Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Octopus are Growing, Volunteers are Diving

This week does marks an important event here in Andavadoaka: the reopening after several months closure of the three octopus 'reserves'. The fervent hope amongst villages and NGOs alike is that, having been left to their own devices for nearly 5 months, the octopi out on the reef will have been growing their little hearts out and will be significantly larger and more plentiful than when fishing was suspended. We're pretty confident that this will be the case - last time we closed a reserve the yields were spectacular. The extent to which the villagers get the benefit of the investment themselves will be crucial to their seeing the closures as a success, and hence to our future work here establishing a marine protected area. Watch this space for reports of the opening ceremonies, pictures of the subsequent festivities and analysis of the catch data.

As regards other activities things are going well. Previous unpredictable weather conditions are calming down and we've had 72 hours now without so much as a breath of wind, day after day the sea has been like a mirror. Visibility is pushing 30m on the outer reef sites, and the near shore sites and patch reefs in the lagoon are not far behind. Dive training and science training is all but finished, and the five boats we're sending out a day are coming back with smiling volunteers and research staff, holding slates full of fish data and telling wildly conflicting stories about the size of grouper/moray/shark/parrotfish they saw. We're also doing bird surveys in the spiny forest, mapping baobab trees, and doing snorkel mapping on the barrier reef sites - the latter to provide data for a GIS being compiled by ARVAM. Oh, and we've started going night snorkelling too. With the torch on you get to see mysterious molluscs and lobsters, electric and blue spotted rays and all the nocturnal fish; with the torch off you get to bathe in starbursts of phosphorescence. In fact looking up at the night sky from a metre or so underwater it's hard to tell where the water ends and the real stars begin...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Fond Farewell From Celia

We've had a spate of bad weather recently which has made diving difficult or impossible - roaring winds from the south being the culprit. The sea looks pretty calm this morning though so with any luck the visibility will improve during the day. Diving aside we've had a fun few days here in Andavadoaka, with all sorts of Easter activities in the village.
As she's about to leave us after nearly three months on site I'll let our Australian volunteer Celia tell you the details:

"So, last email before I leave. I feel I should say something wise or inspiring, to show how much I have learned and gained from the experience. Instead I must let you know that the girls in my hut have set up a swear jar to help me get my language back into good working order before I return to the gentle arms of civilisation. I have being trying to explain that 'b*gg*r' and 'bl**dy' are perfectly acceptable adjectives in daily Australian parlance, but they are having none of it.

We have had a busy couple of days, but no real diving. On Thursday night there was the longest, loudest thunderstorm I have ever experienced. It was alarming and beautiful to watch, but shortly before midnight it woke us, right overhead, and a nearby lighting strike left everyone feeling super-charged, nauseous, dizzy, disoriented or, in one case, paralysed. We all rather felt that we'd like one big bed we could snuggle down in together, rather than separate bunks in separate huts. The thunder (and I keep wanting to capitalise that word) was so loud it was shaking the huts and the lighter furniture kept taking off across the concrete floors.

Friday morning we all arose, bleary eyed, it wasn't great visability for diving, but we struggled through. That afternoon there was a pirogue race to celebrate Good Friday. It was very Malagache, no one knew what was going on, and all of a sudden we were racing away towards Nosy Fasy with much whooping and hollering. The science officers were in a pirogue with James, the guy who refills the air cylinders, they say they have never seen him so animated or loud. There were one or two vazaha (foreigner) per pirogue and a sizable cash prize for the winners.

Saturday, we had another go at the diving, the southerly winds picked up through the day and by our dive (the last for the day) we had to abort because we couldn't see each other, let alone do science. The wind kept rising and soon the white caps were chasing each other across the bay from Coco Beach to Laguna Blue. Party night was brought forward a day, our theme, which Jez, Monika and I had been arranging, was 'Latin' night. Our decorations didn't work out, but everyone was dressed up, we had specially made coconut rhum and Jez and Monika taught everyone to Salsa and Merengue before dinner. Following dinner we all went to Chez Dada, the epi-bar on the beach and danced with the locals. Actually, Monika and I had fashioned Latino-style tops out of bandanas, so we spent much of the evening running away from the locals. We perhaps ought to have changed outfit before heading down. The epi-bars are just wooden shacks, but they have enormous speakers in them and the music keeps pumping till everyone goes home.

On Easter Sunday was spent some people ventured to a nearby island, Nosy Hao, for a picnic. There was also a variety show in the village. There was a play about how you shouldn't go out with someone your parents don't approve of and if you get pregnant too early that's bad and you should always listen to your parents because they are much wiser than you. It was all in Malagache, so I didn't know what it was all about until after. The scenes were interspersed with dance numbers, some of which were choreographed by Bic (Malagache superman).

Today Easter was finished off by going on a picnic to near the Mangroves with most of the village. Some one had a guitar, there was good singing and good food, a lovely way to spend an afternoon. There have been no chocolate rabbits, but some how I didn't notice the absence so much.

Tonight we are all in Nosy Cao (class room) and we are playing cards, so I think it is time for me to sign off and join in. Tomorrow the vis is going to be spectacular and we are all going to be able to see for 30 metres.

I will miss this place like crazy when I leave, but I am also glad I am coming home."