Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nigeria: Save Our Species news article

Project funder Save Our Species has posted a nice news article on the Nigeria component of our SOS grant and all of Bolaji's work to end manatee hunting there through aquaculture training. You can read it here!!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Nigeria: Bolaji Dunsin works to end manatee hunting in Lekki Lagoon through aquaculture

It's surprising that there are any manatees left in Lekki Lagoon, which is located ~63 km east of Africa's largest city, Lagos, Nigeria (population 21 million!). Manatees are heavily hunted there and with the proximity of so many people, I'm astounded they still survive. A couple years ago, my colleague Bolaji Dunsin proposed a project to me:  he wanted to teach local manatee hunters aquaculture as an alternative livelihood to hunting manatees. Bolaji attended a manatee training workshop I co-taught in Ghana in 2008, but in his regular job he works as a fisheries officer for Nigeria's Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research. So he has both the fisheries expertise and an understanding of manatee research. Bolaji's project became one of three that I proposed to Save Our Species for funding, which we were fortunate to receive last year (the other project sites are Tocc Tocc Reserve in Senegal and Soumaila Berthe's manatee education and habitat protection project on the Bani and Niger Rivers in Mali).

Bolaji had already spoken with manatee hunters in the Ise community on Lekki Lagoon when he developed his project proposal, so once it was funded he returned and conducted education programs about the importance of protecting manatees. He talked to hunters about his proposal that they give up manatee hunting in return for training and provisioning with all the equipment they would need for catfish aquaculture. (All photos below are courtesy of Bolaji Dunsin)

 At first the hunters were skeptical and wanted the training without giving up hunting (of course!). It took Bolaji many trips to the community to convince the hunters they couldn't have the benefits of aquaculture without giving up hunting. This past summer Tomas Diagne was in the area doing turtle research, so he traveled to the community with Bolaji to talk about the success of Tocc Tocc Community Reserve in Senegal, to show that community based alternative livelihoods are working in other places. 
The hunters were convinced and took Bolaji out to mark their manatee traps for removal. All the traps were documented using a GPS to make sure they were removed and no new traps were set.
Then the training began. Bolaji brought all the supplies to the community and the hunters learned how to build fish cages. They assembled the PVC pipes to create the cage structures...

 They learned how to breed catfish...
 How to determine the sex of the catfish...
 How to prepare them for fertilization...
 fertilize eggs...
 ...and strip fertlized eggs from female catfish.
 Pens were set up and catfish were raised to market size, first in 2 demonstration pens so that everyone could learn, and later in additional cages.
Adult catfish ready for market.
Nine manatee traps were removed from the lagoon

 And the next step is teaching the village women how to prepare the fish to be sold in the market.
This project has been so successful that Bolaji has been approached by 3 other villages asking for the same aquaculture training and set-ups. We'll need to continue to raise funds to expand this effort, but we're very excited to see this working so well! I commend Bolaji for a huge amount of hard work and for building the trust of the community, and we hope his project can be used as an example for other places in Africa to show that alternative livelihoods to manatee hunting are achievable. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Senegal: Tocc Tocc Reserve becomes a Ramsar site!

Wow, when I said "stay tuned" I didn't realize how quickly I'd have more news! And fantastic news at that... today we found out Tocc Tocc Community Reserve has been designated as Senegal's newest Ramsar site (and only the 5th one designated in the country). This recognition will certainly help us to continue to protect this beautiful place and all its wildlife for future generations. And hopefully it'll help promote Tocc Tocc for eco-tourism!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Senegal: Great progress at Tocc Tocc Reserve!

In the last 6 months, big things have been happening at Tocc Tocc Community Wildlife Reserve in northern Senegal. With our 22 new EcoGuards trained, regular patrols are now occurring, they've confiscated and destroyed illegal fishing gear, set out new buoys to mark the edge of the reserve on the lake side, and are clearing an opening through the reeds to the lagoon to prepare for the construction of a new dock. Here are a few photos showing all their great activities....even more incredible when you consider we have no salary to pay the staff right now, so they are doing all this work as volunteers!

Tomas Diagne led a training session for the EcoGuards last Fall. Aside from monitoring the reserve and enforcing the regulations, they are learning how to collect and record scientific data on all the wildlife species using the reserve.
  Group photo of all 22 EcoGuards (including 4 women!), the national park Conservator, and some members of the Community Conservation Committee.
 Two EcoGuards scouting the reserve during a routine patrol
 We were also fortunate to have intern Albane Logiou this Fall, who cataloged all the fish species found in the reserve. Albane spent 3 months at Tocc Tocc.
 EcoGuards also document things like signs that manatees have been feeding at Tocc Tocc. This guard holds up reeds that have been uprooted by manatees (usually at night) so they can feed on the roots of the plants. The long shredded stems are left floating on the water's surface.  
 Clearing reeds to create a path for the new dock was a huge job! The dock will be installed very soon and then people will be able to access the lagoon part of the reserve from land for the first time.

