Friday, August 15, 2014

I want to be a marine biologist!

Certainly not everyone.  But a whole bunch of people I’m sure, including myself, have wanted to be a marine biologist at some point in their life.  Whales, dolphins, “nemo” fish, are all just so cool and the idea of waking up on a boat every morning to study them, commune with them, has a level of indefinable appeal on a par with apple pie for Americans or a cup of tea for the Brits.  Here at Kande Beach we at the Maru have channeled that love for wet animals into a passion for understanding the beautiful biodiversity of Lake Malawi.  Unfortunately we have a feeling that we might be missing a lot of like-minded wet animal lovers because of a cruel bit of linguistic pedantry.  You see technically “marine” biology only concerns itself with beasties living in our oceans.  This definition tragically excludes the amazing technicolored cichlid fish of Lake Malawi who are unjustly relegated to the rather less famous domain of “aquatic” biology.  Unfortunately definitions matter.  Lake Malawi which looks like this,

And has fish like this…

Doesn’t get the attention it deserves because many fish lovers don’t know that they are excluding it from possible discovery every time they google “marine biology.”  The search results speak for themselves, google “marine biology” and you get over 21 million hits.  Google “aquatic biology” and you don’t even get 2 million!

So everyone reading this blog post please, please, give us a hand so that the amazing fish living in Lake Malawi get the attention they deserve!  You can’t care about what you don’t know and too many people don’t know about the amazing opportunities that aquatic biology offers to people interested in what they assume to be all “marine” biology!  Even better come out to Kande and see for yourselves what Lake Malawi has to offer!  Whether as a tourist, traveler, volunteer,or intern, everyone is welcome!


Friday, August 8, 2014

News from the Beach! Nkhata Bay Edition!

Well we are into the home stretch of our "winter"season here at Kande.  The waves haven't been too rough this year and we been doing a lot of interesting research.  Anna from Austraila and Sarah from England have joined our team in the last month and are hard at work learning about the lake's amazing biodiversity.  We are happy to announce that we have also just opened up a new survey underwater population and biodiversity survey transect in Nkhata Bay.  This bay was the home of the first research center on the lake and to the first studies of its beautiful Cichlid fish.  We are walking in the footsteps of giants!  Take a look at some of the photos from our new site!


Friday, July 4, 2014

Kande Island Clean Up!

So Gift, one of the interns at the Maru Research Center and I went out the other day for our first inaugural Kande Island Clean Up dive!  In the windy season here especially unfortunately fishermen tend to lose their nets under the water where they then become deadly and unsightly eyesores.  We will be going out regularly from now on to ensure that Kande Island remains free of lost nets.  Come on out and give us a hand!


Friday, June 27, 2014

News from the Beach

-Well we are getting into winter season here on the lake so temperatures are dropping. I actually had to but a sweater on last night. It's was 20 degrees! That's roughly 70 degrees for my American friends. So really we are not hurting that much!

-The Maru and Aquanuts Divers are excited about our new research assistant and dive instructor Tim. A geologist with experience doing dive research in Central America we look forward to the skills he can bring to our research efforts here on the lake.

-At the Maru we are also busy analyzing the data from our underwater population and biodiversity surveys and with the help of a local Peace Corps volunteer, Nick, hope to get something published from it once we hit our three year anniversary of data collection at our two survey sites around Kande Island. Stay tuned as we will be publishing a blog version of the article here in the following weeks.
We'd also like to take the opportunity to make an early welcome to the two new interns who will be joining us in July, Sarah and Danielle. We look forward to welcoming them to Malawi and introducing them to the amazing biodiversity of lake.

-Finally Joy's Place we are happy to report that Joy's Place in Mzuzu has been moving from strength to strength. For all those who have supported us, we'd like to give a big THANK YOU and let those of you who haven't visited us know that you will shortly be able to book us through Airbnb and or just as easy shoot us an email at


Monday, May 19, 2014

Science: the strong and weak forms

So I've just been skimming through the memoir of Ro Lowe-McConnell.  Will have more to say when finished with it but already it is proving very interesting.  Ro did a study of Lake Malawi's Tilipia just post WWII.  Tilipia at the time were thought to be the Lake's most important fishery and Ro, a fish biologist, was sent by the British colonial government to learn more about them.  One of the most interesting things about the book so far is the tension that exists, if one looks for it, between what one might call Ro's "strong" scientific statements and her "weak" ones. An example is illustrative.

In chapter 2 Ro states that "we now know that this Lake [Malawi] has more species of fish than any other lake..."  This is quite a strong statement of scientific fact i.e. "we know...."  Yet in her introductory remarks to the book Ro makes what I would call  "weaker" statements of scientific fact that are in large measure contradictory to her chapter 2 claim "to know".  In those remarks she talks about the "fragility of the scientific edifice" particularly in regards to Lake Malawi's taxonomy and how in its current form that taxonomy "may be transient" because it is based on "techniques of [a] time" now past and finally that at any rate "the concept of the species is fragile in such a rapidly evolving group as the cichlids [which constitute roughly 90% of the Lake's fish diversity]."

So which is it?  Does the Lake have more species than any other lake or given the "fragility" of the species concept for Lake Malawi, should we be more circumspect in how we describe the lake's diversity?

Now certainly we know which statement is the one most frequently heard today.  Repeating the assertion that "Lake Malawi is the most biologically diverse lake in the world" has been the sine qua non access key to vaults of funding for evolutionary biologists wanting to do research on the lake for at least the past 40 years.  It has also been critical to the development of Lake Malawi's cichlid fish into sought after international commodities in the aquarium trade in the West and as a tourist and conservation attraction in Malawi.

But what about that "weaker" statement?  Well if pressed I suspect Ro would have stuck to it more than the stronger one, but society and scientists themselves tend to be uncomfortable with modest statements particularly when interests, both monetary and professional, are at stake.

I'm sure there will be more to come.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

News from the Beach....and Korea!

-So as usual its been a little while since my last post.  Joy's Place in Mzuzu has been shot off like a fire cracker and we are having a lot of fun hosting guests both in the restaurant and hostel.  Thanks to everyone who has supported us in our first few months of operation it really has been a blast.

-Aquanuts Divers and the Maru Research Center are likewise busy.  We've had some great interns this year and I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome two upcoming interns.  Gift from Thailand will be arriving soon for three months and Danielle will be arriving in a few months time.  Both are university students keen to get their hands dirty doing some practical field research here at Kande and we look forward to hosting them and showing them the ropes.  We are also very excited about the possibility of publishing some of our research results with the help of a local Peace Corps volunteer.  Any efforts to spread the word on Lake Malawi's beautiful ecosystems are always welcome!.

-Also say hello to our newest Jack Russell Terrier, "Sweetie Pie" (or just "Pie" for short).  Below she is hanging out with her best friend and uncle Tank.

- And yes Joy and I are currently away from Malawi for a few weeks visiting family back in Joy's motherland of South Korea.  Its been 3 years since we've been back and we are looking forward to it!  Joy's is also going to be stuffing our bags to overflowing with Korean goodies for the restaurant.  Our baggage limit is not big, however, so stayed tuned for a rash of specials at Joy's when we get back none of which will last long!


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.