Friday, February 21, 2014

News from the Beach (and Mzuzu) Wonk edition

-So we opened up Joy's Place at the end of January, nearly a month now and its going great!  The local community both in Mzuzu and the Northern Region generally have really supported us and we are so thankful for that.  Check us out on facebook at  The webpage is still in the works so stay tuned.  Joy's Korean cooking, and recently the introduction of beautiful deserts made by our lovely Austrian baker friend Barbara, have really been a hit.  Come on by!

-Our new intern at the Maru, Kelsey, has just finished her dive certification and is hard at work learning to identify the beautiful cichlids of Lake Malawi in preparation for contributing to our underwater Population and Biodiversity surveys.  Keep up the good work!

- And now for a bit of wonk.

So every couple months or so I dive back into the academic journals and read, fairly randomly, articles from my fields of study, namely Science and Technology Studies, Environmental History and History of Science.  Yesterday I fell upon this article by Dan Kleinman and Sainath Suryanarayanan in the journal of Science, Technology, and Human Values entitled "Dying Bees and the Social Production of Ignorance."  I had heard about CCD (colony collapse disorder) from general news outlets and was interested to get an academic perspective on the issue.  I'll admit that I haven't read up enough on the "ignorance" literature off of which the article riffs, (its next on my list) but at first glance I'm not impressed.  Its seems to be a pretty crude attempt to bring traditional leftist politics into STS analysis through the backdoor.  Not that there is anything wrong with such politics.  I'm a fan of it on many levels.  But one of the strengths of STS analysis, from my perspective of course, is how good it can be at avoiding capture by political ideologues.  The moment it becomes a political tool I think it looses credibility.  We've seen before during the "Science Wars" what can happen when STS scholarship and scholars get mired in emotionally and politically charged debates based on (mis)understandings of what STS claims and exposes.  What a waste of time all that was.  I hope STS isn't returning to those days.

Friday, January 10, 2014

2014 at the Maru and Aquanuts Divers.......and the all new Joy's Place in Mzuzu!

Well its a new year and full of new opportunities. Down here on Kande Beach we have been continuing to explore beautiful Lake Malawi from above and below and to help us in this we have a new team member, Edward!

- Edward, hails from just down the beach and has experience both in the dive industry and as a swimming instructor. He is going to be helping us both at Aquanuts and the Maru to give a helping hand to David with the diving and bring greater continuity and a local touch to our research programs. We are really looking forward to what more we can do at the Maru with his help.

- Next we are very excited about a new venture we have been working hard on in the capital of Malawi's northern region, Mzuzu. Named after its owner and resident chef, Joy, Joy's Place will be Mzuzu's new comfy and funky backpackers with its own in-house restaurant serving up delicious Korean food. Whether you just want a bite to eat or a bed for the night you will always be welcome at Joy's Place! Come check us out in the Mapale district of Mzuzu just behind the Shoprite.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

News from the Beach!

Well its been a little while since our last post that doesn't mean we've been lazing on the sands all day (though we do a little bit, have you seen out beach?)  Its summer again here at Kande and that means warm water, sun and every once and a while a nice brisk rain in the mornings just to green things up a bit.

-This month marks the official two year anniversary or our underwater population and biodiversity surveying and monitoring project.  At least once a month for two years now we have been counting and identifying the amazing biodiversity of Lake Malawi and with all that data we've decided to put together a report which we will post online soon so stay tuned!

-Last night we had a once-in-twenty-years lake fly visitation.  I say once in twenty years because our friend who has lived in Kande for twenty year had never seen anything like it.  Literally millions and million of lake flies were blown onto Kande Beach covering everyone and everything.  Don't worry they are completely harmless, and even tasty if you ask the local Tongan Malawians.  This morning we were greeted to piles of them several inches thick both in and outside of our house and research center.  It was certainly something to see, feel, and even taste!

-Our resident Research Assistant and Dive Instructor David Grazi from Italy has settled in well and is having a great time learning about the lake and teaching others to enjoy it.  And he just had his birthday here at Kande amidst live music, a barbeque, and discount drinks.  Can't beat that.  Congrats Dude!

-Finally my wife, Joy is opening up a lodge and restaurant in Mzuzu, the capital of the northern region of Malawi.  Her cooking is already famous in Mzuzu and even the entire northern region so stay tuned for the opening date.  We are busy renovating that the moment but plan on opening around the beginning of 2014.  The lodge will have accommodation for all prices ranges from camping, to dorms, to private rooms.  As a bonus having a place in the city will aid the Maru's efforts to engage more with students at Mzuzu University's Fisheries Department.

Check out these lake flies.  No its not smoke, its flies!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Colonialism: Leviathan or Muddler?

“The evidence reveals that in Nyasaland, as in other colonies (emphasis mine), the state was a clumsy, feeble institution whose regulatory efforts produced contradictory effects.”

