Protecting Paradise: The Story of Niue (2024) Movie Script

Oh, gee.
Look at the sea.
Beauty, eh?
We all feel like saltwater
runs through our veins.
Our legends are that we were
fished out of the ocean by
our warriors
that first came and found Niue.
And that's how we came to be.
The ocean is the life
force that made us,
and made Niue.
We owe our existence
to the ocean,
and that's why we
fight to protect it.
Niue is so small.
It's 100 square miles.
it's very unique.
It's one island, one big rock
that sticks out of the ocean.
Pushed up out of the
water by a volcano
that we've never seen.
And we call it
The Rock of Polynesia.
A single uplifted coral atoll,
one of the largest in the world,
it's a fantastic,
rugged little wild island
I like to think of it.
Being Niuean
is being part of a whole thing.
It's being a part of land, part
of the sea, part of the people.
It's the
respect for the oceans, for
the things that sustain our
lives, and it's the respect to
our forefathers, right?
Oh, that's a good size.
true values that they taught us.
We're so
blessed that we live in Niue.
This is paradise.
It's really important
for us to recognize it.
We have one island.
Here is all we got.
I am one of
the endangered species of Niue
that was born,
raised, and is still here.
I truly feel like I won the
lottery, being born on this
little rock in the
middle of the Pacific Ocean.
What else?
What are you gonna eat, Reign?
What are you hoping
to find at the sea?
Oh, not many,
too many pigs swimming in the
ocean today, buddy.
I'm a scientist by profession,
and I volunteer as the president
of a local nonprofit called
Tofia Niue, which is focused on
sustainability of our ocean.
We got a
couple of matapihus Mom.
- Oh, did you?
- And an.
From a survival
perspective, our lives are
very much intertwined
with the environment.
But the impacts of
climate change are robbing
our children of their
inherent right to traditional
knowledge and practice.
So in 2016, we invited
National Geographic
Pristine Seas
to help us document what
we have in the ocean to
enable us to protect it
effectively for the future.
I mean, this one too..
When we were here in 2016,
Niue had been hammered pretty
bad from a couple previous
storm events, so a lot
of the coral was gone,
it was down to bare bedrock.
And this
situation is not unique.
Climate change, unregulated
fishing, and rapid development
are decimating crucial marine
ecosystems around the world.
The health of the ocean is
directly tied to the health of
people, society, and culture.
But we as humans are
putting ourselves at risk.
Our seas generate half
the oxygen we breathe and
contribute trillions of
dollars to the global economy
each year.
And only 8% of the ocean
is currently protected.
In 2008, Dr. Enric Sala at
National Geographic started
Pristine Seas and
proposed the solution,
Marine Protected Areas or MPAs,
places where human
exploitation is banned.
In 15 years, we've conducted
43 expeditions and
helped create 27 MPAs
around the world.
However, we can't do this alone.
We team up with local partners
and governments to conduct
scientific research, and
highlight the local knowledge
that drives the protection
of vital places in the ocean.
Not many people
get to dive under the ocean
and see further out.
So we went to every single
village and showed the video
footage that was brought back
by the Pristine Seas team.
The ability to showcase
that underwater taoga,
the treasures of our country,
was such a turning point.
And there was just an
overwhelming support
from the oldest people in
the community to the youngest,
that they wanted to keep
this treasure for the
future generations of Niue.
That was really the underpinning
of the 2016 decision
to make Moana Mahu
a conservation area.
I have
the greatest honor and privilege
to announce on behalf of the
Niue government, Tofia Niue,
and the people of Niue,
our intentions to commit 40%
of our exclusive economic zone
to be declared as a large-scale
marine protected area.
Moana Mahu is
127,000 square kilometers.
It covers an area of really
unique marine biodiversity
in the world.
These spaces of protection
and just letting nature do its
thing are so critically
important and rising in value.
Isn't that beautiful?
This is a good sign of
health for the reef,
for the coral reef,
so we're gonna
leave this one here.
I don't take these ones.
It's really pretty.
Oh, look at that one.
That's nice.
Having Pristine Seas come
back to do a follow-up mission
documents how things have
gone, it's just such an
incredible part of being able
to work with stakeholders from
across the world who wanna see
that these special places
are there forever.
Super excited
to be able to go back to Niue.
We're doing a full-blown
repeat expedition with
a lot more capabilities now
than we had before.
It's always the real exciting,
kind of nervous,
kind of fun time
where we're getting
everyone on the ship.
