Zavora Marine Lab Lead Scientist Yara Tibirica joined Mozdivers in a lifetime Expedition from 23rd Feb to 9th March 2014! - see here our program in English and Portuguese
When a 12 ton animal is fighting to survive you understand how nature is strong and how man can be destructive. We were going out to dive when some fisherman came to ask the Zavora Lab team and Mozdivers for help to release a whale from their nets. We got there as quick as we could, even before the motors stopped I was ready to jump in the water with my tank. I was thinking each second is precious as the whale must breathe! I was broken hearted and expecting to find a dead humpback whale calf.
The huge animal was probably caught in the net early morning and was trying to realize itself since then. At 8 meters deep and with all the movement, the visibility was terrible and everyone was scared to get close. It was just when I was about 30cm from that huge body that I saw it, the "whale" was in fact a whale shark, and still alive!
His mouth could not open, his tiny eyes were covered in nets and the massive body strangled. I got a knife from the fisherman and started to cut the nets from his face so he could breathe properly. About 10 minutes latter his face and pectoral fins was free and the massive animal started to roll about crazily, the only thing I could see was 12tons of shark coming in my direction, somehow he managed to not smash me and all the nets ended up going to his tail. There were lots of nets, massive piece of reef and ropes all tangled in his tail. I swam in the direction of his tail to start cutting the nets away. He of course was afraid and fighting to survive, he was shaking his tail from one side to another like a huge snake. I knew the danger of getting tangled, but there was not a choice. I grabbed the nets and started to cut, it was too much net and rope and with such violent movements I wasn´t sure if I would be able to do something but I needed to try. The first time I got tangled, I thought for a second that I and he would stay there forever. At that moment I thought to myself "keep calm, keep calm" and started breathe slowly and managed to release myself. My fins and hoses were all tangled, but thankfully I have hands and a knife! The whale shark wasn´t so lucky...
Then Zinho, a dive master from Mozdivers and Sergio, a trainee, came in on SCUBA to help. Having someone to look after me if I got tangled was a great relief. Barbara, the zavoralab intern, also came and started to film. All of us were now working trying to cut the huge mess of rope and net, but it seemd impossible. I kept going up and down getting new knifes as they easily lost their sharpness. Someone suggested pulling the whale shark shallower and releasing it there, I knew if we did that, he would die and after that fight I would not accept it. Therefore, I, Zinho and Sergio continued working as hard as we could, eventually a fisherman also came to help. Finally after 50 minutes of despair and team work, we managed to free him, and he was gone as the spirit of the ocean - free. I wished he would go far, far from all the nets, far and free in a peaceful ocean. I would rather never see a whale shark again than see one suffering as he did. Unfortunately I know that in calling for help to realize him, the fishermen were only concerned with saving the nets. However at least, for me, Zinho, Sergio, Barbara, and the two divers, it was about saving his life. A fabulous animal that might live for more 80 years! I wish one day everyone would get together for the respect and love of life. It might be utopian but I do believe that we will only protect what we love, and we will only love what we know. I might be a dreamer but for me, knowledge, care and love can change the world. You might feel like swimming against the current all the time, but at least you are not tangled in the net, the society net. Love and be free!
It’s coming to the end of our month here volunteering at the lab and we will be sad to leave such an amazing place where we already have had some great life experiences. We all have had many different highlights since arriving but one of our favourites has been watching hundreds of humpback whales fill the bay each week with mothers teaching their calves to tail slap and breach. No matter how many times we see the whales each day we all still feel a twitch of excitement at the thought of seeing one more breach, tail slap or a dorsal fin break the water surface as it glides past the boat. As everyone says the diving here really is phenomenal and we have had some great moments with the diverse marine life here during our numerous research dives. From seeing and swimming with the majestic manta rays, reef sharks, endless amounts of fish and being caught off guard by curious groupers there truly is something different to see with every turn of your head!! Along the way we have had the opportunity to meet some incredible people from here in Zavora but also people from around the world who shared their different diving and travelling stories with us. We have learnt so much from here, not only about the marine life but about the culture and the easy way of life in Zavora, which all three of us have become accustom to. We actually and honestly cannot begin to thank the Mozdivers dive team for all the help they have given us during our dives but most importantly we cannot begin to thank Yara enough for providing us with this unique experience. Because of everyone we leave with amazing memories, from having a costume birthday braai party to drinking tea and laughing in a circle on a dive boat during the surface intervals, we really won’t forget all these great times together. Unfortunately we all have to move on at some stage this means Josie heading back to Australia, Karlene to Ireland and Alex continuing her African journey, but we are all hopeful we will be back some day and maybe even possibly together.
