“Oh shit, these guys are in trouble”, I think, as Jasseb waves me over and nods affirmatively. In front of him: a bag, filled to the brim with turtle eggs. This is what we were afraid of. We had just come back from a dive and steered our small fiberglass boat to the next dive location, when we saw another boat stranded on the beach close by.
If there is activity on the shores of the Mohéli Marine Park in the Comoros, and it is not us – well, then it usually indicates poachers. It could also mean the park rangers are doing their jobs for once, but… probably not. If it is poachers, they are either after turtles or turtle eggs. For a long time, these had been a pretty normal food source and they are still sold (illegally) on the local markets, as if it was chicken. Because these times are officially over since the erection of the Marine Park, any kind of poaching is being punished. That being said, enforcement is lacking enthusiasm on this remote island, to say the least. You can imagine how in a place like here, where most are related, park ranger officials are not necessarily very ambitious to go chase their friends, cousins and brothers around the islands.
So here we are, on a tiny beach with three poachers. One of which fled the scene as soon as he saw us approaching. The other two, with machetes in their hands, young guys in their early twenties, claim to know nothing about turtles. The fresh turtle tracks on the beach? Probably coincidence. Fierce Jasseb, agitated and committed to bringing these guys to justice, swiftly tricks the both of them into pointing out where they presumingly hid the freshly lay ping pong sized eggs in a huge bag, four dozens of them, digs a whole and gently puts them back in with my assistance.
Before they knew it, before they could even think about doing anything stupid (it would be futile anyway, everyone here knows each other), the two young men were in “custody”. We split them up and drove to the Marine Park Headquarters. They had assumed we must have any authority over them. Who else would dare to intervene? If they only knew: they had just been taken down by a simple snorkel guide and his white and rather clueless sidekick in a wetsuit, yours truly. Their punishment will be considerably small however, unless they have been caught before. I doubt it.
On one of the many romantic starred nights in front of the compressor, filling up tanks for the next day, I can’t help but think: It’s all nice and good to try change the world politically and it is certainly an admirable mission, but how redundant laws are, if not enforced properly. How much I admire the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and their efforts to fill that so much needed gap. I wish we had Sea Shepherd here. But we have Jasseb. That must count for something!
Arriving in the Comoros over two weeks ago, driving to the Lodge where I would spend my summer, I saw nothing but a paradise island in the middle of nowhere. This view was quickly tinted, but it has nothing to do with the poacher incident: it’s the amount of trash here that got to me. For a while now I have observed and followed the effects of plastic on ecosystems and god knows I have seen a lot of fucked up places, with trash piling up so quickly and inconsiderably, you can’t even say “trash bin”.
Here I find myself in a very interesting situation: we are talking about little communities, with modern indigenous who most likely will never leave their islands. Power outs can last for months, flight companies have no problem cancelling trips if they feel like not flying that day. Smartphones and modern technology has reached only very few, yet fast moving consumer goods find their way to even the most remote places today. The result is devastating: kids here essentially live, breathe and sleep in midst of trash. There is no recycling, no incinerator (yet). Traditionally, at the end of Ramadan, old things are thrown into the ocean as a symbol of new beginnings, so that week the current, teaming up with the low tide revealed the most shocking sights on our beach. Diapers, trousers, plastic containers, more plastic, more clothes. The cleanup crew is working double shifts these days and it feels like Sysiphus all over again.
This place is lacking everything, most importantly education. And tourism. Being here, I feel like I have to recalibrate my thoughts on tourism and its ambivalent impact on communities. As I would learn here, even in the middle of nowhere, there is no place to hide from globalisation, really. It will find us all eventually, and when it does, we better make sure we are mentally up to the task. Places like the Seychelles learned successfully that tourism won’t flourish, if the place is rotten. So they clean after themselves. And they so it well. Not all is lost here, and efforts are made to get waste management on the right track.
As ignorance is bliss, all of this doesn’t seem to bother the village next door presently anyway. At nights, you hear the festive atmosphere (it’s wedding season) including some animator on the microphone. In the mornings, you are gently woken up by whistle blows and kids playing football (soccer) at the beach. They play 20on20. All day. What a stamina! My favourite sights are the “plastic goats”, who roam around the village literally behaving like cats and dogs, climbing on walls, going through the trash. They replace the local dogs. And then there are the smiling faces and happy kids, greeting you at every corner of every street.
Despite all the chaos, there is something unspoiled and innocent about this place, way beyond my ability to grasp. There is so much potential and I feel the need to share this place with everyone. If it wasn’t for the unreliable flights and general remoteness… the human factor aside, the wildlife here doesn’t disappoint: Every once and so often, we can see Mongoose Lemurs climbing around in the woods of our lodge, one of only too species found outside of Madagaskar (they definitely win the local cuteness award). Massive bats become active in the afternoons and their span width is impressive even for superhero standards. It seems so surreal and exotic to walk on the beach and look at this flora and fauna. The other day I tagged along a tour through the jungle and what a jungle this is: cinnamon, avocado, pepper, coffee beans, bananas of course, mango, sugarcanes, you name it, it all grows here.
One of the highlights is indeed the turtle hatching on quite a few beaches as a nightly/morningly occurrence. Hence the the whole Marine Park efforts to keep poachers away. Massive green turtles come to lay their 100+ eggs on the beaches, dig supermassive craters in an indescribable effort, and disappear back into the ocean after their work is done. Roughly three months later, the little hatchlings dig their dangerous way out, to reach the water. Between birds and crabs, only one percent survive. I was picturing myself like a deadly ninja, standing on the beach, Karate chop the giant eagles away and roundhouse kick mountains of crabs. Fortunately I didn’t actually see any, and that night only a few hatchlings would follow the light of my flashlight, mistaking it for the sun. I can rest assured; they’ve made it. Can I work for you Sea Shepherd already? 🙂
Unfortunetely I can’t upload my high resoluted photos on here. But you can check out my instagram account. @repeatedlyreminded