One of our current, groundbreaking projects in Andavadoaka is related to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Basically the villages choose their best fishing reefs and put them in the MPA, which means that they have agreed to not fish there anymore. This will hopefully allow fish stocks to replenish and increase, and then overflow from these sites so that the fishing in the area will become more sustainable for the growing and future population. What is unusual is the gusto with which the fishermen and villagers have taken to the project, even though they are giving up their best fishing sites. They have seen from the ‘Octopus no-take zones’ in the region that these initiatives really can work and that their catch can increase by NOT fishing at critical times. Setting up the MPA involves lots of visits to all the villages, meetings with all the Nahudas (chiefs) and snorkelling the proposed sites. We then need to dive the sites, assess their worth, map and stake transects so that scientific studies (benthic and fish) can be undertaken.
I spent a day on a motorized pirogue (a hollowed out tree fishing boat, with an outrigger to keep it from falling over, and a small motor) visiting the villages, meetings, sites etc. We braved the waves on the way to Nosy Ve (‘Nosy’ means island in Malagasy), not sure why all the boys get to be at the back and us girls had to sit up front and get battered by the waves, very refreshing though on such a warm day!
Really interesting to see the fishermen get so animated and involved with the project, drawing maps, describing the depth of a site (a fisherman’s metre is his arm span), what fish they might catch there etc. The ambience was also helped by a storm passing overhead, there was strong wind and rain and we were in the most secure little school room on the island, with chalk and a blackboard, outside the most fantastic dark looming clouds, bright sea and spectacular rainbow! We spent the night on a neighbouring island. Hoping to sleep out on a sail on the beach after our fish and rice dinner with a lovely campfire. But the rain stopped play and we had to drag the sail into a small hut with 6 of us packed in like sardines, but hey we were dry!
Awake to the sound of noisy mosquitoes at 4 in the morning, and had to relinquish the sail, as the fish were ready to bite.
Rice pancakes for breakfast and attended more village meetings before we were out to GPS the potential MPA sites. As the depth sounder failed, we had to send down a manual one, namely our local staff member ‘BIC’ who with the aid of a dive computer would collect the depth of the reef after free-diving for us. Apparently there were some good reefs but by the time I jumped in we had drifted back over to the deep blue. I did manage to see a few notable fishes though and some good coral, and I avoided all the jellyfish, winner! Very pleased to get out of the sun, though still feel as though I am rocking on the boat. Really exhausting for a couple of hours work, but oh so rewarding.
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