Friday, January 20, 2017

Women of the Ocean - an ecological and cultural overview

Gleaning activities (Fangota) involves the collection of marine organisms such as mussels, clams, sea cucumbers, jellyfish and seaweeds at the low tide intervals upon the mud flats and mangrove areas. Gleaning, is primarily conducted by women in Tonga for subsistence with a handful of collections being sold in the domestic market. Gleaning is conducted by all 39 communities within Vava’u as shown in the chart below alongside the other coastal fishing practices.

Chart showing the types of fishing conducted by communities on the near-shore areas. Source: VEPA
Under the “Our Ocean” project funded through a grant provided by the Waitt Foundation, the VEPA team explored and recorded basic data on the gleaning activities with 6 communities.
The above map shows the location within Vava’u of the field activities conducted with the women's groups.

The areas for gleaning activities are under environmental pressure from land based run off, which increases sedimentations to the area and changes the habitat and water quality essential for filter feeding organisms such as the bivalves. Many of these organisms such as clams, also photosynthesise for which clear and low sediment waters are essential.
Under the first part of the Our Ocean programme, a Vava’u wide community awareness program was undertaken, within this awareness program, information was collected from the community groups on environmental and resource changes that they have noticed. For gleaning activities, the major concerns raised were of abundance and size changes in resources and habitat changes with 69% of communities indicating changes.
Some of these changes have included populations explosions of sea urchins (vana mea), population expolsions are often attributed to a species imbalance of the predatory species, in the case of sea urchins it can indicate a reduction in the abundance of reef fish. These explosions need to be monitored over a longer period of time to fully undertsnd the changes occurring.

The sea urchin known locally as vana mea
In Mangia and other locations to the East of Vava'u, changes in the tidal height have been noticed. This has been attributed to the lack of water movement through the culverts on the causeways that connect neighbouring islands. These changes in tide heights, were no apparent low tides occur, have created changes on the marine organisms previously gleaned. The women now mainly collect the Ark clam (kaloa'a) and Venus pectinate (to'o) where they use their feet to find the organisms in the mud.

The low tide height in Mangia has changed the gleaning practice to fewer organisms and unique collection methods.
 The gleaning areas are of vital importance both ecologically and to support community activities for subsistence and small scale economic acticities and need to be implemented into community managed reef areas (SMAs). The full report on the gleaning activities is available on the "Documents" page.