How to Prep for a Research Expedition

I think I’m writing this blog because the answer is that I don’t know. I just made my first packing & to do list and it’s overwhelming. When I pack for myself and I forget my toothbrush it’s no big deal. Now if I forget a scalpel handle I’ll instead have to excise fish tissue with a machete. Well, that’s an exaggeration, as long as I don’t forget the fish guide I should be ok. I’m definitely going to bring an electronic back-up copy of that one.

So, while I’m starting to calculate the work on the horizon, I’m also really excited. I’m talking with other scientists to learn how my project can help them in their current work. One scientist just replied and said that he saw a 20′ hammerhead shark landed by fishermen in Sierra Leone the last time he was there. Twenty feet! I would just die and go to shark heaven if that happened. It reminds me that ANYTHING can happen, or be pulled from the sea. Here’s to lots of new discoveries and experiences!Fish in the Sand


Africa Countdown: 82 days!
Things on the to-do list: 82+ :(

Health care for women improves in Sierra Leone

Children in Sierra Leone

Free health clinics are good news for these kids, who were hanging out in the market while their parents worked.

Sierra Leone, a country that is now very dear to me after my first visit last Nov, was once of the most unsafe countries for pregnant women. In 2009, it was estimated that 1 in 8 women died during pregnancy or childbirth – the story was even worse for the newborns.

But international donors have contributed to medical facilities, the government waives clinic fees for women and children, and the results are spectacular:

Since waiving the fees, Sierra Leone has seen a 214 percent increase in the number of children under 5 getting care at health facilities, a 61 percent decrease in mortality rates in difficult pregnancy cases at health clinics, and an 85 percent drop in the malaria fatality rate for children treated in hospitals, according to figures Mr. Yates supplied.

Continue reading

Fish caught illegally in Sierra Leone’s waters seized in Canary Islands

Hooman, the resident earth-dome builder in John Obey, sent me a photo today of Ose and a huge guitarfish. He said he hoped the fish that was caught wasn’t protected, as the shovelnose guitarfish is related to sharks which can sometimes be easily overfished. However, he noted it was Ose that “pulled him out of the sea fair and square.” It’s true, the possibility for overfishing exists, but the collective impacts of fishermen in Sierra Leone in boats powered not by engines but by muscle are not the problem.

Ose and his catch, photo by Hooman

It is estimated that Sierra Leone loses $29m from pirate fishing. That’s when permitted vessels fish within the 3 mile limit from shore or in the country’s waters without a permit at all.

Illegal fishing is hard to track, it’s actually a really big part of my day job in sustainable seafood. It’s hard to tell where fish come from as they can be caught on a vessel, transferred to another vessel, sold at market, combined with other catches, then finally sold to a retailer or restaurant. There are lots of links in the chain. The same is true for other industries like coffee.

However, recent shipments delivered to the Canary Islands on vessels under the flags of Panama, South Korea, and China have been seized. It’s suspected to be fish illegally harvested from Sierra Leone’s waters, there are allegations the boat caused damage to local fishermen’s nets and had children as young as 14 on board and at sea for 3 months.

How did the information get out? Someone in Sierra Leone contacted the Environmental Justice Foundation, who work on illegal fishing in the country.

Once vessels have been found to engage in illegal fishing, the EU and US both stop purchasing from those boats. However, it’s hard to prove catches are illegal, so that’s not a total solution.

How can you help?

1) Sign EJF’s petition to the United Nations to create a global record of fishing vessels.

2) Purchase seafood from a trusted source with a sustainability or traceability policy in place and always ask where it comes from.

For more information on pirate fishing, check out EJF’s video and read the Guardian’s article here .