I attended a talk on Manta Rays last night by Dr Andrea Marshall. Casa Barry Lodge hosts the Marine Megafauna Foundation, so the researchers are based there. Casa Barry is up a hill, then down a hill, from the volunteer house, but hey, everything in Tofo is up or down a hill. Andrea Marshall is so charismatic…her passion for the conservation of Manta Rays is infectious. I saw a Discovery Channel special on the work she does with mantas and that is what sparked my interest in coming to Tofo. I want to help support this effort to the best of my ability. (I am scheduled to go to Komodo with a research team on Mantas January 2014!)
Andrea arrived here 10 years ago to do her graduate work, the first study of Mantas, and 10 years later there are 87% FEWER MANTA RAYS. I’ve been here a week and I’ve seen only one manta, and no whale sharks. The reason for this is obvious: today, on the way to Outback reef for a dive, we saw a fishing boat pulling up sharks and rays in a NET. It is not illegal, these animals are being fished for their fins so quickly they cannot sustain the population. After our dive (where I saw a mobula ray!) we saw them dragging sharks to the market from the beach, so we followed, and everyone is standing around watching guys cut them up. The rays were just babies. These people are so poor, the life expectancy is so low here, that the locals just cannot understand that they can make more money over the long haul by keeping these animals safe. For them, it is about RIGHT NOW. Eating right now, making enough money to last for a month for fins, they do not comprehend that the reason the tourists are here are the animals they are killing. It is so sad, so demoralizing. We all walked away in disgust, anger, and deep sorrow. Here are photos.
I have started doing fish surveys and research dive logs, and today I am learning to search the whale shark database and mark the shark ids. They use the NASA system for charting stars to chart the spot pattern on the sharks. I’ve also contributed turtle id shots. The dives the last two days have been much better…Mozambique is not easy diving. It isn’t easy, period. The walking is very difficult, up and down hills to get anywhere, but I am managing. Today there were a few older divers…it was nice not to be the oldest one in sight! I have to admit that it is a mixed blessing…I do feel stronger every day, but I also feel worn out and in pain a bit. I am pacing myself, and I will absolutely be able to complete this program.
I am comfortable here, this is not luxury, but it is fine. Compared to the people of Mozambique I am living like a Queen in this volunteer house. I feel like I have known this group forever….the bonding takes place so quickly when living in the same house.
My admiration for these people grows daily. My 22 year old roommate, Leslie, is from Switzerland, and has done volunteer work all over the world, including Antarctica! After 2 months here, she is off to Simon’s Town (right outside of Cape Town, South Africa) to work on the Great White Shark project. A small Great White was seen here day before yesterday…it was speared by local fisherman, of course, so it is probably being eaten by now, its fins on their way to China. These animals are going to be gone in 10 years if something is not done soon.
I confess I am feeling sad today to miss my daughter’s 25th birthday, but I think it was more important that I was there the day I gave birth! Happy, happy birthday, sweet and darling girl, I love you so much! I wish you could be here and meet these amazing people! What a way to travel the world! They really are an inspiration.
I’m exhausted already….an ocean safari, dive and manta ray talk yesterday; today an early morning dive, computer work, and two talks. Oh, and laundry. It is never dull here.