I'm at the International Pacific Marine Educators Network Conference in Tokyo and Iwate Prefecture in Japan. It is the 5th biennial conference of the organization. I was the keynote speaker at the first two meetings, and am making a presentation later this afternoon. Yesterday (July 11) was the conference field trip day. We visited Tsukiji, the Tokyo Fish Market, the largest in the world. It was an amazing, incredible, overwhelming experience.
Walking the aisles in the world's largest fish market
Cutting a tuna on a band saw
I saw more species of marine life at the market than I have ever seen in any public aquarium, including forms of life that I hardly knew existed, much less that they are edible. I had strongly conflicting feelings. While it was fascinating and fun to see, it was also disturbing for me to understand that we are taking that much marine life out of the ocean--every day--just at Tsukiji. I wondered if the photos I took might someday not too far off, provide a historic record for my grand children of how much life there USED TO BE in the ocean.
I visited Tsukiji once before in 2008 and saw large amounts of whale meat for sale in several locations. I asked our guide if our group could see whale meat this time. He said that because there is so much international pressure, they no longer let tourists visit the areas where whale meat is sold.
Octopuses at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo
Box of tunicates at Tsukiji Fish Market
Squid at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo
Later in the day, we went aboard the Shinyo Maru, the research vessel of the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology (TUMSAT). We heard about the fisheries research being conducted by the ship. A representative of the Japan Ministry of Education also told us about the network of 41 fisheries high schools in Japan that train young people for careers in the fisheries industry. He told us that in the 1960s there were 52 fisheries high schools. The number of schools is declining because of the decline of the fishing industry. Japan is slowly running out of fish--a confirmation of my uncomfortable impressions at Tsukiji an hour earlier.
The Shinyo Maru, the research vessel for Tokyo University of Marine Science & Technology
Having tea aboard the Shinyo Maru. NMEA members from L to R: Evy Copejans, Karen Mastumoto, Karen Blyler, Geraldine Fauville, Judy Lemus, Peter Tuddenham
Tomorrow (July 13) the entire conference leaves Tokyo to travel by bus to Iwate Prefecture to visit the area devastated by the March 11, 2011, tsunami. We will learn more about the impact of the tsunami, the recovery efforts, and the planning to prepare for the next tsunami.
This morning (July 12), Professor Tsuyoshi Sasaki, the conference chair and Nobuaki Okamato, the President of TUMSAT, welcomed us to the Conference, followed by some thoughtful remarks by Harry Breidahl, Past President of the Marine Education Society of Australia, and NMEA Past President Mike Spranger about the history of IPMEN. Tsuyoshi arranged for several groups of junior high and high school students to present about their own original research projects. The students were fantastic, presenting fairly technical topics all in English.
Tsuyoshi Sasaki translating for the representative from Ministry of Education who oversees the 41 Fisheries High Schools
I was most moved by a group of high school students from Iwate Prefecture who were studying marine debris after the March 11 tsunami devastated their community. They ended up wanting to do something to decrease marine debris in their community, so they made a very clever, fairly substantive video about how sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and end up choking on them. The approximately five minute video used animation with pictures of two turtles on popsicle sticks. The turtles are friends, and one eats a plastic bag and dies, the other is very upset. “Where is Yasuki? What happened to him?” the surviving turtle friend asks plaintively. They anthropomorphized the turtles in a childlike and emotionally compelling manner that portrayed sadness but also confusion about sudden loss of a “friend.”
High School students from Iwate who made the video about plastic bags and turtles
I couldn’t help but think that those turtles carried some of their animators’ suppressed anguish about losing friends, parents, homes. I wondered, did one of these lovely 15-year-olds lose a parent to the wave? What were these kids’ lives like three years ago today? I asked a question about whether the students had made videos before or was this their first? They said tersely it was their first.
Their teacher stood up in the back of the room and said that he helped them to learn the technical skills they needed but that they had written the script, done all the shooting, editing, and production. Then he said, “The students, they never talk about the tsunami. Never talk about it. So, I help them to communicate using video.” Later at lunch, the teacher told me that one of the boys who made the video has been very quiet since the March 11 event and that today, he saw that boy smile for the first time in many months.
Author Craig Strang is Associate Director of the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California-Berkeley and a past-president of the National Marine Educators Association.