Catching up with shark data collectors in Madagascar

by Fran Humber, Conservation Programmes Manager, UK

Managing a project from afar can have its pros and cons.Whilst I have access to fast internet and 24 hour electricity and can help to move the technical of the project forward; emails, Skype and telephone calls with my colleagues and assistants in the field are not a substitute for visiting in person. Luckily I get to visit Madagascar regularly to not only spend time on this project, but also in my role at Conservation Programmes Manager at Blue Ventures.

I’ve just visited the region surrounding the village of Andavadoaka, one of the sites in SW Madagascar where we are trialling the use of mobile phones for shark fisheries data collection. As usual, plans changed numerous times as we tried to visit data collectors: the wind conspired against us visiting the villages on islands, and another data collector had left for the local town despite giving him notice. Things like these are part of the ebb and flow of field work in Madagascar, plans change last minute, situations fluctuate and people aren’t always going to be where they say they’ll be! However, this is also what makes anything possible in Madagascar, there are always solutions to be found – a zebu cart can be used instead of a boat or a quick phone call to another data collector.

A regular check in between the project assistants, Rado and Silvere, and the data collector, Henriette, to check she is happy with using the phone and software and to run through any recent problems.
A regular check in between the project assistants, Rado and Silvere, and the data collector, Henriette, to check she is happy with using the phone and software and to run through any recent problems.

Eventually we caught up with the data collector in the village of Andavadoaka. Henriette has been helping to collect shark fisheries data since July 2013 and uses the phone and app quickly and easily. Henriette regularly uses the phone for personal calls – part of the incentive scheme the project offers is a small monthly allowance to encourage people to use the smartphones to become more comfortable with them.

However, one of the main issues encountered is that many community members are still unfamiliar with using smartphones. Historically within this project, data collectors have been older members of the village that are able to take on this responsibility. In order to help those that have more difficulty with the phones we are now looking to employ secondary, younger data collectors to team up with them.

IMG_4189
Checking that the current data collection form works smoothly on the phone.

Long journey times from one place to another in Madagascar also provide good opportunities to catch up with colleagues. Rado and Silvere help to run the shark fisheries project in SW Madagascar and are key in maintaining good relationships with data collectors and Blue Ventures, understanding local issues and their context, as well as being proficient in problem solving any technical issues.

Rado writes:
Despite some of the challenges we have encountered during the trial of this project (many of them expected!), we are keen to share these with our colleagues at Blue Ventures and show them how the project can work.

Many of the challenges require hard work from us, but also from the data collectors themselves. One challenge is that data collectors are mainly people who have never used phones and left school a long time ago. We knew that is would take time to teach them and that is has to be done slowly and requires patience and support. They have expressed that they are happy with with the way the team has taught them to use the phones. Whilst there are still improvements to be made, the data collectors and the project is moving forward.

It is evident to me that ODK collect could be the future for collecting data in the field as it saves time for data entry and data can be loaded in real-time, whilst helping to avoid data loss. However, as a new technology in a remote area of Madagascar, it’s important for technicians and scientists to work closely with the community to help them.”

The shark project team in SW Madagascar, Silvere, Fran and Rado, finally posing for a photo together!
The shark project team in SW Madagascar, Silvere, Fran and Rado, finally posing for a photo together!

At the moment it is the low shark fishing season in the Andavadoaka region as migrant fishers have sailed north on their annual trips during the austral winter to find more resource-rich waters. Many of these fishers will end up in the Barren Isles where BV also work, and will be starting a new trial to collect shark fisheries data on the remote islands out there.

This blog was written for and featured on the Save our Seas Foundation website, for the original version please click here

Fran Humber

About Fran Humber

Fran is our conservation programmes manager, based in London. She supports our teams in Madagascar and Belize, and makes sure that all activities are on track. Fran also studies part-time for a PhD focusing on the status of artisanal shark and turtle fisheries in southwest Madagascar.