Game on.
Making sure
we have all of our gear to
head out to sea for a month.
The ship is amazing.
It's very well-equipped
and super epic.
working with our local partners,
Daren Monoa and JinNam, who will
be our guides as we survey
the waters around Niue.
They're really good scientists,
great observers
of nature, as well.
This local knowledge
is so critical because,
at the end of the day, it's
their resources that they need
to manage and they
need to protect.
Bye, everybody!
- Bye!
- See you in Niue.
This is for the benefit
of the Niuean people,
for the persistence of their
of their resources well
into the future.
Any questions?
So we're here
to complement, supplement, and
support those local efforts.
Pristine Seas come back now
is fantastic.
Good day.
The science and
the data is extremely important.
Obviously, we need to be
able to, to demonstrate that
locking up that area,
protecting it, is having
a positive effect.
Two, one will be the
scientific survey.
Brendon Pasisi
is my brother, and he's
a marine biologist by training,
but he's also a
fisherman by practice
so he's lived his
whole life in the ocean.
We're still sending a
team to the Beveridge Reef?
Beveridge Reef is
a sacred place.
It's a little oasis in the
middle of nowhere, and that's
probably one of the
reasons why it's still
as pristine as possible.
When I first started
spearfishing and, and diving,
the water was clearer, the,
the coral cover was much more
plentiful and vibrant.
There was a lot more fish life.
And then we're also gonna
go in the submarine with...
- Yes.
- That, right?
That's the beauty
of Beveridge Reef.
It reminds me of what it was
like here on the island
as a young lad.
So how long does it
take to get there?
I think it does about
eight to ten knots.
Hopefully, it's showing that
the work that we're doing,
closing that area,
has really had a positive
impact on the reef itself.
Thanks a lot, huh.
See you later.
Thank you.
The Pristine Seas
ship will be greeted with
what is called the Takalo.
The Takalo
is a war chant or war cry.
It was motivation
for our warriors.
The Takalo for Pristine Seas,
we're trying just to showcase
how our ancestors
protected our land
back in the days, and
I hope we'll achieve that.
We just wanna
remind Pristine Seas that
this is Niue.
This is our land.
But they are welcome here to
help us protect our resources.
It was intense.
But as it ends, the warriors
kind of part and there's the
Premier to greet us.
And it
becomes this really gentle and
welcoming thing.
Premier came.
Minister Mona came.
It was really a show of force
of the entire community that
the Niueans are really
passionate about conserving
this place and
doing the right thing.
So I've been here
a number of times
but for Molly,
Whitney, and Ryan,
it's their first trip to Niue.
I'm excited.
Molly is
a really great scientist and
to have her on the
team is fantastic.
Are there spiders in here?
Don't worry.
We got you.
Ryan is
the expedition leader and he's
really the one who's making
sure the work gets done in
a safe and effective
manner as possible.
Whitney is a great scientist,
a really good naturalist.
She's been our deep sea expert.
For me, it's a real thrill to
work with people like that.
- And here you go.
- Look at that.
Woo-hoo. We made it.
- What?
- It's sick, huh?
That is awesome.
The whole island has got amazing
tide pools everywhere.
It's crystal clear,
really vibrant blue water.
Hey, guys.
Sea snake.
Niue has an endemic sea krait.
It has one of the most
venomous toxins on earth.
They're pretty
voracious predators.
They're perfectly adapted to
hunting in the coral reef.
They're a very special animal.
They're found
nowhere else on Earth.
We saw corals growing in just
a few feet of water and the
diversity of corals is really
vibrant and there's not many
places like that.
It's always
been a challenge looking after
the resources around the
immediate adjacent fringing
reef of the island.
Water is quite a fragile
resource really because the
island rises out of the deep,
eh, and it's surrounded by
very steep slopes and so
the actual habitat
is quite limited.
Obviously, the impact of very
large storms can be some of
the biggest threats
to our environment.
It's five minutes to 6:00.
This is at, uh.
As you can see,
it's just, uh, completely...
Cyclone Heta
was a Category 5 cyclone that
hit us in 2004.
There's the forest out there.
It's completely gutted.
The waves scoured
all of our infrastructure
off a whole side of the island.
The impacts were shocking.
You can see the whole coastline
has just been stripped,
it's all like this.
We lost our
only wharf, our only hospital.
We lost our only museum.
Gone forever.
95% of our artifacts
were in that museum
and can never be replaced.
