The Ocean and Us

The spiritual sons and daughters of Paptuanuku are the guardians (kaitiaki) of her various realms. Tangaroa is the kaitiaki of the ocean and as such, all life in the ocean is under his care. And whilst humans are free to harvest those resources they are duty bound to honour and give thanks for his generosity. They also have a responsibility to manage their behaviour, through kaitiakitanga, so that resources are not depleted and the natural cycles of regeneration are protected. The responsibility of monitoring the health of tribal marine areas lies with the Tohunga, who holds the accumulated ecological knowledge of their marine environment. If any resource depletion is identified, various guardianship customs (Titanga tiaki) can be employed to redress the imbalance. This is often in the form of Rahui or tapu, which can include a range of restorative measures, from total bans to restricted access or limitations on fishing or harvesting shellfish. Rahui can also be instigated to protect ecosystems from pollution.10 Similar systems of close, participatory guardianship customs are widely used throughout Oceania as the primary marine resource management tool (Marsden, 1992). Towards an Ecological World View of the Ocean A key understanding of kaitiakitanga is that guardianship does not confer ownership of natural resources. Rather, it reinforces the knowledge that the resources of the earth do not belong to humans but instead, humans belong to the earth. We have the same privileges of use as all other beings but also carry the responsibility to manage our usage so that ecological balance is maintained (Marsden, 1992).

This concept of guardianship and respect for the balance of nature is also a common theme in most major religions including Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Jainism Buddhism, Baha´i, and Taoism (Palmer, 2003). The following are selected quotes from the ‘Faith Statements on Ecology’, first articulated as the ‘Assisi Declarations’ on Religion and the Environment in 1986, but since refined and added to by each faith. Baha´i: ‘Nature reflects the qualities and attributes of God and should, therefore, be greatly respected and cherished. All things are interconnected and flourish according to the law of reciprocity.’ Buddhism: ‘The health of the whole is inseparably linked with the health of the parts, and the health of the parts is inseparably linked with the whole.’ Christianity: ‘The integrity of creation has a social aspect which we recognize as peace with justice, and an ecological aspect which we recognize in the self-renewing, sustainable character of natural ecosystems.’ Daoism: ‘People should take into full consideration the limits of nature›s sustaining power, so that when they pursue their own development, they have a correct standard of success. If anything runs counter to the harmony and balance of nature, even if it is of great immediate interest and profit, people should restrain themselves from doing it, so as to prevent nature›s punishment.’

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