Thursday, May 14, 2009

This is why I chose to become a marine biologist...I get to snorkel, look at cool fish, and consider it work. Awesome!

The village got the second installment of money for the MPA so work has jumpstarted. The Fisheries Department has been out to the village for meetings the past few weeks and has been teaching the village about clam farming. The men built a pen in the MPA to house the clams.

Usually villages get clams to start the farms from the Fisheries Department, but their stock has been out for a while. So my village went out on the reef and collected the wild ones in the area. This sounds all fine and dandy except for the fact since money was involved people went nuts collecting the clams. The village paid the collector based on the size of the clam. Some people got over 100 Tala in a single day for collecting clams. The village filled the pen in one afternoon and clams were put outside the pen it was so overcrowded. When the men built a second pen to house them all I thought this was a good idea. Rule #1 of aquaculture…Don’t overcrowd. We can space the clams out, put the clams outside the first pen inside the second pen, and the clams we have will have plenty of space to grow. But no, since money was involved, clam hunting was opened up again. People went nuts a second time trying to rape the natural reef of all the wild clams. This is so very smart, lets take all the wild clams off the reef, overcrowd the pens, have all the clams get sick and die, and have no more clams anywhere. I tried to express my opinion that the clam farming should probably stop because we have plenty, but again since money was involved that was basically ignored. I really do like seeing the village so proud of their clams, but I think they went a little overboard on the collection. There are over 300 clams in the pens at the moment. The goal is to re-populate the reef with the clams we raise in the MPA, but it seems like they might have been doing ok on their own. We will see how it turns out, I’m curious to see. They said we didn’t have any wild clams in the MPA, but this wasn’t true I see them every time I go swimming. Well, we have plenty clams in the MPA now.

Saturday, I helped make fish houses with the men of the village. Fish houses are actually very simple to make. We made a ring of rocks as the base, added some chunks of dead coral, cemented the whole thing, and added wire for coral gardening. We left them to dry, and then Monday went to work putting them in the MPA. We broke the first two trying to get them off the paopao (boat) and into the water, but after that it was smooth sailing. I helped tie the coral on for the coral gardening on the first couple of houses, but then swam ahead and scouted out good places to put the houses. It was good work, really tiring. I went back Tuesday to get some pictures and see how the fish were growing accustomed to the artificial coral reef structure. Not many fish were in the houses, but some were getting used to the idea. Hopefully, the houses will provide good protection for the fish and the coral gardening will jumpstart the coral to grow into a nice big reef.
Snorkeling the past week has been a real pleasure. I love that I get paid, even though my pay is basically nothing, to snorkel and see really cool fish. A few days ago I saw a porcupine fish about 18 inches long just sitting in a hole in the coral. It was cool. I have been seeing lionfish recently too. I have wanted to see a lionfish for a long time because they are just so cool. It figures though, I didn’t have my camera with me when I saw the porcupine fish and my lens was fogged when I found the lionfish again. I still got a few pics of the lionfish, but none really good. I guess I just have to keep snorkeling until I can get a good picture. I saw a really cool juvenile Emperor Angelfish. It was blue with swirling white lines as you see below. Now that I have documented most of the big fish I see all the time, I am trying to see all the little things as well. I found some shrimp the other day, as well as a sea slug. There is quite a lot of diversity in the MPA. The coral isn’t as good as I would like it to be, but it is coming along. We have hard and soft coral and anemones complete with anemonefish and clownfish. We have starfish, sea cucumbers, and cowries. I look forward to the days when the tide is good and I can go for a swim; even better that I can record it as time spent working.

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