When you've got climate change
making what would've been a
Category 2 cyclone,
a Category 4 cyclone,
your ability to recover
is a huge challenge.
When Niue gets hit
by a big cyclone,
we go from 100% coral
coverage down to 2%,
because that's how
strong the waves are.
After Cyclone Heta, people
just couldn't fish and there
was nothing on land to eat
because everything had just
been blown away.
So when we get hit or an
important species dies,
then we need to harvest from
Beveridge Reef to replant
that species in Niue.
We had a
really great ceremony and
an awesome afternoon.
But we have to turn it around
quickly to get to Beveridge
because the forecast is
not promising for transit.
We're going on a trip.
See you later.
We're about to leave Niue
and head up to Beveridge Reef.
It's 125 nautical
miles southeast of Niue.
It's out in the
middle of nowhere.
You're blown away
when you see it.
Hey, we have to go.
Got to go.
Got to go.
We have to go now.
Let's go.
Nam, because you're late,
you gotta swim out.
Hopefully we
can prove through the science
that there has been
that biodiversity uplift.
There's been a positive
change there as a result of
putting it under protection.
This is the Beveridge forecast.
We're starting to look at 17,
18 knots throughout the day
by midnight on the 14th
it's blowing over 20.
It's not gonna be flat.
And we're bucking in, too.
Because it's outta the
east so it's gonna be...
[Ryan Jenkinson] It's gonna
be a little run out there.
It's critically
important that conservation
doesn't come at a burden to
the communities because
we are ocean people.
So, so much of our culture and,
and tradition is
tied to the ocean.
excited for Marine Day.
That's pretty much a
big day for the village.
My dad, not long ago,
caught a trophy fish and
everyone's trying to
catch a trophy fish.
So, the fish are
biting early mornings now.
So, they're trying to get into
the water before the fish.
Bye, daddy.
We love you.
- Okay, okay.
- Okay.
Each village, they have their
own fishing holes,
little fishing spot.
Bluefin, wahoo,
yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi.
Did you catch any fish?
WE got it off the wharf,
it's a trevally.
It's a Polu Kulukulu
it's a Niuean name.
It's a cod.
There has been
a significant change in the
cultural appreciation that
we have of the environment
but also our culture.
There's a big
revival to make sure that our
kids speak Niuean,
practice the cultures,
learn the traditions and
everything, which is wonderful.
Our ancestors
were able to create an
incredible life here.
People fished.
They respected the tides,
the winds, the stars.
So, all of that is
a part of our DNA.
The ocean is beautiful.
You can't just lock
it up like a museum.
People live there.
So we have to provide the
sustainable livelihoods
that reinforce ocean
protection for the long term.
You know,
if there's somewhere that
God lives, this is where He is.
To the right, to the right.
To the right.
We've just arrived at the reef
and we feel the water calmed
down as we entered into the
lee and now we're here in the
wheelhouse helping the
captain here steer us in
through the passage.
It's an,
it's an honor to be here,
so I can't wait until I can see
the reef, so it's, it's there in
the distance.
Good to see my old friend again.
It's blowing 30-plus knots now,
but we are pretty
still inside here.
That's fantastic little refuge.
Ah, we finally made
it to Beveridge Reef.
It was not an easy journey.
Um, was not smooth sailing,
but all of our science
capabilities at Pristine Seas
are gonna be out, deployed,
and working, if the
weather holds for us.
Our primary concern is working
with the communities that
we're visiting, and making
sure they're getting what they
want out of it.
In terms of
key milestones for the project.
After our expedition in 2016,
they declared 40% of their
exclusive economic zone
off-limits to fishing around
Beveridge Reef and
adjacent areas.
But even remote places, there
are thousands and thousands of
distant water fishing boats
out there, and sharks are a
major target.
The first
thing we do is gonna be to go
look at the shipwreck.
We're gonna see what we find.
Last year,
we had an incident where a
Taiwanese longline vessel
ran straight into the reef.
Late May to
early June, we received a call
from Taiwanese Fisheries Office,
regarding one of their
vessels on our reef here.
When they
actually arrived at the reef,
the vessel was on
fire, suspiciously.
When it first happened, it was
really sort of gut-wrenching,
to think that we've done so
much to protect this for Niue.
So we've, uh, just arrived
close to the location where
the Taiwanese, uh,
fishing vessel went up.
Um, so we are out here trying
to do a little bit of a
reconnaissance, to see
what the impact has been
to the reef.
