Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Here We Are From Andavadoaka

We've been back on site now in Andavadoaka for nearly three weeks, and most of the dive training is out of the way. The remaining trainees should finish their Advanced open water in the next few days and they will then be joining those volunteers and staff who are already busy out on the reefs with tape measures and slates. Nearly everyone has now passed their benthic tests - more difficult on this expedition than in the past as we are distinguishing between different types of hard coral (tabular, columnar, foliate etc). Only one person has so far passed their in water fish test however: our new field scientist Lea. We’re hoping others we hope will follow his lead tomorrow. Lea is also working on how to weld old tanks together using equipment from the Catholic mission - the aim being to create and artificial reef that we can put together on the sea floor somewhere between recruitment and 007 (two of our dive sites).

Further offshore, meanwhile, we have been out every day recently with a consultant taking depth soundings - part of the project we are working on with WCS. The aim of the trips is to accompany local fishermen to their regular fishing grounds and to find what sort of range is accessible to them in their pirogues. Ultimately this will help us identify the best sites for the two Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs) that we plan to moor here - large chain structures sunk in 200m or more of water that accumulate weed and fish and provide a draw for pelagic species in the area.

Apart from that camp life goes on pretty much as usual - diving from dawn, lectures and study in the afternoons, volleyball in the evenings, swimming at sunset. Plus of course the odd trip to the baobab trees (zebu carts, crowds of village children singing songs, spiny forest, flamingos - the usual.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

BV Workshop

BV held a workshop over the weekend with the aim of presenting results from our on-going research and to introduce our new Socioeconomic Monitoring Project, which is part of the SocMon Western Indian Ocean (WIO) initiative aiming to expand socio-economic monitoring throughout the WIO, and establish a regional network.

The aim of the workshop was update the villagers about why we are doing the research we are. It also gave Bic, our effervescent Malagasy scientist, his first chance to give a presentation to the village, and we have it on good authority that he was great and kept the audiences’ attention throughout. We would also like to say a big thank you and well done to Patricia (our new Malagasy social scientist) for all her help in preparing the workshop – it was a great team effort!

Presentations included results of recent octopus closures, reef monitoring projects, and census data; future research plans were also outlined.

This workshop was also used to gauge the perception of the villagers to the national closures and local No Take Zones, and receive feedback on their opinion of BV and the work we do, both with the local environment, and the local community.

Here is a sneak preview of the results when we asked the 79 people (37 women, 42 men) about their perceptions of BV and our work:
• Understanding of our work/activities: None 18%, little 28%, medium 14%, high 31% and no answer 9%.
• The impact of BV: No positive impact - 3%, little 20%, medium 14%, a lot
of positive impact 63% (including 76% of the octopus fishers).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

And Back to Site...

It’s the start of a new expedition here in Andavadoaka, after an eventful week-long inter-phase in Toliara. Inter-phase (the period between two expeditions) is usually a time for permanent staff to stock up on provisions and to check emails, but this time we spent most of the week hiding from tropical cyclone Boloetse. With cyclones in Madagascar it’s a bit like following a cricket test match: every half hour or so someone comes in with the latest radio report on the cyclone’s position, or a freshly printed picture from a weather website. At first there is relief, as news spreads that the cyclone has swept across Madagascar and is heading out into the Mozambique Channel. Then there is dismay, as the cyclone changes its mind and turns back towards the coast. Finally there is grim resignation as it swings on to a direct collision course with Toliara, and people head home to tie down anything that weighs less than car.

When it finally arrived, in the early hours of the morning, Boloetse was dramatic – palm trees thrashing around in the wind, rain hurled horizontally against houses and streets flooding with water in minutes. But ultimately there wasn’t much damage, and the main inconvenience for us in the days that followed was the lack of power and internet access. Others were less fortunate, and people in the poorer parts of town spent three days living with a foot of water in their huts.

Andavadoaka also suffered during the storm, and we returned here after a moonlit boutre voyage to find villagers repairing and rebuilding houses. Thankfully there appear to have been no injuries during the storm, but several houses along the beach were swept away or damaged, and many pirogues have disappeared without trace. Our own site on the headland above the village has fared somewhat better, with huts still standing, roofs mostly intact, and hammocks still attached. The 2 dive boats are OK too – heroic efforts in the middle of the night by Bic and a crew of fishermen from the village (twice) saw them dragged far enough up the beach to avoid the waves. In fact ironically, the most impressive damage seems to be to the most solid structures around: large chunks of the cliff have fallen into the sea, staff beach has disappeared, and the concrete steps down to Half Moon have been broken into pieces and flung around the beach. Tom our field scientist and artificial reef pioneer is already eyeing the concrete debris hungrily.

Unfortunately another result of the cyclone has been to stir up thousands of tonnes of sand and silt, and visibility on our dive sites is currently about a metre. Thankfully this is improving daily, and we expect to be back in the water before you can say Desjardin’s Sailfin Tang. Meanwhile the new volunteers (who include a Latin teacher from Australia, an English teacher from Japan, a marine biologist from Germany, a student from Ireland and mix of people from the UK) are busy learning their dive theory, their fish species, and of course how to avoid a nomination for tai be…

A Bit About Site

Following another 27 hour epic boutre journey BV staff and new expedition 21 have arrived safe and sound on site. If only the same could be said for the site itself! Following the cyclone that hit on the 2nd some of our huts were left with no roofs, so with makeshift ‘windows’ in their walls and the steps down to halfmoon beach were completely smashed. However Bic & Marcellin did a fantastic job repairing the damage whilst also getting half the village to help with getting the boats way up Andavadoaka beach, and wrapped the engines, so they are intact, and we’ll get them back in the water today.
So here’s a big THANK YOU to all those that have helped us out.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Go Mathieu Go

We would like to call for support for Madagascar’s 1st entrant into the winter olympics, 2006. Yes believe it or not this tropical island has entered its very own athlete, Mathieu Razanokolona (Canadian-born) in the slalom and giant slalom events.

So look out for him and those of you who have a special place in your hearts for Madagascar please cheer him on.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Are These Guys Nit-picking or What??

Ok, we’re sorry. It would appear that the previous ‘Teeny Tiny Fish’ blog gave false information. It has been reported in the past couple of years that two other fish claim to be smaller still. These are the male stout infantfish (Schindleria brevipinguis) measuring a diminutive 7mm and smallest of all the male anglerfish (Photocorynus spiniceps) discovered in the Philippines measuring snout to tail only 6.2mm. Yes that really is small.