Saturday, June 4, 2016

It's coming! Our very own research vessel!

So we are really excited about this. To further our research capabilities at the Maru we have started constructing our own research vessel!  It will be fully equipped with a small laboratory, dive compressor and scuba gear, kitchen, lounge, solar electricity and beds for 8 researchers.  There are so many unexplored places in Lake Malawi, particularly in the north, and with this new boat we will be able to comfortably and afford-ably visit them like no one has!  As you can see from the picture it is still very much under construction but we hope to have our first researchers, interns, and volunteers move in in 2 months time.  Watch this space as we will be updating regularly with new pictures.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

News from the Beach and Rob! Fisheries Monitoring at the Maru Edition

Every weekday morning, our research interns head down the lake shore to the local fishing village, leaving at 8.15 on the dot so as to coincide with the fishermen coming back from a long night’s fishing. Upon arrival in the village, locally referred to as Masakurunju, one can encounter as many as 60 wooden canoes scattered along the sandy shoreline, with the recently landed boats surrounded by groups of people, sorting through the fine gauge fishing nets that were cast across the deeper waters of the lake the night before. The catch invariably contains small open water fishes know as utaka in the local Chitonga. Most of these fish belong to the genus Copadichromis, a type of cichlid fish, and they make up a large proportion of the diet of the villagers in this immediate coastal region of Malawi, especially at this time of year.  Also potentially found in the catch are usipa – a sardine like fish, gongo – another cichlid and nkholokolo (synodontis njassae) - a small species of catfish with a mottled leopard style pattern.

At the Maru, we aim to collect baseline data, every week, over long periods of time. For the last four years we have strove to create a comprehensive data set for charts almost daily the fish caught at Masakahunju, the fishing conditions and the fishing effort (in terms of working boats). Data sets that track the same variables over such long time frames hopefully provide useful context and history about the exploitation of local fisheries in Lake Malawi that can be used by local people and government officials to make better environmental management decisions.

Incidentally, one of the real pleasures of walking to the fishing village everyday, is bumping into the beach venders; well spoken salesmen, of whom many have adopted bizarre names hailing from all sorts of random English words, phrases and celebrities. So far I have had the pleasure of meeting Sweet Bananas, Gift, Brown Bread, Michael Jackson, Sugar and Spice, Cheese on Toast, Spiderman, Donald Duck, Wiseman and my personal fave, Mel Gibson. These men earn a living by selling whatever bits and bobs they can to tourists, but it can also be helpful to have them around when the fish are being sorted from the nets, as their translation and enthusiasm make the whole process slightly less awkward.

For the fishermen themselves, it is a hard life. It is currently the windy season here at Kande, and conditions have oft been too choppy to go out in little one-man canoes. Sometimes the need for food and money is such that personal safety gets put aside and there is no other option but to brave the forces of the lake. But this is the harsh reality of living off the land in the manner that these people do. It is a difficult living, but for now it would seem there is ample food, enough to sustain the population in this part of the lake. Recalling that old adage of ‘give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime’; well perhaps if we can learn to fish sustainably in other fisheries around the world, as it appears here, then people will be able to eat for more than just one lifetime but for the lifetimes of generations to come.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Our first live Data Page is up!

For almost 5 years now we at the Maru have been conducting underwater population and biodiversity surveys of Lake Malawi's amazing cichlid fish living at Kande Island just 1 kilometer off of our beach.  Using scuba gear we have gone down almost every month to identify and record the numbers of about 35 different cichlid species that we believe are a good representative sample of the wider populations at the island.  And now you will be able to follow the results of all this work!  Every month we will update and upload the new data that we are collecting so that you can see how Lake Malawi's cichlids are faring at our survey sites wherever you might be in the world.  Right now you can see the data from our two longest running surveys, the "Kande Island" survey and the "Outer Reef" survey and very soon we will have pages dedicated to presenting all of the other data we collect, from water quality indicators, to the results of our bower grid surveys, to the data we collect on nearby fishing activity.  We believe that the more people know about Lake Malawi the more likely it will be cared for wisely.  So take a look at our first data page by clicking right here or by inputing into your web browser and stayed tuned for more!

Monday, April 4, 2016

News from the Beach! Rob's first post!