· While reflecting on the past month I can’t help but smile to myself, I find it hard to describe Zavora as it is just simply unique. It is full of great people who have helped me a lot since my arrival and in every direction there is a beautiful view to take in; it really is a treat to be here. This month really has been full of many firsts for me, and I can easily say I will never forget any of them. Between doing my first dive, helping teach the kids in Inharrime, swimming with turtles and mantas and also lending a hand in the construction of the research centre (which is nearly finished), the last few weeks have certainly been full of surprises to say the least! I have already learned so much about the diverse marine life that resides here through the daily fieldwork and data collection but also by listening to people’s stories. I feel privileged to have seen the great manta rays of Mozambique and even some of the tiny rainbows like nudibranchs, which I have to say, are very hard good hiding in those corals!! Already the mantas have given me some of the most awe inspiring moments I have had to date, the feeling you get when the manta effortlessly glides over head is indescribable. I think one of the best sites this place has to offer is definitely the new ship wreck, the Rio Sainos, it was something that was once so destructive towards marine life, but now, it provides a new abstract sanctuary and safe haven for juvenile fish to grow such as angelfish, butterfly fish and also the rare brindle bass. It definitely is a diamond in the rough and with time this site will flourish to become a great artificial reef and monitoring its colonisation will provide endless and vital data for the research team here which I am lucky to be a part of. I would without hesitation recommend this internship programme to anyone who is interested in marine life, Zavora really is a hidden treasure and I am ecstatic knowing I still have 2 more months here as everyday there is something new to learn here, the place really is a classroom of its own.· While reflecting on the past month I can’t help but smile to myself, I find it hard to describe Zavora as it is just simply unique. It is full of great people who have helped me a lot since my arrival and in every direction there is a beautiful view to take in; it really is a treat to be here. This month really has been full of many firsts for me, and I can easily say I will never forget any of them. Between doing my first dive, helping teach the kids in Inharrime, swimming with turtles and mantas and also lending a hand in the construction of the research centre (which is nearly finished), the last few weeks have certainly been full of surprises to say the least! I have already learned so much about the diverse marine life that resides here through the daily fieldwork and data collection but also by listening to people’s stories. I feel privileged to have seen the great manta rays of Mozambique and even some of the tiny rainbows like nudibranchs, which I have to say, are very hard good hiding in those corals!! Already the mantas have given me some of the most awe inspiring moments I have had to date, the feeling you get when the manta effortlessly glides over head is indescribable. I think one of the best sites this place has to offer is definitely the new ship wreck, the Rio Sainos, it was something that was once so destructive towards marine life, but now, it provides a new abstract sanctuary and safe haven for juvenile fish to grow such as angelfish, butterfly fish and also the rare brindle bass. It definitely is a diamond in the rough and with time this site will flourish to become a great artificial reef and monitoring its colonisation will provide endless and vital data for the research team here which I am lucky to be a part of. I would without hesitation recommend this internship programme to anyone who is interested in marine life, Zavora really is a hidden treasure and I am ecstatic knowing I still have 2 more months here as everyday there is something new to learn here, the place really is a classroom of its own.
The time is passing and we are slowly but always moving forward with the building of our new research and environmental education center! On the side is the picture of our boy shower and the floor about to come on the top of hundreds of broken glass. All glass bottles and cans were found on the rubbish or on the beach and dunes! Proving that we can do much more with the material that we call waste! :)
Each shower division used about 1500bottles that were carefully cut, washed and taped together to give this beautiful light effect.
