Cameroon's Underwater Exploration and Aquatic Megafauna Conservation

Latest update January 19, 2019 Started on October 22, 2018
sea

The sea and coastal waters of Cameroon are poorly known, mostly so because of the scarcity of marine science skills and logistic locally available. I am planning to use an underwater drone, citizen science, and the SIREN mobile App to explore the aquatic wildlife species living along the coastal waters of my country. Pictures and video capture through my expedition will be used as a tool to educate and sensitize young people about marine wildlife conservation.

October 22, 2018
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In The Field

My team and I spent three days on the northern coast of Cameroon to dive our Trident underwater drone for the very first time in that part of the country. After two days making arrangements for the logistics with the Marchant Navy and the IRAD of Limbe, we ended up using the vessel of the later to venture in the sea of Batoke and Bakinguile. We were accompanied by a local boat pilot, a veteran of Cameroon Navy and a staff from IRAD and my junior brother who insisted to go with me. As soon as we sailed off, we installed our 3D Lowrance Sonar and set up our underwater drone. Thirty minutes later, some member of my team and I felt seasick as we stopped in the middle of the heavy swell to deploy our Trident. Our efforts were soon rewarded by the amazing images recorded by the Trident at our first trial. The Trident unveiled to us the beauty of our underwater that we never thought existed in Cameroon. All the team was lacking enough breath to exclaim "wow, we only see this on the TV''. The joy was so big that we ignored the seasickness and move to a different place to pursue our exploration.
This exploration allowed us to confirm that the northern coast provides seaweed and coral reef habitats that are critical for sea turtle feeding and fish stock. It appears that this site is unique in Cameroon because of if high water transparency. Unfortunately, we were informed that Cameroon's government is planning to build a deep sea port there. We are looking forward to verifying this information; it the meantime we will advocate for the preservation of this unique underwater paradise. The expedition went very well. We were so eager to continue the exploration the following day but were limited by our resources. Once on land, we shared the video with some friends and none of them easily believed that the images were from Cameroon. The team is ready to continue the exploration as soon as time and resources allow.

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Preparation

After the holiday season, now back to other serious stuff. I traveled from Florida to Cameroon late December. After spending some enjoyable days with my family and friends celebrating Christmas and New year, I moved to my field stations to start my explorations. My team and I will be exploring both fresh and marine water.
Just before I left Florida, I received from Open Rov a donation of a Trident underwater drone that I took with me to Cameroon.

Yesterday morning, my team and I was eager to test the drone and get comfortable manoeuvering it since we have never used a drone like that before. We went through the manual and made all the necessary settings from AMMCO office near Lake Ossa; we did the same for our Humminbird 360 sonar and hydrophone. Then in the afternoon, we took the equipment to Lake Ossa for a full- scale test and hopefully record a manatee. All the tests went very well. Our biggest surprise was that the Trident was able to provide us with clear images of the bottom of some parts of the lake despite the murkiness of the water especially when the trident LED light was on. Eddy my collaborator dive in the shallow lake (less than 2m) to simulate a manatee presence in the water. The good news is that above a meter away the target was clearly visible. Hopefully, we are going to be able to take our first underwater African manatee picture in the wild. There are only a few of such pictures of the species in the world; so my team and I are eager to take more photos of the species. This week, we will focus our exploration on the freshwater and next week we will travel to the marine water, in Limbe, South-West Cameroon.

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A decade ago, I was making my first steps in the field for Marine biology, passionate by the African manatee that I heard about for the first through an assignment essay during my Master program where I was asked to make a literature review of aquatic megafauna of Cameroon. It was not my favorite topic by then, and I was thrilled by emblematic animals like giraffe, lions, and elephants because they received higher media and public attention. However, as I dove into my assignment, I sadly realized that the aquatic megafauna species of Cameroon such as the African manatee were poorly known and seriously threatened by hunting for delicacy and accidental catch. The aesthetical value of our coastal waters and the magnificence of its biodiversity are hidden from the local public because they are underexplored. Like in most developing countries, marine research and exploration are scant because of the limited logistic and domestic skills. That was the same challenges my new passion for marine wildlife had to face. I use two main cost-effective strategies to get around those obstacles: (1) through using a participatory approach where fishermen use their smartphones and the SIREN mobile App to share pictures and information of opportunistic sighting of surfacing or accidentally captured marine wildlife on a publicly accessible webpage (http://siren.ammco.org/web/en/)..) (2) In areas with good enough water clarity, I am going to use an underwater technology like drone and hydroacoustics to explore life below the water surface, where many human eyes can't always reach, and then share the story of our exploration with the public.
I worked with a team of young dedicated and enthusiastic marine scientists that I trained and who joined my project, and we are making this happy journey together. I will introduce my team member in my future posts. My team and I are preparing to launch our first underwater drone mission this coming January. This expedition will take place in the northern coast of Cameroon, offshore Limbe city. We are very curious to know what our drone will reveal. off course we will keep you posted, stay connected. Check out our the video below to learn about some of the other work will do when we are on the field.

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Expedition Background

The sea, coastal and fresh waters of Cameroon are poorly known and understudied, mostly so because of the scarcity of diving, scientific skills, and logistic limitations. The northern coast of Cameroon, in the South-West Region, is unique with its black sandy beaches as it lies at the foot of Mount Cameroon, one of Africa's largest volcanoes mount. Several aquatic megafauna species such as African manatee, sea turtles, cetaceans, sharks and rays inhabit the area for refuge, food, and reproduction. However, these key species are constantly facing accidental captures from both artisanal and industrial fisheries. In response, the African Marine Mammal Conservation Organization (AMMCO), a local NGO I founded in 2014, has initiated preliminary marine and socio-ecological data collection to feed a marine planning process that will help identify priority areas for the establishment of a community-based marine protected area. Marine life is misunderstood by many people in Cameroon. There is only little interest for aquatic species, especially amongst the youngest generation and the government.
My underwater and citizen science expedition aim at contributing to the knowledge and conservation of aquatic marine wildlife and habitat in Cameroon. I will use a remote operating underwater vehicle (underwater drone) to unveil the richness and beauty of life and habit underwater; then use the high-quality images and videos collected to raise awareness firstly among students, fishermen and the government. My underwater exploration will also help identify and map key habitats for marine life such as coral reefs and seagrass. I am a fan of participatory and collaborative science, so I would like to encourage any marine enthusiasts in Cameroon to contribute to this expedition by posting their observations, experiences, and comments to this page. My team and I have established so far a network of fishermen who voluntarily report opportunistic sightings of aquatic megafauna species through our mobile application SIREN-AMMCO. We acknowledge the support of IUCN-PPI who have been supporting our research and conservation initiatives in that part of the country. With IUCN, we envisage characterizing the various aquatic and littoral habitats and determine priority areas to be established as community-based marine protected areas.

I am very looking forward to sharing with you the life under the coastal waters of Cameroon and the pictures collected by our fishermen network...

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