully everyone will still be swimming in beautiful oceans full of fish in 2048 and our children and grandchildren will continue to enjoy the pleasures of the watery world.