Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tanzania with Kirk and Jeremy

June 19th

Today is our first day on the water with the hired boat and captain.  We planned to fish but everyone was eager to get on the water so there was not enough room to take the gear.  After a walk that I will never forget down the fisherman lined beach towards our boat, we got underway in the 5m boat with our skipper, deck hand, and eight scientific crew… now you might believe us that there was NO room for the fishing gear.  From the beach at Bagamoyo we had about a 10km run to the mouth of the Ruvu River.  This is one of the stretches of water where having a captain with local knowledge really paid off.  There are a lot of rocky reefs and sand banks not easily spotted in the plume water and with a tide range of up to 4m (13') we need to know where they are to safely navigate.  We were able to collect some preliminary environmental information including water salinity, dissolved oxygen, temperature, conductivity, and river depth profiles.  About 20km upriver we also came across a local family that had a small roadside market where a variety of fresh produce was available as well as some fresh boiled corn… our captain was especially happy about that!!! 

This system definitely looks like Shark River in the Everglades!  Tomorrow, we will start setting our lines across the major salinity gradients of the river from the mouth to freshwater areas, including brackish waters.  We have seen a diversity of plant and bird species today and took as many pictures as possible to document biodiversity across the river.  We also saw our first hippo footprints in the river… but no hippos. 

When we got off the water we visited some more fish landings and documented 3 other species of elasmobranchs caught today ( the rays Himantura fai, Himantura uarnak and the shark Carcharhinus sorrah).  We will definitely be getting our lines in the water tomorrow!!!  

Tanzania June 18

June 18th
This morning we had to introduce ourselves to the local authorities (water services) and request permission to enter the waters and start any research activities in the Ruvu River.  After meeting with a few of the people working at the District Commissioners office and having our heads spun from all the Swahili conversations, we ended up being directed to the office of Ndugu Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, Bagamoyo’s Representative of The President of The United Republic of Tanzania.  He was very welcoming and after a few more formalities were exchanged in Swahili, the conversation changed to English so that we could be included.  We gave a brief explanation of the ecological assessment we hope to be able to conduct and stressed the importance of this work.  After a few more formalities he welcomed us to undergo our mission and wished us much success.  On our way out of his office he left us each with a handshake and the words “asante sana”, Swahili for “thank you very much”.

Now that we have been granted permission to start our research we can hit the water… after we get a proper boat sorted that is.  It just so happens that on our way into the Commissioner’s office we spotted a 5m fiberglass boat with a 75hp Suzuki.  Keep in mind that this is the ONLY fiberglass boat in the town of Bagamoyo and it is strictly used as a patrol boat by the local fisheries officer.  We enquired about the boat and organized to hire it.  We also hired a skipper, a local fisherman who knew the waters, and laborers.  It appears that we are all sorted!!! 

After our productive morning filled with meetings and organizing logistics we went down to the beach to see what the local fishermen were landing with their beach seines.  Some of us even jumped in to help with the final haul!!!  Included in the catch were a variety of species including blue swimmer crabs, puffers, flatheads, grunts, tarpon, mackerel, sole, grouper, catfish, milk sharks, and a variety of sardines and herrings to name a few.  We noticed that all of the fish seemed small for their respective size potential and were probably using the near-shore seagrass habitat as a nursery.  We also collected a few seagrass samples (Thalassodendron ciliatum) that were snagged in the fishermen’s nets. We should definitely be able to get samples from seagrass (other species, other samples) and small fishes but also need to try and get as many predators and sharks as possible throughout the trip. We will also try to extend this sampling to freshwater and brackish communities.

In the last few hours of daylight we decided to give the inflatable a try, if nothing else to see the river and get an idea of the system we will be working in.  Our initial concerns about the small inflatable were quickly validated and after the deck started to fold in on itself during an attempt to get on plane. We turned around and walked the boat back ashore…

Ok, time to turn the blog over to Kirk Gastrich and Jeremy Kiszka who just returned from a trip to Tanzania where they conducted a rapid ecosystem assessment of the Ruvu estuary.  They are still going through their pictures so we will roll them out as fast as we can!

June 17th
Day 1… off to Bagamoyo!  In the morning we were met at the Tamigamiga Hotel in Kawe Beach, Dar es Salaam, by our driver and Mukama, a fish biologist from Tanzania.  On our way to Bagamoyo we stopped at the University of Dar es Salaam’s aquatic center to pick up the buoys and anchors we will need to properly deploy our longline gear.  After a very interesting drive we arrived in the town of Bagamoyo.  Our guest house, the Downtown Bagamoyo Lodge, was in the center of the small town “where all the action is” as one of our Tanzanian colleagues so aptly put it.  We quickly came to realize the truth of her statement as there was, at all hours, a seemingly endless supply of swiftly traveling  motorbikes always quick to honk their horns… always!!!  After we settled into our rooms we stocked up on some bottled water since the water from the taps was not always good to drink.  Shortly after, we met with some local people from the Basin to introduce ourselves and present our ideas for the project.  A small inflatable boat with a 25hp Yamy has been brought by the Basin, but is not likely to be usable for transect and fishing surveys. We will try to use it for preliminary surveys and to map out transects in the Ruvu River until we can sort out another boat. We also visited a fish market that showed some great diversity of pelagic teleosts caught by the local fisherman in the coastal waters… can’t wait to get our own gear soaking and see what we catch!!!  Oh yeah I almost forgot, we need to learn some Swahili and fast (especially Kirk)!!!  Hakuna matata!!!