By Heather Seeley
During this week’s exploration in Human Ecology class, we were able to experience the process that sustains the livelihoods of countless Bahamians: fishing. We were lucky enough to learn from Nehemiah, a Bahamian fisherman who grew up in a fishing family and claims that he could “be out on the water all day, just looking at the ocean floor.” The main theme that we discussed this week in class was the spectrum of environmental ideologies, which ranges from unrestrained instrumentalism – the most anthropocentric ideology – to transformative ideologies, which are the most ecocentric beliefs and practices. I struggled to connect this spectrum idea with the purpose of our fishing trip; that is until I heard Nehemiah’s personal concerns about the depletion of fish populations and economic depression of the fishing industry in Eleuthera.
Nehemiah explained how the increase of tourism in the Bahamas has resulted in an increase in fishing demands. The consequences are overfishing and illegal fishing, which have created much debate over whether Marine Protected Areas and fishing bans should be established to replenish fish populations. This information made me realize the relevance of environmental ideologies when it comes to any environmental concern. In this case, those whose ideologies lie more towards “anthropocentric” are more concerned with making an economic profit through tourism in the Bahamas. This perspective is a major reason for the uncontrolled fishing, which is the reason for the depleted fish populations around the islands. Then there are the people on the island – like Nehemiah – whose ideologies lie more toward the ecocentric side of the spectrum. Nehemiah has witnessed the downturn in fish availability in the waters that once brought him and fellow fishermen prosperous yields, and he conveyed his feelings of disappoint to us. As we snorkeled through the open water with Nehemiah leading us, I realized the connection that this fisherman has with the sea. The smile on his face when he speared a grouper was one of genuine excitement, even though Nehemiah has been spearing these animals his entire life. Back on land, his appreciation for marine life was evident as he filleted our catches with grace, fully aware of the value of the resources in front of him.
This is how I fully became aware of the importance of environmental ideologies, through the experience of watching a conch fisherman at work. I realized that the people with more ecocentric ideologies are the only ones who can save the increasingly sparse fish supply in Eleuthera. This idea was further confirmed after watching the documentary on Bahamian fisheries, in which we heard many local fishermen supporting the options of MPA’s and more sustainable fishing methods. I only hope that, for the sake of people like Nehemiah, the hopes of these fishermen will be fulfilled; that people with ideologies on opposite sides of the spectrum can come together to help Eleuthera’s economy while still conserving the beauty and life of the island’s natural ecosystems.