 EcoGuards pose with the first illegal fishing gear they confiscated from the reserve after all the communities agreed not to fish there. Apparently the gear belonged to migrant fishermen from Mali, who were warned that they could not fish within the reserve, but who refused to remove their traps. The traps were destroyed.
In January cement blocks were made to anchor the reserve's new boundary marker buoys. Once they were ready they were brought by boat to the reserve...which is alot of work when you only have non-motorized canoes and the reserve is several miles away! 
 Guards getting ready to deploy the new buoys with the reserve

Toleu chief Niaga Boh participating in deploying the new boundary buoys!
 The buoys can be seen from at least 500 feet away, which will now make it easier to enforce Tocc Tocc Reserve regulations
 And residents like this Royal Tern already seem to be enjoying the buoys as well!
 Next up will be construction of the dock and two observation towers. Meanwhile Tomas and I continue to try to fund raise to create sustainable livelihoods for the hard-working EcoGuards. Stay tuned! 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Society of Marine Mammalogy conference, Dunedin, New Zealand

In early December I attended the biennial Society of Marine Mammalogy conference in New Zealand and presented the preliminary results of my (mitochondrial DNA) genetics work in a spoken presentation as well as a scientific poster. It was fun to finally be able to share some of the results of all these past years of work, and to be able to show how I'm beginning to identify distinct manatee populations across Africa. My hope is that once populations are defined and their genetic diversity is known, that it will help to direct conservation and management efforts and funding towards the most critical places and populations. To see a pdf of my poster, see Links on the right side of this page (you can zoom in on the image to enlarge it).
My project was also able to sponsor travel costs for Aristide Kamla from Cameroon, who also gave a spoken presentation at the Sirenian Workshop before the conference, as well as a poster during the main conference. Aristide also received an award from the SMM International Student Committee that covered his lodging and registration costs at the conference. He did a great job with his presentations and had a lot of interest from other researchers in the Society in his work.
Here Aristide explains the stranding network that he initiated in coastal Cameroon to Dr. Randy Wells, a dolphin expert from Florida.
My colleague Maggie Hunter also presented a poster on work we've just started, with a new marker using coding and non-coding DNA to provide perspective on the divergence of all the Trichechids (the three species of manatees).  Exon-priming intron-crossing (EPIC) primers have been shown to accurately identify species and subspecies in cryptic populations. We hope that this method will give us much greater insight into how the living manatee species evolved.
I'd like to thank all my funders, who make this research and conference participation possible!

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Cameroon Training Workshop

I'm very late in posting this, but I'm proud to report that this project was able to support a four day manatee training workshop in Dizangue, Cameroon held at the end of October and led by researcher Aristide Kamla. The 17 attendees included the manager and all the Ecoguards from Lake Ossa Wildlife Refuge, as well as local fishermen. Aristide reported that "it was the a great opportunity to bring together conservation officers and fishermen who usually don't talk to each other, and we were able to discuss together about manatee conservation in Lake Ossa and to resolve some issues of misunderstanding  between them".  All photos below are courtesy of Aristide Kamla.

The group in the meeting room.
 Rodrigue (who attended the training workshop I taught in Gabon in September) giving a manatee presentation to the group.
Practicing standardized measurements

Learning how to use a GPS
Group photo... it's so rewarding for me to see former trainees become trainers and pass their knowledge on to others in their countries!
The group also went out on Lake Ossa to practice surveying for manatees

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Victor is released!!

Yesterday Victor was released into Banio Lagoon in southern Gabon, just outside the enclosure where he has been raised for the past 3 years. In the past few weeks, thanks to the supervision and dedicated effort of Jonathan, Victor was able to re-gain some weight and was deemed to be in good enough health to be released. He was fitted with a specially made belt and VHF radio transmitter tag so that he can be tracked locally. Jonathan will remain in the area for a bit longer to track Victor, but he's also trained local Gabonese staff so that they can monitor his progress. Victor's belt is made with special safety features so if it gets entangled and he tugs it, it will break and free him. Additionally, manatee educational outreach programs have been, and will continue to be, conducted in villages around the lagoon to make people aware that it's important to protect manatees, and specifically to notify them that Victor is being monitored. We had originally hoped to release him in a very remote location without any people or villages nearby, but his change in health over the past 6 months precluded us from doing that. We hope he'll join up with some of the other manatees living in Banio Lagoon and learn from them.

In the photo above Victor is taste testing a water lily shortly after he was released, so we hope he'll soon be munching away on the native plants he learned to eating in the enclosure for over a year. We are very hopeful that this little manatee, the first of his species to ever have been successfully raised in captivity, will have a long and wonderful life in the wild!

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank all the different people who were involved with Victor's rescue and care along with me for the past 3 years: Jonathan Perez-Rivera, Ricardo Zanre, Brice Louembet, Davy, Junior and Robby, Dr. Ken Cameron, Rich Parnell, Aimee Sanders, Dr. Tony Mignucci, Dr. Greg Bossart, Caroline Pott, Wynand Viljoen, and Matt Shirley. We are also very grateful for the support of the following organizations: Wildlife Conservation Society, Sea to Shore Alliance, Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center, Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Georgia Aquarium, Columbus Zoo Conservation Fund, Sustainable Forestry Management, Save the Manatee Club, and Green Butterfly Designs.