- Wiseman Chijere Chirwa from his doctoral dissertation “Theba is Power…”

Why don’t we hear this more often, particularly from the harshest critics of colonialism?  It would seem a rather obvious line of attack i.e. “not only were they (are they) racist pricks, they were (are) also bumbling, “feeble,” racist pricks.”

Yet if you read the literature, scholarly and popular, colonialism’s power, while usually reviled, is also usually unquestioned.  That’s a shame.  Narratives of African history that acknowledged colonial feebleness, not just racism, could open the stage for more interesting, complex, and true accounts of Africa’s past that actually featured Africans as who are neither merely “oppressed” nor “heroic.”


Friday, July 26, 2013

Some preliminary results from our underwater population and biodiversity surveys

            Since October 2011, the Maru has been conducting population and biodiversity surveys recording the presence and abundance of certain cichlid species around Kande Island in the northern region of Lake Malawi. While some species are abundant year round, others come and go. By analyzing the data patterns of species abundance and scarcity can be determined. We've also been able to put together graphs to display the change in total numbers of all the species that we monitor.

            Transect line surveys are conducted in two separate locations at Kande Island and the Outer Reef. Initially population and biodiversity surveys were completed twice a month: on the 1st and 15th. Having established that population and biodiversity trends could still be reliably tracked at a less frequent survey interval it was decided to conduct surveys once a month and to expand the number of survey sites. To perform the surveys, two fifty meter swims are done along a fixed transect line. While swimming, the surveyor identifies which species and how many are present in a one meter radius around the line and records the data on an underwater slate. The data is entered into an excel spreadsheet and a graph for each species is updated monthly. The graphs are then analyzed.


The first two graphs show that at both sites there has been a decline in the total numbers of fish.  Year on data at the Outer Reef shows a 27% decrease however at Kande Island the decrease is more marginal.

To determine the factors relating to the decline in species numbers, it is important to find patterns of when fish species are more or less abundant. Graphs 3 and 4 show the relationships between eight different species on the outer reef while Graphs 5 and 6 show the abundances of eight species on the island that seem to track each other.. At the Outer Reef we were able to find selected species that appear to share ecological niches and thus vary in abundance at roughly opposite times.  However at Kande Island we couldn't find similar relationships between any two groups of species.  

Why niche sharing could be found at the Outer Reef but not at Kande Island could be due to any number of factors.  There is still much to learn!

Stay tuned, or join us in the discovery!  Visit to learn more about the Maru's research programs and how you can get involved.  

This blog post was written by Brianna, Tierney, an intern at the Maru Research Center.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Science is Politics, Politics is Science

In "Local Knowledge, Environmental Politics, and the Founding of
Ecology in the United States:Stephen Forbes and "The Lake as a
Microcosm (1887)" David W. Schneider argues that the founders of the
science of Ecology learned substantially from the local knowledge of
fishermen during their research activities and eventually began
adopting their political concerns.

Certainly too little attention has been paid to the role that informal
or "local" knowledge has played in the development of most scientific
disciplines. Nothing develops in a vacuum. This article will
certainly be a useful citation in my study. It may be the case that
scientists in the projects I am studying followed a similar evolution.
And if they didn't it would be interesting to find out why.

The article itself, however, while exploring how Forbes grappled with
scientific and political boundaries, curiously doesn't attempt to
critically examine the usefulness of maintaining the epistemological
boundaries that labels such as "scientific," "political," and "local"
imply. Though the material he presents provides a great opportunity
to interrogate the supposed dichotomy of "scholarly science" and
"practical politics," Schneider refrains. Instead he makes the much
less radical claim that Forbes simply used scientific objectivity as a
tool for political ends. I'd argue, with Latour, that knowledge never
has an intrinsic character, so the idea of using scientific knowledge
for political ends can't arise. Rather from its very beginning all
knowledge is created for social goals and through social processes
(this is the core message of his classic "Science in Action") and so
whatever character it may later be ascribed with is itself a product
of politics and culture ("translation?"). So the story instead is one
in which Forbes established the field of Ecology by successfully
translating knowledge that had formerly been labeled "local" into
"scientific" and then adding to it and that this entire process of
knowledge translation and creation was a cultural and social one, both
personally for Forbes as seen in the changing character of his
correspondences about local fisherman, and more broadly as seen in the
disputes between fishermen and "big business."

Friday, June 7, 2013

News from the Beach!

-Well the windy season is here properly but we are having plenty of gaps in the gales so the diving and surveying is full-steam ahead.

-In the past month we have welcomed two new interns to the Maru, Bridget and Brianna, both from the USA and both mid-way through their university degrees.  Already they have made great contributions to our research programs.

-Our Environmental Education program is off to a great start. Most Malawians living on the lakeshore cannot swim.  We believe that it is difficult to enjoy and value something that you literally cannot enter for fear of drowning.  Rather than hitting the books we prefer to hit the water!

- Oh and here are couple more awesome cichlids courtesy of the British Cichlid Association's POTM!