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Treasure shattered with dynamite

It is hard to quantify the costs of dynamite fishing. Longitudinally we can notice at the fish market, that the big fish and lobsters that used to be there are no longer; you can notice how expensive even smaller ones have become. Do we notice that the local fishermen are suffering before we just let them fade away as they become poorer and poorer and their sons become thieves for lack of work?

As I tried to think of a way to quantify the damage, to compare what the life was like before the dynamiting, and now… I thought to July 1989 when I made two trips to Mbudya Island. The dynamite fishing had already begun. Already the rubble was rolling, around this small island off the coast near Kunduchi but also the life and beauty were so exquisite, it was as if it would always be there.

The law that is in place now came in 1994 - the Marine Parks and Reserves Act that prohibits collecting from places like Mbudya. In Section 10: Other Regulations, it states 22.-(1) No person within a marine park or reserve shall, except in accordance with terms and conditions specified in the regulations or them provisions of this Act- (b) gather, collect or, remove any fish, animal, aquatic flora, or vegetation, whether live or dead, or any sand, minerals, or aquatic substrate. That includes shells and coral.

I wish I had understood, but I was not aware that I should not take shells. Now I find it obvious that shells need to be allowed to stay on the beach. Even when Mollusca are dead, their beautiful skeletons serve important ecological functions. They serve as homes for hermit crabs for example and become substrate for corals and other creatures, and then sand. But 23 years ago, unaware, while walking along the beach I randomly picked up shells. There were so many. I did not feel greedy.

I wasn’t concentrating on the task. Many types of shells were so common I did not bother to save one. Those were beautiful amazing days, and I made notes of what I saw in my journal. In 1989 I noted (but did not collect the shells of: oysters, scorpion shells, many pairs of sunrise Tellins of several different colors, abalone, Pen shells, many cowry species, mussels, mitre shells, several cone species, bubble shells, dog whelks, tulip shells, conches, violet snails, periwinkles, wentle traps, turret and top shells, Venus shells, surf clams, cockles, coral snails, ark shells, cuttlefish bones and others.

I saw alive (and did not take): chitons, Keyhole Limpets, top shells, oysters, cones, nerites, and pheasant shells. The examples I picked up and put in my pocket were a non-scientific sample; perhaps we could say it was an aesthetic sampling, reaching out for whatever caught my eye. I brought the shells home, as many people do. After some time admiring them I put them in a clear plastic candy box.

They were a treasure of beautiful colors and gorgeous rounded shapes. I put the treasure box onto a back shelf. I never collected shells after that. Yesterday I thought of that box for the first time in years. I had to search for it, in different storage areas, but I found it. The box was dirty but inside, the shells are still glistening. I took the box to a colleagues’s house. She spends a lot of time by the sea; she’s a sailor, and a kayaker; at dawn she is usually walking on the beach. And she likes looking for shells. She has been studying shells here for 2.5 years, and been many times to Mbudya.

We compared: the shells I had collected casually over two days visiting Mbudya in July 1989, with the shells my colleague had documented in the same area between September 2009 – April 2012. I will tell you about it next week, but here is a hint: in the amount of time it took to collect a treasure chest from Mbudya in 1989, my colleague in 2012 would expect, to find “one good shell and the rest will be pieces”.

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Author: ANNE OUTWATER

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