Last weekend I spent a couple days boating around Akanda National Park, looking for manatees, sea turtles and talking to fishermen to see if they hunt or see manatees or turtles. On Friday morning 3 of us boated a zodiac from Libreville around a peninsula (open ocean but relatively calm) to the very shallow bay at Akanda. The water is murky and it was hard to see the depth- we actually got stuck in the mud and had a very funny experience trying to walk the boat to deeper water.
On Friday afternoon we visited a Nigerian fishing village on a small river. They mostly fish in the ocean rather than the bay, and they catch shrimp and spiny lobsters as well as fish. The chief told us in his 9 years there he had never seen a manatee, but that they catch about 2 turtles a week (although they don't differentiate between freshwater and sea turtles, so it's hard to know exactly how many are sea turtles, but they shouldn't be taking any, so obviously there's a negative impact). We also surveyed a smaller bay and a couple rivers. It is mangrove habitat, so impossible to see manatee feeding sign, and we saw no manatees or turtles.
The following day I went out again with a boat driver and two friends, Josey and Ruth. Unfortunately we got about 5km from the marina and ran out of gas. This was due to several factors- a gas gauge that didn't work, my misunderstanding of the amount of gas we had used the previous day, and a boat driver who decided not to tell us we were low on gas before we left the dock. So we spent a couple hours intensively studying a particular section of the river while paddling and not really getting very far! Eventually we persuaded some fishermen to tow us back to the marina in exchange for some money and a couple beers. They ended up giving us some fresh lobster so it was a pretty good trade! We also talked to them about manatees and they said they had never seen any there. It's hard to know if they are telling the truth, but with the intensive fishing that takes place there, my guess is that if there are any manatees at all, they are very few.
Sunday we had a torrential downpour and didn't end up going out on the water, so unfortunately we were never able to survey the eastern side of the bay. Monday morning my friends Romain, Bruno, Ant and I moved the boat back to Libreville, of course in perfect sunny weather! I wish I could've spent longer up there, but I had to leave Gabon that night. The boat belongs to Romain, so I thank him very much for letting us use it!
Nigerian fishing village in the large shallow bay. This is one of at least 3 villages in the park. Josey with a paddle, right before we got stuck in the mud. Little did we know at the time this picture was taken how important the paddles would become!
I want to put up as few more pics from Akanda soon, but am having trouble loading at the moment.