We were
able to spot where the propeller
was, the anchor was
as well, and it's, um...
it's not the best sight
to, to be honest.
Well, we came across, uh,
quite a big bundle
of wire tracers and
these are primarily to
catch sharks for the fins.
Sharks are illegal to catch.
So we brought some of
those back with us.
Good to, to
see that and document it,
see what, what's left behind.
I didn't
see anything leaking or...
I think they, um,
just those engine parts there.
At the
moment, it looks like, yeah,
most of the worst case of oils
and fuels and stuff like that,
burnt off when it
was, uh, on fire.
And now the coral, the algae,
and stuff is all starting to
grow back and we've been
able to document that.
Ultimately, the information
will help us explain why we
need to put certain measures
in place to make sure that we
keep the reef in as pristine
condition as possible,
so that it, it continues
to have that resilience
long into the future.
It is maintaining what we like
to think of as our bank,
our investment for the future.
We wanna be
better informed about where
we've come, to make sure
that into the future,
we build some resilience,
for that, we need
really solid data.
We use
these myriad array of tools to
try to paint as comprehensive
of an understanding of the
ecosystem as we can.
Since 2016, with my colleague,
Jess Cramp, from Sharks Pacific,
we've been looking
at shark populations,
and sharks in general globally
are in terrible shape.
So we really wanted to
see what was out there.
Places like Beveridge give us
windows into the past of what
marine ecosystems are
like in the absence of
human intervention.
And what we have found
is they're dominated by
top predators,
sharks, jacks, groupers.
It's called the inverted
biomass pyramid, where you
have more predators than prey.
Top predators, they're
consuming everything at
the lower food levels.
Everything's turning over much
faster, and as a result,
the system becomes
more resilient.
So, the fact that our footage
shows the potential for more
sharks in Beveridge Reef now
than there were in 2016
is an incredibly hopeful sign.
This is what it's
supposed to be like.
We need to protect
the whole ecosystem
for it to function properly.
Everything from the largest
animals in the ocean to the
smallest animals
we can't even see.
collecting water at the surface
and hopefully, we will get
a variety of different
organisms' DNA from
shedding of cells or
from poop or stuff
in the water column.
Anytime you wanna think about
conserving environment,
one of the best metrics
to use is biodiversity,
which is trying to figure out
how many organisms are
in the environment.
We have fish
divers counting fish.
We have a benthic
ecologist counting the algae.
We have a coral
person counting the coral.
But 90% of the organisms
that live on a coral reef
are things you can't see.
So this crazy technique
that's fairly cutting edge
is environmental DNA.
I am taking water and
I'm filtering it for DNA.
So the way you identify the DNA
is like going into a library.
So think of a book as an
individual organism
with a DNA code.
We searched the library to
match the organisms with
the books, so to speak.
That's how we can figure
out what was in the area.
It's pretty
fascinating and magical.
Our climate and our environment
are changing rapidly.
Through the E-DNA process,
we can actually compare
diversity levels
across the globe,
assess multiple organisms,
and it adds a bigger
picture of this
changing environment over time.
There could be a canary in the
coal mine with some of these
organisms that we
just don't know about.
been here at Beveridge for over
a week, and we've
surveyed everything,
from the shallowest waters to
the deepest depths of the ocean,
and found incredibly
vibrant ecosystem.
Seems like the scourge of
industrial fishing in so many
other places around the world
hasn't impacted Beveridge Reef,
because we just see
so many sharks here,
healthy reefs, big groupers.
It shows that Niue has
really done an amazing job
of protecting this
real gem of a place.
Beveridge Reef is very special.
It's something that belongs
to us for many generations
to come if we look
after it well.
This whole journey
is still sinking in.
It's just unreal.
gives you hope and it gives you
a snapshot what
nature could be like.
There's a
fairly large storm front
heading our way, and it's kind
of a mad scramble to get
all of the boats
back onto the ship,
so we can head back to Niue
to continue working there.
A little bit of a fire drill
getting ready for this storm
that's approaching now.
So we're gonna pull anchor,
slide out of the lagoon, and
get to Niue before this
storm really hits this area.
Tomorrow is our best weather
window of the whole time that
we're here, so I really hope
it comes through,
because of that, we have
a lot of stuff planned
including the sub, hopefully.
We have this amazing tool,
three-person submersible that
goes down to 400 meters.
It's a big acrylic sphere
so you can see almost
360 degrees around.
