by Charlie Gough, Marine Research Coordinator, Madagascar
We have now successfully completed a number of dives on the reefs of the Barren islands, on the western coast of Madagascar, and despite our wide eyes at the wonderful reefs sparkling with corals and teeming with angelic reef fish – there remains a large gap on our data sheets documenting sightings of large pelagic fish such as trevally, mackerel and shark. These fish should be patrolling these reefs in search of their next snack and causing us divers small scares as they appear out of the blue. But instead they are notable only by their absence on the reefs here, so where have they all gone?
A recent trip to the island of Nosy Marify soon answered our question… These once pristine reefs that should have been swarming with groups of marauding jacks, trevallys, tuna and mackerel are already under attack by the lines and nets of the fishermen that live and work in these waters. A wooden table bending under the weight of large mackerel, shark meat hanging on lines while their wasted skeletons dry out on the beach, and other trevallys & jacks piled high for drying was a sad sight for the BV team. We had hoped to see more of these amazing creatures in their natural environment showing off their speed and agility in the crystal clear waters of these islands as they target their prey.
So while the reefs here in Maintirano are still amazing to behold with their coral gardens and jewel like fish we mustn’t forget that the hand of man has already started shaping the reefs of the Barren Islands and that we must work together to find the solution to protect these reefs, and prevent them from following in the footsteps of those from southern Madagascar.
My interest in all things marine stems from rock pooling as a child and rapidly tearing through nature books to see what treasures I had found in my little net as the rain hammered down on our typical family holidays to Devon. Now I have graduated from a little net on the beach to diving in the Mozambique Channel on some of the world’s remotest coral reefs, documenting the health and diversity of both the corals and the inquisitive fish that exist beneath the surface.
Having worked with Blue Ventures since 2007 I have had a lot of luck and many great opportunities to explore the coastal waters of Madagascar and have lead a number of research expeditions up and down the western coastline working along the way with local fishermen as well as national and international NGOs. My interests lie at the interface between man and the sea and how each can affect the other.
I am excited to be part of this expedition to the Barren islands, and am interested to see the impacts that people here have had on the diversity, abundance and ecological functioning of the coral reefs and their fish and invertebrate populations, in the short time that they have been exploiting them. It will also be interesting to see how the fishers themselves perceive the impacts of fishing on the resources on which they depend.This research cruise to the Barren islands will be the first time that anyone has systematically explored and documented the status of the reefs of this region, and I’m looking forward to keeping you all updated with the characters, creatures and stories great and small that we encounter on our route!