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.