In an earlier blog I introduced myself and the work I will be doing in Madagascar for Reefdoctors. In this blog I'll tell you about my first experiences and my dives so far:
First impressions of Madagascar Madagascar presents a biologist’s dream but a writer’s nightmare because its extraordinary qualities render it almost impossible to adequately describe. My first impressions of the country were collected on the trip from the airport to a cheap hotel in the center of Tulear, the second biggest city in Madagascar. It struck me just how dark the entire country was and I wondered if the ancient Air Madagascar Boeing 767 was actually a clandestine time machine. Only selected houses and establishments in the city had electricity and the rest were plunged into darkness every night. Silhouetted against the sole streetlight were the many Malagasy rickshaws, which echo the colonial days in their archaic use of human labour.
Tim Tams The trip from the city to my new home at Reefdoctor (a marine conservation NGO) took me through stunningly beautiful desert landscape that was covered in the unique fauna of the spiny forest. Huts were built from reeds, long horned cattle ambled lazily along the roads and people in brightly coloured sarongs gathered around meeting places for a good old yarn. Reefdoctor presented itself as a friendly oasis and I was happy to meet a fellow Australian, who after the obligatory greetings immediately plied me for Tim Tams and episodes of 'Packed to the Rafters'.
After a few days, I began to realize the extent to which the local people depended on the ocean for every aspect of their livelihoods. The ocean provides more than a food source for the coastal Malagasy tribes but a way of life and an identity. From dawn to dust the men sail their wooden pirogues out to the fishing grounds, whilst the women and children bathe, swim, play and gossip in the shallows.
Measuring the effects of Marine protection The work Reefdoctor does here in safeguarding the marine environment took on a new meaning to me. Being a diver, I often regard the ocean as merely a place of recreation, a giant playground of sorts. I am guilty of forgetting that for a large percentage of the world it is vital for survival. After settling down I was plunged into the science of the operation and I set to learning fish, coral and invertebrate identification in order to record a series of surveys through different dive sites in the Bay of Ranobe.
One of the main objectives of conducting these surveys is to provide data on how creating areas of protected coral reef is beneficial by comparing these protected sites against other dive sites which have suffered under overfishing and general misuse. Unfortunately, it does not require much analysis to see that the reef has suffered from the years of extreme dependence from the local fishing communities.
Counting species Although the reef is suffering, the fish certainly are plentiful and stunning. They provide a kaleidoscope of colour and are a stark contrast to the greying coral and rubble. Barracudas skim the waters surface, inquisitive jeweled damsels poke out from the coral and schools of blue spine unicorn fish make me giggle into my regs.
With the 65 different fish that I need to survey as part of my work here, it certainly is challenging. Sometimes I think the fish know what I am trying to do and swim across my path a few dozen times, which leads me to wonder if I did indeed see 57 Blackspotted Emperors or just one particularly energetic one!