Volunteer blog: Oliver Bramley

Bass throbs through your chest. High notes scream and crackle in your ears. Petrol fumes sting your skin and bury themselves in your lungs. Sweat drips down your back and face and stomach and legs. And you smile and cheer and clap because you are having the time of your life. The crowd thickly lines the streets and sometimes they cheer and that makes you turn, smile, grind your hips with a little more sass or spin a little quicker or punch the air with a little more vigour.  This was the Donia festival - a four day event held every year in Hell-ville.

Our journey to Donia started one inconsequential afternoon outside Victor and Vola’s house. A motley crew of Frontier staff and volunteers assembled only to be quickly and firmly placed in, what many would describe as, military formation. And then we began the drill. The Malagasy anthem “Call Me Maybe” trickles out of a tiny speaker and the Frontier feet move, they step and they misstep and they trip and they become out of time. The front row of locals move in perfect harmony and still Frontier feet and arms and hands move and clap and spin with little rhythm or knowledge or the moves they should perform.

“Again.” Victor shouts from his perch.
So we repeat it.    
“Again.” Victor shouts from his perch.
So we repeat it – again.

This process repeats its self again over several nights, sometimes it’s dark and we can barely see our Malagasy leaders. But surely, if not a little slowly, the Frontier dance troop begins to find unity. The fist-pumping in our second song “Titanium” synchronise. We are transformed what once was a caterpillar has become a dance butterfly; we open are wings rich in colour and pattern. We are ready to soar.

The day finally arrives and excitement quicksteps through camp. Dance troop Frontier makes their way to Vola’s for preparation and food. We strip a forests worth of palm leaves to make skirts and have our faces painted. As promptly as it’s possible in Madagascar we made our way on to the boat and into town. Hellville hummed with party spirit, the streets oozing excitement. We passed through these streets, stuffed six to a tut-tut. “Malaklak Malaklak” we shouted as the driver weaved through traffic, down dirt back alleys. We screamed and laughed feeding off the energy that Hellville was radiating that day.

At exactly Malagasy 1 o’clock [2:30pm] the parade started. The Frontier dance troop followed our pick up through the streets. The music blared out from the speakers and we danced. The Frontier dance troop: volunteers, staff and locals danced through the streets of Hellville together united through movement. We shimmied, reached, wiggled, stepped and turned with the biggest smiles on our faces. Our throats were sore with singing along and our feet ached with the constant pounding of the road. But we didn’t care because we were having the time of our lives, feeding off the whoops and cheers of an amused crowd.

Three hours of hot, sweaty parading the Frontier troop arrived in the stadium ready to compete. But first we had to wait for all of the speeches to be made. Three hours later and somewhat fatigued, the Frontier dance troop made its way backstage. The act before us had fire dancers – we stood no chance of winning. However, winning didn’t matter only the dance mattered. Dancing “Call me Maybe” in front of a packed stadium of 7 thousand people - and we nailed it. All steps and claps and turns in perfect unison the stadium roared and the Frontier dance troop beamed back.

The village president took us aside after the performance to express his pride and with that the Frontier Dance troop disbanded. We may not ever dance together again but we will always have the moves.

By Oliver Bramley, marine volunteer research assistant

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Madagascar.


Marine PI blog: the Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

The petit port of Hell-Ville can almost always provide the staff and volunteers of Frontier Madagascar with surprises and humour. Some days you may watch one man single handed carry to ~150kg sailfish over his shoulders, some days watch a noisy scene of local woman fighting over fish that they are going to buy and sell, and other days you may find yourself trying to avoid stepping on dead animals – once even a dead cat. Last Saturday the Ambalahonko team were coming to town for some fun on their day off when the Marine PI wading through the water and spotted the head of a Scalloped Hammerhead Shark.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Investigating the head it was clear already that it had previously been the head of a juvenile. Once up out of the petit port waters and near where they sell local fish was the remainder of the carcass. All fins, tail and guts removed the body would have been an estimate ~120cm TL individual and we were soon able to determine a male when the PI stepped back and accidentally trod onto one of its claspers (sexual assemblages of male sharks). Hammerhead fins are highly prized in the Fin Trade owing to the high density of the fins needles which give the Chinese delicacy the texture it is famed for. The fins were next to the carcass along with the fins of a lower value shark species a, the Silt-Eye shark. Curius as to what the fisher who had hauled the sharks into the boat would gain financially from such a challenging catch and the percieved value of these IUCN Endangered species the PI asked the price. At the white person, non-haggling price, she was told 10,000Ar for all the fins of both species of shark (£2.50) and the carcass all of 20,000Ar (£5). This is an extreme reflection of the lack of understanding and poverrty of this part of the world as in New York these would sell for $50/kg in Fulton Fish Market (pers. obs).

Scalloped Hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) in 2012 were listed on CITES (The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) Appendix II coming into enforcement in October 2014. This huge listing has come as a result of their severe over exploitation. Nosy Be and northwest Madagascar was once reputed as a nursery and pupping ground for Scalloped Hammherheads but in the past two years only 2 individuals have been sighted, both of which were dead in the market. Overexploitation of shark fisheries is a ubiquitous problem throughout Less Developed Countries (LDC’s) and Madagascar is no exception. In the early 1990’s European NGO’s came to Madagascar aiming to boost coastal community economies by providing efficient fishing gear especially effect at capturing and killing sharks for the fin trade. The nets, Jarifa nets, are bottom set gill nets which essentially act as a wall of death. Baited they are extremely efficient at entangling sharks and other marine megafauna such as dolphins and turtles. The sharks are then either hauled onto the pirogue or where the individual was too large they would have their fins removed along side the boat and the body discarded at sea.

Poor, inaccurate, public attitudes to sharks continue to threaten their conservation and the ecosystems which as apex predators they regulate. The issue in impoverished countries such as Madagascar is not the fishermen’s attitude towards sharks it is the market demand which fuels this activity. It is fundamentally important that the public in developed countries start to consider where there fish is from and the methods used to obtain it.

By Emma Dobinson, Marine Principal Investigator

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Madagascar.

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