To celebrate Sarah´s birthday we decided to do a nudi expedition at Barra Lagoon, one of our favorite spot in Mozambique. The Lagoon was beautiful as always but what really amazed us was the amount of Melibe spp. at the Lagoon doing all kind of stuff mating, feeding swimming. Two species was observed. We also found this tiny 2mm nudi (from the picture) sitting on the grass and lots of seahares seahorses and frog fish! Lagoon dive is a must for any macro lover.
Too often protected species are killed and nothing happen. People drive on the beach raising erosion and damage for the marine life and nothing happen. Illegal ad unsustainable fishing can be seeing almost daily in Mozambique. Most of people are aware of the regulations but they don´t care as patrolling is extremely rare. On the 15/11/2012 and 16/11/2012 it was different in Zavora. A fisherman was found with a huge turtle in his bag and was took to police station. Next day the police together with the Maritma came back to Zavora and confiscated all the illegal fishing nets. We would prefer that education would stop acts against nature, but unfortunately people tend to think on today rather than tomorrow and enforcement is need. We congratulation the Mozambican authorities to take actions!
We get to the beach as Yara was planning to do nudibranch survey at the rock pool with the help of Will while Sabrina would do an underwater clean up. When we get to the beach we see a small eyed stingeray dead on the net, on the side three devil rays also dead. The dead devil rays view is unfortunately very common in Zavora. Too often fishing nets are put in a place where the devil rays usually cross. Almost every day 3-4 devil rays die in Zavora victims of fishing nets. With a sadness feeling we go to the rock pool. We get a lift with the boat so we don’t need to walk with our heavy tanks. However we cannot get to the rock pool in the place that we usually do because there was a net around there, so we need to go by the north part. Bad idea. The waves are breaking there and made we roll as potatoes over the urchins. When we finally managed to get to the rock pool our bodies had some scratch and spines, but well since we were there better to go underwater and relax a bit. Nothing as the silence and the peace of the underwater world to make one happy. Big mistake! It was not at all a relaxed experience. We got to the rock pool and we counted 5 fishing nets in a 150m2 tidal rock pool! We started dive and see all these fishing nets covering and tangled in corals. Piece of corals everywhere. Then Yara looks and see a small hawksbill turtle tangled in the net, who knows for how long. She called Sabrina that is close by and both managed to free the turtle, but soon it feels its body free, the turtle swan away as quick as it could. Everybody got worry about the turtle as the rock pool is now a real trap pool, but we don´t see any signal of the turtle. After that everyone only want to take the kilos of piece of fishing nets left from another days out of the rock pool, there is no way we could concentrate in nudibranch search. In the south part of the rock pool Yara found the turtle, again tangled, this time in another net. Unfortunately Sabrina and Will were too far and could not see it. So she started to try free the turtle (without cut the net) and got tangled herself. A fisherman comes close by and she asked his help. He looks down with his mask and says that he is scared of turtle and leave. Yara managed to free herself and continuous work in the turtle when Sabrina see it and came to help. Finally Yara and Sabrina together release the turtle and decide that would be better to move the turtle out of the rock pool. When they were about to get out of the water the turtle escaped swimming as fast as it could. We spread ourselves around the nets in the rock pool, surely the turtle would get tangled again, in the end that was a trap pool. It is unbelievable - the rock pool, one of the best snorkel site in southern Mozambique , our favorite nudibranch site with lots of undescribed specie, now is not a rock pool anymore, it is a deadly trap pool full of broken corals. We continuous our search. Will finds the turtle; it is again tangled in a different net in the north. We all get there and untangle the poor animal so tired of fighting to survive. This time we must move the turtle out. Sabrina holds the turtle while Yara takes her gear out to be able to go out of the pool with the turtle, Will holds the gear. Yara gets the turtle and look to the better place to release the turtle. The turtle get some long breath. In one side out of the rock pool lays the fishing nets where the mantas died a day before, in the south site at the launching area more fishing nets. There is only one place the north area where there are too much waves for nets. Waves are better than nets. The turtle swam away hopefully far from the nets. Job done and high tide starting to come, time to leave the rock pool. What a day!
