A week into my two month Mozambique underwater photography internship program it became apparent to me that there were certain happenings I could not ignore, given my rather strong leaning towards ocean conservation.
After six weeks my photography students and I eventually managed to arrange and attend a public meeting presided over by a fisheries representative, Fernando, and also a commander from Maritimo- Mr Jose Maria. Mr Maria is stationed at the local Maritimo HQ in Inhambane; the closest administrative centre to this bay. Mr Maria met with us a week prior when we had called him from Inhambane to the bay, angered by some fishing activities on the beachfront that we had been told were illegal. We only met Fernando at the public meeting despite the fact that he is the fisheries representative who is stationed on the beach at Guinjata Bay. Until today I have not seen Fernando on the beach nor in the white office (also on the beach front) that he pointed out to us today is, in fact, his! Fernando was not present at the first meeting we had with Jose Maria despite the fact we met about 50 meters away from his office. If we had known Fernando existed we would have certainly tried to make sure he was also at the first meeting.
The concerns my students and I have- include the following:
Just last week, whilst Mr Maria was waiting on the beach for us to come back from an ocean safari- he had witnessed us save a large whale shark from becoming entangled in the gill nets as it pursued schools of tiny silver fish. At least four of us repeatedly pushed the great fish away from certain death in front of the Maritimo commander.
An interpreter had to be used at the two-hour meeting and I am sure that much was “lost in translation”. The upshot of the meeting was that the fishermen feel the nets cannot choose what they catch and their communities are hungry and want to eat whatever is caught. The fishermen do not want to fish in the day only as they can put out the nets every day for over a month and catch nothing at all. Although they know they are not supposed to put the nets in at night it is more important for them to eat.Jose Maria spoke regularly and emphatically about how important tourism is for a country like Mozambique and that the fishermen should be protecting their marine environment and now just fishing without thinking about the future.Whilst Mr Maria’s words made sense I got the feeling that in the tussle between short term gain (full tummies ) vs. long term benefits ( fish left in the ocean ) – short term gain was far more powerful.Fernando and the fishermen also told us that it is illegal to dive at night and so we are also breaking the law. We asked to be shown the law on this issue. It did feel as if a finger was being pointed back at us to get off the real issue at hand.
We pushed the issue of the illegalities as that is all we could really rely on; being foreigners. Neither Mr Maria nor Fernando would “stick to their guns” on the law and another meeting was arranged for this weekend. At this meeting the actual regulations will be handed out and discussed between the different interest groups.We could not stick to the legalities or use them to argue our case, as nobody was certain what they were. As a result we were left with nothing to argue but to implore the fishermen that if they caught a shark; ray or turtle that was still alive – that they at least let us return it to the ocean. The fishermen appeared to agree to this but I was left wondering how it could be implemented. It seemed like an extremely watered down victory –even to the extent that there was no victory.
I know there are some who have come to this realisation before me with respect to them and in my opinion it will take a special person living in the community who is ready to sit with the locals and educate them. The locals and their children could be taught about the life history of some of the animals they are catching and killing and the real value of these animals to the area (in tourism terms and other) . Furthermore – it seems to me that the local white South African owned businesses could get more involved. I see kids sitting on the rocks in front of the dive centre daily- hacking away at tiny mussels and barnacles on the rocks out of what appears to be- pure boredom. Many of the animals killed are not taken, as they are too small. Daily I find the bodies of tiny dead crabs and other animals that were killed for no clear reason- many of them still with roe in their tiny bodies.
I was disappointed that not one locally living South African / businessperson came to the meeting. Only my students and myself attended and we are all foreigners. I spoke to the Guinjata Dive Centre owner about this and she explained that there have been numerous such meetings. Each time one is held; promises are made an immediately broken. No surprise really- that no-one wants to talk and try to find a solution anymore. However it has to happen. If the fishermen want to keep tourists in the area and if the business owners want to keep businesses there -then it is vital they come together to find compromises that work.
At the moment it is only the inhabitants of the ocean that are suffering. Soon, the fishermen and the businesses will also suffer. It happened to the big game fishing industry here. I wonder if they are going to wait until the divers disappear too. I am certain that if all the mantas are taken off manta reef it will drop dramatically in its status of being one of the Top sites in the world. It feels to me that this is an imminent problem that local businesses have to get involved in whether they like it or not. Back in 2004 -2006 when I frequented that reef every December we would see up to ten manta rays daily. In 2013- we have seen mantas on about 50 % of the dives we did on manta reef and then mostly one individual on at least three dives I saw four.
It appears that both the local fishermen and South African investors and businesses here have much to discuss and agree on. I think a strong person with great communication skills and a healthy ability to mediate is the only solution for this area and probably also for the entire Mozambique coastline where tummies are empty and the ocean is being emptied at an alarming rate with no regard for the future.
We have a further meeting tomorrow and I will report back.
Report Back from meeting
There was no meeting as some of the bigwigs from Maputo and Inhambane could not make it. It was made clear to us that our concerns also matter for the entire region (in my mind the whole of Mozambique actually) and that government wants to do something about it ! I am interested to see who these bigwigs are and what they can or will do – to help the oceans. We were told that we would get a call on Monday for a meeting this coming week. It was good to see some of the local business owners getting involved and attending this meeting. Colin was there from Jeff’s and so was Lynn from Guinjata Bay.
More to follow then….after our next meeting ! (don’t hold your breath)
Report Back from meeting 2 on 26 August 2013
Lynn (dive center owner) and I got called to a meeting in Inhambane (an hours drive away) with Maritimo and fisheries. It panned out that this may have been a plot by the Guinjata bay fisheries rep to get himself a free lift into town. When we got there we were told we were not welcome and that the meeting pertained to other (more important) things and shut out of the room. Cutting a long story short:
I met with a more willing ( but lowly!) fisheries representative and was told that within weeks new laws in Mozambique will protect manta rays there. The fisheries staff will be busy with a “roll-out” of the new regulations over the next few months. I will be watching the anticipated application of these regulations with interest……
Unfortunately I leave Mozambique in a few days and the heat will be off- so to speak. It is hard to get involved from so far away. I will however be back in 2014.
Certainly, I felt that most of our efforts were continually thwarted and that there is little hope for protection from the gill nets. The writing is on the wall for any ocean-going creatures that find themselves inshore and taking a leisurely swim anywhere in the wave break and around 50 meters behind it. There is very little hope that those animals will survive…. the wall of death. The dreaded gill nets I ended up calling these curtains of destruction. Having had my fin caught in them when pushing a whale shark away- I knew just how it felt to be caught up in them. Not nice….. at all !