Tom Vater

Tom Vater

Eclectic crime fiction and informed, irreverent non-fiction from Asia and beyond

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(English) Forget Boston and Thatcher. This week’s human flashpoint is Tubbataha

I was in Tubbataha in 1994. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. I watched hundreds of sharks pooling around coral ledges at 35 meters, so many they kept bumping into me. I watched giant tuna glitter in the dark 30 meters below me, leading tens of thousands of giant barracuda through the depths. I saw guitar sharks the size of small hovercrafts flitter through the sand a few meters from where I was sitting. I was flying bomber formation with 30 eagle rays on their way to breakfast. All those moments have been lost in time, like tears in rain.

A friend of mine has been back to Tubbataha recently. The sharks are all gone, killed by Chinese for their fins. All the other protected biospheres I have visited in the past 20 years, from Himalayan peaks to Thai islands, from Cambodian national parks to Laotian forests, from Indian rivers to Indonesian jungles have been wrecked by greedy fucks. There is not a single place I know of where nature is doing better than when I first arrived in Asia in the early 90s.

Every single government in Asia is crammed with crooks who facilitate the merciless exploitation of the environment, be it for tourism, energy, wood or other natural resources. In this destruction they are in some indirect way always supported by the EU and the US, the IMF, the World Bank, the ADB or some other business, be it for wood, energy, cash, power, political horse-trading, whatever.

Every single mass media outlet applauds development, growth and progress, the concepts used in the West to justify the wholesale rape of the planet.

And then there’s the Chinese.

For me the Chinese fishing boat crashing into Tubbataha, loaded with frozen pangolins, has a special poignancy. I relate because I was there and because it was truly beautiful, in a remote, quiet way that is almost impossible to find nowadays unless you have infinite amounts of cash at your disposal. My last dive in Tubbataha was dramatic. A typhoon was rolling into the area and we jumped from the tiny wooden ship we were on under pouring rain into huge waves. We quickly sunk down and the water calmed and I spent most of the dive watching a titan trigger fish defending its nest on the sea bottom. Visibility, even without the sun, was at around 40 meters. My dive guide pointed out into the blue and we watched a huge shadow, far far away, move past us. When we surfaced, the storm was bouncing our boat around like a nut shell. Apparently a Blue Shark had come to check us out. I took one last look back down into clear perfect beauty and thought I would never see anything like this again. And I never did.

The recent incident at Tubbataha is a message. No one will get caught or arrested for this except perhaps the poor slaves who happened to run the boat aground. The pangolin are on their way out. The sharks are already gone. The smugglers will smuggle something else when the fins and scales run out. Ivory, gall bladders, drugs, women, children. The politicians will continue to cover up. At least, in some way, the Chinese are honest. They don’t give a shit about anything other than cash and they don’t pretend otherwise. In the West it’s a different story, one of lies and smokescreens of pretense and lofty principals. The outcome is exactly the same.

Tomorrow’s children will not have the opportunity, the way I did, to swim with sharks, to walk with elephants, to watch tigers in the wild, unless they happen to win the lottery. Then they could join the king of Spain or some other ultra rich Europeans and Americans on a luxury trip to shoot elephants for fun. That has be more exciting than sitting on a Chinese trawler covered in blood and guts, skinning sharks or scaly ant eaters for weeks on end.

Time to die.I was in Tubbataha in 1994. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. I watched hundreds of sharks pooling around coral ledges at 35 meters, so many they kept bumping into me. I watched giant tuna glitter in the dark 30 meters below me, leading tens of thousands of giant barracuda through the depths. I saw guitar sharks the size of small hovercrafts flitter through the sand a few meters from where I was sitting. I was flying bomber formation with 30 eagle rays on their way to breakfast. All those moments have been lost in time, like tears in rain.

A friend of mine has been back to Tubbataha recently. The sharks are all gone, killed by Chinese for their fins. All the other protected biospheres I have visited in the past 20 years, from Himalayan peaks to Thai islands, from Cambodian national parks to Laotian forests, from Indian rivers to Indonesian jungles have been wrecked by greedy fucks. There is not a single place I know of where nature is doing better than when I first arrived in Asia in the early 90s.

Every single government in Asia is crammed with crooks who facilitate the merciless exploitation of the environment, be it for tourism, energy, wood or other natural resources. In this destruction they are in some indirect way always supported by the EU and the US, the IMF, the World Bank, the ADB or some other business, be it for wood, energy, cash, power, political horse-trading, whatever.

Every single mass media outlet applauds development, growth and progress, the concepts used in the West to justify the wholesale rape of the planet.

And then there’s the Chinese.

For me the Chinese fishing boat crashing into Tubbataha, loaded with frozen pangolins, has a special poignancy. I relate because I was there and because it was truly beautiful, in a remote, quiet way that is almost impossible to find nowadays unless you have infinite amounts of cash at your disposal. My last dive in Tubbataha was dramatic. A typhoon was rolling into the area and we jumped from the tiny wooden ship we were on under pouring rain into huge waves. We quickly sunk down and the water calmed and I spent most of the dive watching a titan trigger fish defending its nest on the sea bottom. Visibility, even without the sun, was at around 40 meters. My dive guide pointed out into the blue and we watched a huge shadow, far far away, move past us. When we surfaced, the storm was bouncing our boat around like a nut shell. Apparently a Blue Shark had come to check us out. I took one last look back down into clear perfect beauty and thought I would never see anything like this again. And I never did.

The recent incident at Tubbataha is a message. No one will get caught or arrested for this except perhaps the poor slaves who happened to run the boat aground. The pangolin are on their way out. The sharks are already gone. The smugglers will smuggle something else when the fins and scales run out. Ivory, gall bladders, drugs, women, children. The politicians will continue to cover up. At least, in some way, the Chinese are honest. They don’t give a shit about anything other than cash and they don’t pretend otherwise. In the West it’s a different story, one of lies and smokescreens of pretense and lofty principals. The outcome is exactly the same.

Tomorrow’s children will not have the opportunity, the way I did, to swim with sharks, to walk with elephants, to watch tigers in the wild, unless they happen to win the lottery. Then they could join the king of Spain or some other ultra rich Europeans and Americans on a luxury trip to shoot elephants for fun. That has be more exciting than sitting on a Chinese trawler covered in blood and guts, skinning sharks or scaly ant eaters for weeks on end.

Time to die.

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