The Highs and Lows of the Octopus Project

by Sophie Andriamalala, Southwest Regional Coordinator, Madagascar

For the last two weeks the octopus team in Toliara have spent 10 hours a day staring at our computer screens and cleaning, checking and organising over 900 notebooks filled to the brim with 8 years of octopus fishery data. One might say a thankless task, but I was able to feel a sense of pride when these individual spread sheets were successfully compiled into our master database, and at the click of a button summary results were being churned out.

The joys of octopus checking

The wonders of modern technology and the generosity of people who know how to use it is fantastic. An internet plea for some database help put me in touch with Paul Hamill, a database programming expert from Leeds in the UK. He has gone above and beyond the call of duty to understand my no doubt poorly explained requirements and work through the snags and pitfalls of Microsoft Access to hugely facilitate monthly data reporting from the project – in not one language but three! We plan to use these new and improved monthly outputs to help guide the newly formed regional octopus fishery management committee here in Madagascar, allowing us to react quickly if the fishery shows any signs of serious decline.

Sample of monthly reporting output

After a data-filled 2 weeks, I now find myself in Madagascar’s capital, Tana, helping Ryan Vickers, a fantastic independent film maker, edit 9 hours of footage from both the most recent temporary octopus fishing closures in the southwest AND the first ever national octopus fishing closure in Rodrigues (a small island territory of Mauritius). The editing process has been really fascinating; after having done several rounds of comments on a written storyboard it is so very cool to see the looks on people’s faces on film. The movie is slowly starting to take shape on the computer and I am already excited about the first screening.

Ryan editing footage in his home studio

I have also been tasked to narrate the movie, as apparently British women make for the most clear and easily understood voice overs. Not something I have any previous experience with, but with a lot of time spent acting and singing in my youth (I think I can say that now as I just turned 30 last week!) I am seemingly a natural :-) . The recording process was fun and challenging: imagining I was presenting to a large audience rather than a filing cabinet with data, and trying to give every phrase the right emphasis to impress upon viewers the immense amount of work over the last decade in Madagascar that has gone into making these closures such a huge success.

Sophie recording the narration for the film

I hope these movies, commissioned by SmartFish and the EU, in three different lengths for different target audiences, will be a shining testament to the work of the whole BV octopus team who has contributed to octopus closure management. I hope the guys in Andavadoaka and Toliara will be as proud of this movie as I am, and I am so looking forward to seeing their reactions when they watch it for the first time in the New Year.

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Sophie Benbow

Sustainable Fisheries Programme Manager
Sophie currently manages all aspects of the first regional stock assessment for Octopus cyanea in southwest Madagascar including logistics and financial reporting, staff and data management and final report production. She also works with the Field Scientist team on site to ensure data collection and analysis for the coral reef monitoring programme is of a high standard and to facilitate report production. "The octopus research projects have progressed from strength to strength and represent a truly innovative approach to conservation with impressive and measurable outputs which directly improve the lives of local communities" Sophie was awarded an honours degree in Zoology from Durham University, UK and then went on to complete her Masters in Conservation at University College London. She joined Blue Ventures as a Science Intern in the London Office in 2006 before her first vist to Madagascar as a Field Scientist in February 2007. She re joined the Madagascar team as Marine Science Coordinator in Andavadoaka in May 2009 after a brief stint working as a coral reef biologist in the Philippines. Sophie has held her current position as Manager of the first regional stock assessment for octopus since August 2010
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About Sophie Benbow

Sophie currently manages all aspects of the first regional stock assessment for Octopus cyanea in southwest Madagascar including logistics and financial reporting, staff and data management and final report production. She also works with the Field Scientist team on site to ensure data collection and analysis for the coral reef monitoring programme is of a high standard and to facilitate report production. "The octopus research projects have progressed from strength to strength and represent a truly innovative approach to conservation with impressive and measurable outputs which directly improve the lives of local communities" Sophie was awarded an honours degree in Zoology from Durham University, UK and then went on to complete her Masters in Conservation at University College London. She joined Blue Ventures as a Science Intern in the London Office in 2006 before her first vist to Madagascar as a Field Scientist in February 2007. She re joined the Madagascar team as Marine Science Coordinator in Andavadoaka in May 2009 after a brief stint working as a coral reef biologist in the Philippines. Sophie has held her current position as Manager of the first regional stock assessment for octopus since August 2010