Is it done?
It's an
amazing engagement opportunity
because people get to go down
in the submarine, who would
normally not get to go
underwater, to those depths.
So Brendon Pasisi is the
first Niuean submariner.
We're going to
Ridge and it was his father's
favorite fishing spot.
It was really meaningful.
Okay copy that.
Okay it's good for you?
Really exciting.
Just can't wait to get under
there now that I'm locked in.
To actually go down and see
what the deep dropcam see,
that's just
mind-blowing opportunity.
Here we go.
We're off.
Okay, topsy, we can see the
slope, we can see the slope,
whenever you're ready for a set,
we will be ready here.
Oh, got a
whole lotta fish coming.
It's like winning the lotto to
be able to get down here.
Being a fourth-generation
fisherman all my life,
not knowing what's down on
the bottom, you know,
wondering why you catch fish in
some places and not in others.
Oh, look at here.
Oh, dogtooth tuna!
Look at that. Two.
It was really special to be down
there with Brendon.
I'm learning from him and
getting his perspective.
He's fished here his whole
life, but to see it from
below, it shines a new light
on it for him, but gives me
a different set of optics
than I would've had otherwise.
Just tell by
the way they undulate,
their movement.
able to go down in the submarine
to places no one's ever seen.
They're the first
ones down there.
The whole thing, like a lot
of our expeditions,
is really powerful.
The submarine
dive was definitely a
highlight of the expedition
and my life, to be honest.
First ever.
I'm so excited.
It's 180 meters
and so far, it's super amazing.
There's a school of
barracuda just in front of us.
Just an
incredible opportunity to also
take all of the Niuean people
with us down to see some of
the most incredible taoga that
are under our guardianship.
- Well, how was it?
- It was amazing.
And from a cultural and
traditional perspective,
my father's fished
these waters for years.
And so to see that...
to see the places that
he sustained our lives
traditionally is amazing.
We are on the windward side
of Niue Island.
Cyclone Heta just totally
wiped this place clean.
All the coral was scoured
down to the bare bedrock.
It would be really interesting
to see how the corals
have come back.
The conditions are
perfect for this place.
You can just see forever.
There's a lot of baby corals
and pretty good diversity of
corals as well, so it looks
like the reef's starting to
come back a little bit.
We're down there counting
fish, measuring corals,
and then you hear
this eerie sound.
It's on the other side
now down there, right there.
Yup. You can see it.
Having the
amazing opportunity to just
encounter a mother and calf
humpback whale and another
male humpback whale
in the water,
that I think will remain
with me for a very long time.
Niue is an amazing place for
humpback whales.
They migrate all the way
from Antarctica over
5,000 kilometers to give
birth and mate in Niue.
You see males singing, looking
for mating opportunities.
You see mothers and calves.
Nature is amazing.
Oh, my goodness.
Tonight is super exciting.
The final event with the
National Geographic expedition.
Niue is one
of the best examples of how
marine conservation does not
necessarily mean you don't
have access to fishing and
resources for your community.
They really are the global
leader in marine conservation
and long-term planning.
And we feel really
lucky to be part of that.
And I'm very proud to
say, "I am Niuean."
And they all say, "Oh, you're
the people who had the
40% EEZ committed
to conservation?"
I'm like, "Yup, that's us."
Niue is an
incredible place on Earth and
we are so humbled as her
inhabitants, but we owe it
to the future generations
to make sure that
this great country,
its resources, and assets
in the ocean are here
for generations to come.
I am in New York City.
I'm here for Climate Week.
The UN General
Assembly is meeting.
We have to be here if we
want our voices heard.
This is the culmination
of eight years of work in
establishing, uh, Moana Mahu
and doing all the
scientific assessment and
consultation with communities.
We are here to launch the
Niue Ocean Wide Trust
that will raise the necessary
funds to help set up something
that will last
forever hopefully.
We want people to understand
that we are making this
commitment as a small country,
so other countries
need to make some
serious commitments to scaling
up investment in protection.
If we
look after what we have now,
there'll be so much more for
the future, a healthy reef,
a lot of fish, and a
thriving environment
where everything
is just full of life.
We need
to maintain sustainability,
hopefully build climate
resilience as well because
we know that's coming.
It has to work.
We can't fail.
we're doing here, it's not only
for Niueans, here.
But we're showing to the rest of
the world that it can be done.
Yes, we are small, but
we're showing the way.
Captioned by Cotter Media Group.