Immediately the first characteristic feature upon arrival in Malawi is its greenness. After being picked up by Justin at Lilongwe Airport, the four-hour drive North to Kande saw us traverse rolling hill after rolling hill. In my life, I have travelled Central America, Australia, South East Asia and other parts of Africa as well, and rarely has a place been so full of colour as Malawi. Nestled comfortably between Tanzania to the North, Zambia to the West and Mozambique to the South and East, Malawi is a relatively small, but densely populated little African nation. Previously known as Nyasaland while under British colonial rule, it is one of the poorest countries in the Eastern-Central African region, if not the whole continent. In spite of the socio-economic difficulties that Malawi has battled with over the 6 or so decades since colonial rule, it is widely considered to have some of the friendliest, relaxed locals that one can find in a developing country.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of this country is its Great Lake of the same name. Lake Malawi covers about 20% of the country’s area, providing food, livelihood, transportation and ecosystem services to some 13 million or so people. This lake is home to a family of teleost fish called Cichlids. These little freshwater critters are of particular interest to science due to their massive diversity. The lake holds close to 1,000 different species of Cichlids, all slightly different sizes, shapes and colours and all surviving and behaving in their own unique ecological manner, making it the most diverse lake in the world. Kande Island (less than a kilometre off shore from Kande Beach) alone is home to well over 100 species of cichlids. We also get some pretty hefty catfish (spotted on my second dive), crabs, snails, eels and sponges. There is even a family of otters, whom apparently live on the island and go hunting for fish in the late afternoon. It is a stunning ecosystem, of colour, movement and finesse and it is located right on our doorstep.

I will be based in Kande for the next 9 months, and in this time I hope to immerse myself in the local culture. Most people I have met so far are more than competent at speaking English, however, I intend to learn the local ChiTonga language. I also hope to gain a good grasp of the terrestrial life around here. A fish eagle, a paradise flycatcher and a pied kingfisher are my avian highlights thus far, but I have a feeling that in the forests around Kande there are many more untold natural riches just waiting to be discovered. In summary, the stand out first impressions from my first week in Malawi is the greenness, the friendliness and the diversity. I fully expect these 9 months to fly by.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Aquanuts Divers and the Maru welcome Rob!

Well its been a great six months with Emily and Scott but all things must sadly change and they are off to new adventures soon so we are welcoming a new member of the crew to the Aquanuts and Maru familes, Robert Macfarlane!

Rob is a PADI scuba instructor and keen biologist having worked on projects as far flung as Belize, Indonesia, and Madagascar.  We are excited about the experience and passion that he can bring to our research programs and look forward to working with him over the next nine months.

Stay tuned as we are quickly going to move one step futher on our Great Lake Malawi Cichlid Survey goals with the opening of an Nkhata Bay Research Substation.  Pictures and details to follow!


Friday, February 12, 2016

This is why we dive Lake Malawi!

Lake Malawi is simply stunning!  Take 5 minutes to watch this amazing video.  Hat tip to Global Dive Media!
Lake Malawi from Global Dive Media on Vimeo.

Now that you have seen the beauty, help protect it by signing the petition located on the link below!

Save Lake Malawi from Reckless Oil Drilling!


Friday, January 15, 2016

What's to see in a lake? (Malawi edition)

We often get asked down here at Kande Beach, "What's to see in a lake?" Well we can't speak for other lakes but as for Lake Malawi, the most biologically diverse lake on the planet by the way, there is A LOT to see.  For all you aspiring marine biologists hungry for new waters to explore and new fish to study Lake Malawi offers endless possibilities.  Steven Leeming, our former research and dive assistant at the Maru, just sent us some stunning photos he took while with us, so you too can get a taste for "what's to see in a lake" Malawi edition!

Here is a beautiful Copidachromis Borylei!

Here is "Dr. David Livingstone's fish" Nimbochromis livingstonii

And here is playing dead. Livingstonii is an ambush predator.

And here is a Fossiochromis rostratus locally known as the "fox" fish.

We even have crabs!

We're not sure sure about this one but with think  he is Lethinrops albus. What do you think?

                                                               Take a look at this catfish!

A beautiful Nimbochromis linni

And again we're not sure who this fella is but what a beauty!

And finally a nice small school utaka hanging out in midwater!