Fish poisoning may be why Polynesians left paradise

May 19th, 2009 - 12:35 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 19 (ANI): Scientists have come up with a theory that attributes the historic migrations of the Polynesians from the Cook islands to New Zealand, Easter Island and Hawaii in the 11th to 15th centuries, to fish poisoning.

The theory has been proposed by Teina Rongo, a Cook Island Maori from Rarotonga and a Ph.D. student at the Florida Institute of Technology, and his faculty advisers Professors Robert van Woesik and Mark Bush.

Based on archeological evidence, paleoclimatic data and modern reports of ciguatera poisoning, they theorize that ciguatera outbreaks were linked to climate and that the consequent outbreaks prompted historical migrations of Polynesians.

Ciguatera poisoning is a food-borne disease that can come from eating large, carnivorous reef fish, and causes vomiting, headaches, and a burning sensation upon contact with cold surfaces.

It is known that the historic populations of Cook Islanders was heavily reliant on fish as a source of protein, and the scientists suggest that once their fish resources became inedible, voyaging became a necessity.

Modern Cook Islanders, though surrounded by an ocean teeming with fish, don’t eat fish as a regular part of their diet but instead eat processed, imported foods.

In the late 1990s, lower-income families who could not afford processed foods emigrated to New Zealand and Australia.

The researchers suggest that past migrations had similar roots.

The heightened voyaging from A.D. 1000 to 1450 in eastern Polynesia was likely prompted by ciguatera fish poisoning.

There were few options but to leave once the staple diet of an island nation became poisonous.

According to van Woesik, “Our approach brings us a step closer to solving the mysteries of ciguatera and the storied Polynesian native migrations. We hope it will lead to better forecasting and planning for ciguatera outbreaks.” (ANI)

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