Saturday, April 09, 2011

Senegal: Manatee hunter gives up killing in favor of conservation!

Very exciting news from Senegal.... a manatee hunter whose family has been working in the Casamance River for generations has decided to end all manatee hunting and work towards manatee conservation! Last week he gave his harpoon to Tomas Diagne, a manatee researcher in Senegal, as a symbol of his decision. Oceanium Dakar and Tomas have been working with the hunter's community of Pt. St. George in the Casamance for several years, because they have a spring where manatees come to drink freshwater each day.

I visited Pt. St. George in October 2010 and was amazed, because it's literally the only place I know in Africa where sighting manatees every day is guaranteed. The people of Pt. St. George are interested to develop manatee eco-tourism, and they already have an observation tower, so Tomas and I plan to provide them with permanent manatee educational panels and to help them begin manatee conservation measures. Our first task will be to install buoys around the spring to keep boats out so that manatees have a safer place to drink, which will also allow tourists more opportunities to see them from the viewing tower. Eco-tourism will hopefully provide an alternate livelihood to more members of the community, benefiting them for keeping manatees alive, rather than hunting them.

The viewing tower. Manatees come to the spring just in front of it.
Recent network collaborator fieldwork

Here are some recent photos of colleagues in Angola and Nigeria using new field sampling equipment during their manatee surveys. I was able to send them this equipment thanks to several generous grants (much appreciated by both myself and the African researchers!). This equipment, which seems so basic to us in the USA but is so difficult to get in Africa, allows them to collect more accurate data in their home countries. These colleagues received depth sounders with built in digital thermometers, GPS units, binoculars, refractometers (which measure water salinity), headlamps for night surveys, secchi disks (to measure water clarity), rain ponchos, waterproof field notebooks, African aquatic plant guides (electronic versions on CD), and drybags to keep the equipment dry.

Miguel Xavier is doing manatee surveys of river systems in central Angola. Here he uses his new refractometer to check water salinity. His preliminary surveys found that there may be a high level of pollution in some rivers, so he has purchased a water chemistry set to test levels of several chemicals during his surveys.

Uzoma Edijmadu is a PhD student in Lagos, Nigeria studying manatees in Badegry Lagoon. He uses his new secchi disk to check water clarity, which is important to understand where aquatic plants (manatee salad!) are capable of growing.
The new depth sounders are great because they not only give the depth of the water (very important when searching for manatees in murky rivers and lagoons), but also the water temperature, all with the click of a single button! Bolaji Dunsin of the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research, who collaborates with Uzoma, checks their location on their new GPS while surveying Badegry Lagoon in western Nigeria.

I'm really happy to see the network collaborators in action and able to collect better data thanks to their new field equipment. I'll post photos of other collaborators as they are sent to me!