Steven – The Shark that Left a Lesson
After 3 hours surveying humpback whales I was ready for a break for my next shift in 3 hours. It was time to go home but soon I went down the stairs from our humpback whale observation site I saw two kids coming and going to the sea with a bucket full of water. These 10-12 years old children were with all their heart to save a small nurse shark still alive but dying under the sun on the sand. I looked around and asked who had fished that shark. No one answered. I asked if the owner of the net was there and nobody seems to care. I asked if I could put the shark back to the other. And one fisherman told me that it was ok ‘we don’t care’. I ended up going with dress to the water with the two kids. For more than half water we tried to recover the poor little shark. The kids named the shark Steven and tried everything they could do to bring Steven back, but it was too late, Steven died leaving the three of us with water in our eyes.
Two days later I was walking on the beach and I saw the same nurse shark on the sand. This time it was a pregnant female and was not being there for too long. The owner of the net that caught the shark was just nearby. I asked him if he would to eat it. He laughs and said ‘NO’. ‘So what are you going to do with this shark’. He said ‘kill’. And I asked for what as with a surprise he answered just to kill because we caught also yesterday. ‘Please, please let me put her back’. He said ‘If you wish, I don’t care’. I swan with the shark for about 500 meters, eventually the shark started slowly recover and when I left her she has managed to find her way to the bottom swimming graciously if she will survive, I am not sure, but I hope so. I hope she survives and move far away from us to not die in fishing net.
Such events were heartbroken but at least gave me the hope that the next generation might still able to change what our and the past generations have destroyed.
A local fisherman came to the dive center while the divers were getting ready to go to ask for help because they had caught lots of mantas in their fishing nets close to the launching area. The mantas were probably caught at night and got tangled in three different nets. The divers went out, Juan and Sabrina got in the water and managed to free one devil ray, but the rest – four mantas and 6 devil rays were too tangled and the fishermen despite of being positive to release the mantas, did not want to cut the net. Eventually after trying for a long time, the divers needed to go as the clients were getting sick on the boat and complaining. The mantas were too tangled to do anything underwater without cutting the nets, so the fishermen decided to pull the nets out of the water. Yara and Sarah were on the beach to try convince them to release the mantas if they were still alive. The fishermen agreed to release the mantas in exchange of 200met per manta. Unfortunately the mantas had stayed in the nets for too long and they were too tangled, hurt and tired and despite of showing a bit of movement they were almost dead. About 8 people together managed to turn one of the manta that were still breathing and put her back to the sea, but she was too heavy, tired and hurt, her wing were cut, her skin was red and she could barely move. There was not much anyone could do at this stage, the mantas and devil rays stayed for too long tangled in the nets trying to make their body free, probably the whole night and got too hurt to survive. From the ones pulled out to the beach only a recently born devil ray (about 13cm) where released alive. It was a very sad, frustrating and heart breaking day to everyone that where there trying to save these animals that suffer as hell for probably over 10 hours. Some fishermen were positive and collaborative to try save the mantas, others was acting as everything were a joke jumping on the top of the dead manta saying “meat, meat!”. Around 3-4 tourists were shocked taking pictures. After we could do no more, Yara started to explained the fishermen the spot pattern, the low reproduction rate, sex etc. She asked one of the fishermen who was chopping a manta to turn the belly up to ID the manta. He said that it was too heavy that he needed help so she and more 5 fishermen turned the body. Then they started to look the spot patterns and were amazed that it was true, each manta had different spots. Some of them were very inquisitive about it and we organized a meeting for next Sunday to explain more about the mantas and maybe agree in an emergency plan for next time that this happen. The meeting is booked for Sunday afternoon, we hope that it will happen and that something positive will come from this very tragic day.
Zavora Marine Lab.
Zavora Marine Lab. is the research department of the Association of Coastal Conservation of Mozambique (ACCM). ACCM develop vital research and conservation projects in Zavora, Mozambique.