The Lesson of Niue: Conservation Relies on Traditional Knowledge

Photos and text: Jon Betz

It was a strange thing to wake up this morning on land. It’s easy to get used to the creaks and gentle rocking motion of ship life. In its place today I woke up to an awkward chorus of roosters at 4am. Quite a difference, and it gave me pause to reflect. This has been an incredible expedition.

With heavy hearts we all said goodbye to our home away from home yesterday, the beautiful ship Island Passage. For the last two weeks this ship has been our home, our laboratory, our dive shop, our hospital, our home base from which we were lucky enough to experience the beauty of Niue and Beveridge Reef and share unbelievable experiences with the people of Niue.

This has been a fascinating, inspiring, emotional and enlightening expedition for us and we all now feel a deep connection to this place and her people. I will miss our time aboard the Island Passage with a wonderful and hard-working crew (and incredible food!), and hope we will embark on another adventure with her again soon. Last night as we transitioned into travel mode, frantically packing and planning for our flights out in the coming days, I looked out to the ocean and caught a glimpse of the Island Passage setting sail back to New Zealand, marking the end of our expedition. It was a solemn moment.

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset
Halo moon

On our last night at Niue, a moon halo hung warily above us, reminding me not only about the magic we experienced at Niue and Beveridge Reef but also the importance of traditional knowledge and customs in the continued conservation of Niue’s waters. Many fish species spawn in synchronization with lunar cycles and the people of Niue have had a deep understanding of this rhythm for centuries. Knowledge like this helps local people to make informed decisions about when to catch and when not to catch certain fish species and is critical to the future protection of Niue’s marine ecosystem. It is imperative to combine knowledge like this with modern science to establish a robust program of conservation.

This trip was an experience of a lifetime. As a media producer it is truly inspiring to learn from such a talented and knowledgeable group of scientists and capture their journey of discovery. We were fortunate to film some incredible imagery from the stunning underwater world to the natural beauty of the island landscape to the unique culture of this beautiful community. The people of Niue welcomed us with open arms and it has been such a pleasure to get to know some of them in the field. Niue will stay with me forever and I am sure I’ll be back.

Jon Betz is a producer and filmmaker accompanying Pristine Seas expeditions.

Changing Planet