Octopus are Growing, Volunteers are Diving

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    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…