Banaban Voice

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Phosphate, Guano and the Pacific Experience

Posted by Aaron Taouma at 4:32 PM
Sunday, January 11, 2009

Talofa and welcome to 2009.

Now, not having been a regular blogger before I do but try. This year though I have decided to try and at least have one article/commentary per week posted to this site.

It is quite general and “me” specific at times but any thoughts, opinions and clarifications within the Pacific diaspora is valuable and adds to the totality of the Pacific experience (or detracts from it – depending on how you see it).

So, let’s begin…

I begin with an idea. I will not give a full account in this commentary (you can find out more).

I recently made a comment on another site, reacting to an opinion piece from the NZHerald. I ended in calling the writer a “dumb ass.” Perhaps these words were a bit strong. But in the heat of the moment, sometimes things are said out of turn.

But, the interesting part of my reaction was (yes, another thing that just spat out), a discussion about the impact of phosphate mining in the Pacific.

Here’s a concept…

You have certain islands in the Pacific made up of phosphate, not to get confused with guano (which is basically a build-up of bird poo). But guano and phosphate (or tricalcium phosphate) can be fitted into the basic premise of this argument together.


These islands are nutrient rich – perfect for fertilising the ocean.
Around these islands you have plant life, fish and animals feeding from their richness.
The ocean thus feeds from these islands.
There are ocean currents spreading the nutrient rich molecules from these islands into the wider depths.
But, how far and wide do these islands affect the ocean?

Animals or plants, plankton has a funny determination. Yet, these tiny miniscule creatures feed the largest of our ocean living companions. Plankton produce and multiply themselves to an nth degree. But, even their production is finite.

What happens when plankton is not produced at previously experienced numbers?

Has anyone ever wondered if Mobby Dick was real?

Or, at least a part of the story was true?

What about the tales of huge sea monsters and Octopi?

Not that I am saying these monsters of the sea were directly wiped out because of the removal of phosphate or guano from the Pacific. But who knows…

I won’t get into that debate without further investigation. Needless to say, it’s something worth considering.

But let’s get back to a macro picture of possibilities.

The islands I am talking about are:

Banaba (or Ocean Island)
Makatea (in the Cook Islands)

These are the phosphate islands. But there are many other guano rich islands.

What I am asserting is – the mining of phosphate and other minerals/materials from the Pacific has drastically affected the ecosystem of the Pacific Ocean – the richness of the ocean.

But, let’s get back to phosphate for a moment.

Why did they mine for phosphate in the first place?

Country’s like New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom have done very well out of phosphate. Thank you very much. Phosphate was used in the twentieth century to fuel these economies. How?

Here’s a basic flow chart (and we’ll use New Zealand as an example but this has application to Australia and the United Kingdom also).

Farmer’s find the soil in New Zealand is not rich enough to produce grass and clover for really good milk.
They take phosphate, ripped out of the hearts of these Pacific Islands and add this super booster to their fertilisers.

This super enriches the soil and nice grass is grown.
Cows love it and produce good milk.
New Zealand makes dairy products of high quality and sells its products elsewhere.
New Zealand gets a good reputation for this.
The agricultural and dairy base of the economy is entrenched.

But, did the Islanders have a good deal to begin with?

It is generally accepted that they didn’t – not really.

But could it be that retribution should be made to more than just the particular islanders living on those islands that in actual fact retribution should be made to all of the Pacific Island nations at least in kind and why?

The islands are linked by the ocean and her currents. The people of the Pacific are also all inter-linked.

Okay, we’re not packing up and heading to the world court. But, let’s at least have some recognition from these governments that they owe the Pacific a great debt and they did it at great cost to the natural environments of the Pacific.

There are many more examples of resources being ripped out of the Pacific and this having an adverse effect on the environment.

We haven’t even gone into the arguments around nuclear testing and how doing this incredibly stupid thing is an offence against the entire globe and her people.

We haven’t even touched on the fact that 65% of the world’s fish stock comes from the Pacific and what this really means.

Needless to say, the external, sometimes colonial or semi-colonial nations have effectively trampled on the sovereignty and autonomy of all of the nations within the Pacific for their own greed.

Now we are in the twenty-first century and things are a little different, is their hope New Zealand, Australia and those of the European Union at the least, will make retribution and set things right?

Perhaps, we need America to take notice of this plight?

The Pacific used to be described as paradise – as Eden.

So it should be. You would think people in their right minds would want to save paradise, save Eden.

It should be protected by all of mankind as the birthplace of life on Earth.

We still have a chance today. It is not too late. But will the greed of man once again taint this vision?

Feed the Ocean to feed the sky to feed the land to feed the people…

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Comment by Stacey King on January 18, 2009 at 12:40pm
#422 | 18-Jan-09, 12:17:01, GMT +10 | Lovenotevol - BANABAN MESSAGE BOARD

"Phosphate, Guano and the Pacific Experience"

As expected from someone of his calibre, experience and ranking with the media, the article is erudite, exhaustive, and commendable. It carries a broader Pacific perspective of which Banaban's are a part. Incidentally, his other piece…"East meets East" is strikingly visionary and a perfect insight to China. I just wonder what would be his views of India which is similarly heavily populated and also climbing slowly to take its place amongst the future world powers. And who knows the future Independent State of Banaba will have direct foreign trade agreements (FTA's) with these two future powers.

I came across the incident whereby strong words were said out of turn and pondered on the justification of the outburst. Understandably, remarks unconsciously made in the heat of the moment, are but involuntary response to unwarranted provocations. Yes, we (as Paradise/Eden Islanders) sometimes accidentally lose sight of the centre of our pride which is entrenched in our precious customs and traditions …..the unique "pacific way". (e.g. … fa'a samoa, katei, vaka-i-tovo,etc.etc.etc.)

However, in more instances than one, the root cause of most if not all clashes is the complete lack of respect by the one with the upper hand who normally indulge in the thought….'who cares, I have the authority and I have the keys !' Are we, the 'unfortunate', expected to continue accepting being mistreated and taken advantage of, for being so friendly, respecting and trusting? (re. Tua fiasco) Should we 'put up, shut up and act as dumb asses' and remain tolerant to allow the greed of "man" to take its toll ? Is this part of the reason why we (failing the test of restraint) are filling up the court house and prison ?

No wonder the 'pacific way' momentarily lost its pacificm (serenity) during that particular incident.



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