Everything is going well with the dive surveys at our new site in Belo and on the islands so far. This week we had some great weather again, which allowed us to survey a further 3 sites around the islands of Nosy Be, Nosy Angoraoke and Nosy Tania. These sites have proved to be more intersting than first thought. Unfortunately not due their diverse coral cover and burgeoning fish populations but their now near desolate state following a recent cyclone as many are now left with large expanses of bare rock and rubble. It will prove to be interesting over the coming years to investigate how resilient these reefs are in the wake of this damage. Fishermen that stayed on the island throughout the cyclone period told us that after the cyclone there were large numbers of sea cucmber, octopus, lobster and other marine creastures washed up on the beaches of Nosy Be. It appears that this cyclone caused large amounts of damage which will be interesting to see if/how the systems recover from this.
Following our return to Belo, Mr Alain ( local hotel owner) arrived to ask for our assistance after he had spoken with the mayor and president. Some Chinese collectors were staying at another local hotel and had asked local fishers to collect ‘Salabato’ (Chitons), ‘Tsilatsilake’ (Pen shells) and ‘huitre’ (Oyster). Also with them was their malagasy aid, who told us that they had come on holiday to the area for a couple of days and decided to take some of the local produce for food. (4 rice sacks and a cool box full). The amount that they collected, in conjunction with the fact that they had brought with them an aquarium oxygen pump (not something many people carry with them on a short break) alerted us to the fact that this was probably not the case and they were probably intending to sell this produce, although this claim cannot be proven. They of course did not have any official papers to say they were entitled to collect this produce. Thomas spoke with all of the fishers, the collector, and the owner of the hotel and we decided that the best thing to do would be to consult directly with the president of the fokontany, as he is the local authority.
Following the meeting the president and vice president, came to see the collection and speak with the collectors assistant. This is when the story changed and the malagasy assistant handed the phone to the president and told him to speak with the ‘minister of fisheries’ who proceeded to say that the official papers allowing them to collect such products was with him in Tana. ‘So they are collectors after all?!’ Without evidence to the contrary the president felt that he could not punish the collectors and so they have proceeded to Morondava with their produce. However we have spoken with someone at MNP who will hopefully ensure that the car is brought to the attention of the correct authoroities in Morondava when it arrives this afternoon.
This is an important encounter as it shows that the local community at present doesn’t have an understanding of the effects of this type of collection of marine products, nor is there currently any local or other law that allows the local community to protect theses resources from exploitation, whether collectors have a permit or not! This week has given us a good insight into some of the threats that the marine resources face here in Belo and out on the islands.