Dugong Scientific Survey

May 2, 2009

Mission: Dugong Scientific Survey for Foreign Scientists
Date: 2 May 2009
Requesting organisation: John Hanks of International Conservation Services (ICS)
Location: Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
Pilot: Barry de Groot

Early this year we were asked by John Hanks of International Conservation Services (ICS) to provide a flight to familiarise visiting foreign scientists with Dugong habitat in the Bazaruto Archipelago.  The aerial perspective acquired would also facilitate participation by these scientists in a workshop on the plight of the Dugong, in Maputo, in early May 2009. The mission was flown by pilot Barry de Groot and we feature his report first, followed by a report from John Hanks.

Taken on one of our earlier Dugong missions, this is a photo of pilot Barry de Groot, flying over Benguerra

Of Avgas, Bakkies and Dugongs by pilot Barry de Groot

“What luck to land a second mission to the Mozambique Archipelago within 12 months of the first!  My brief was to fly to Maputo where I would be met by the local authority on Dugongs, Dr Almeida Guissamulo, who would accompany me on a flight further north to Vilanculo.  There we would meet with two world authorities on Dugongs and fly them around the Bazaruto Archipelago to give them a good insight into Dugong habitat, prior to their attendance at a workshop on Dugongs to be held in Maputo a few days later.

The weather in KZN delayed my departure to Maputo so I arrived there in the mid-afternoon on the Saturday, at a very deserted airport.  It was too late in the day to continue on to Vilanculo so after meeting with Almeida we drove into town where he booked me into a comfortable hotel.

Next morning our Cessna 206 was all fuelled up and ready to leave when my eye caught an electronic  notice flashing in the ops room of the Maputo airport.  It read “VILANCULO  –  NO AVGAS”.  Quick finger calculations showed that we could get to Vilanculo and comfortably do the survey around the Archipelago, but we would have no fuel left to return to Maputo.  A decision had to be made, and fast.  Do I call off the entire trip and return home, or take the chance of finding someone with a secret stash of avgas in or around Vilanculo?  Having a streak of the gambler in my character we headed north in the hope of finding fuel to get back the next day.  As always, the flight along the Mozambique coast to Vilanculo was absolutely breathtaking.

After the splendour of the flight up the coast we came back to earth with a bump – no, not my landing, it was when we learned that we had no hope of finding even a single litre of avgas in Vilanculo. Well, this was Africa and in Africa we make a plan. Calculations showed that the fuel tanks were half full (not half empty) and I figured I could get away with adding sufficient mogas for the return trip and still have an acceptable blend of avgas and mogas.  The only challenge was to get 90 litres of mogas out to the airport.  Fortunately I had a local with me, going by the name of Almeida, and I sent him off in search of a vehicle, some empty containers, a chamois, and a fuel bowser.

It wasn’t very long before Almeida returned wearing a broad grin, and ushered me out into the street to our waiting vehicle.  It was then that I realized why he was wearing such a wicked grin. Standing at the curb was the most dilapidated Nissan bakkie I have ever seen, driven by one of the largest African mamas I have ever seen. Anyway, as I have already said this was Africa, so I climbed into the back of the bakkie amongst remnants of all the stuff this long-suffering vehicle had carried in recent days, and we rattled, shook and bounced our way into town where we pulled up alongside a hawker selling his wares on the pavement.  Amongst his collection of what can best be described as discarded junk were several 25 litre plastic containers. We selected six of the cleanest and set off for the nearest gas station with me hanging on for dear life and hoping that neither the containers nor me would be lost overboard.

The containers, which incidentally cost us an arm and a leg, had been used for storing cooking oil in a previous life and were a far cry from what you would want to use to transport fuel for your aeroplane.  But remember – this is Africa!  After wasting at least 10 litres of mogas flushing out the containers we rattled, shook and bounced back to the airport with our liquid gold.  After crossing the Mama’s palm with lots of US dollars for the use of her bakkie, we lugged our booty over to the aeroplane and, with the help of a length of garden hose, we siphoned the mogas through a funnel – lined with a chamois loaned from a fellow aviator – into the tanks oc the Cessna.

The Dugong Lodge

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With sufficient fuel blend now safely in the tanks we caught the tender boat sent to collect us by the very upmarket Dugong Lodge.  There we met our overseas guests and feasted on a gourmet meal before retiring to luxury chalets for the night.

The next day had the four of us flying at 1000 foot over the azure blue channel between the mainland and the Bazaruto Archipelago in glorious African sunshine.  After touring the area for a little over an hour we had accomplished our mission and had even spotted several Dugongs, so we set course for Maputo along the eastern coastline.

Airborne over the Bazaruto Archipelago

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We said goodbye to our very impressed foreign guests and Almeida, in Maputo, and it was such a pleasure to have a huge mobile bowser pull up alongside the trusty 206 and allow her to guzzle as much pure, clean, avgas as she wanted.

Needless to say, the remainder of the trip home along the northern KwaZulu-Natal coast was pure magic, and a fitting end to another successful and most enjoyable Bateleurs mission.

May I take this opportunity to thank Robert Taylor for the donated use of his Cessna 206, which made the entire mission possible.”


An International workshop to prepare a Management Plan for Dugongs by flight requestor John Hanks

“Dugongs are threatened with extinction throughout their remaining range on the east coast of Africa.  To address this problem, a small expert workshop was held in Maputo from 5-7 May 2009, convened by Mozambique’s Directorate of Conservation Areas and planned and facilitated by the Bazaruto Conservation Support Programme.  It had the following objectives: (i) develop recommendations for conservation and management of Dugongs in and around the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park (BANP); (ii) develop proposals on mitigation and monitoring to minimise impacts on this population; (iii) refine Dugong survey methods for the Archipelago; (iv) consolidate the above in a Management Plan for Dugongs in and around the BANP; and (v) set implementation procedures for the Plan.

The workshop was opened by Dr Francisco Pariela (National Director of Mozambique’s National Directorate for Conservation Areas) and was attended by 55 delegates, including world authorities in Dugong conservation and experts from Australia, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and the USA.

The purpose of this Bateleurs-supported mission was to introduce two of the leading scientists to the BANP area prior to the workshop.  Professor Helen Marsh (Chair of IUCN Sirenian Specialist Group and Professor of Environmental Science at James Cook University, Australia), and Dr Peter Corkeron (Bioacoustics Research Program, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology) were accompanied by local expert Dr Almeida Guissamulo (Universidade Eduardo Mondlane).

Bateleurs pilot Barry de Groot met the three scientists at Vilanculo and the team spent the night at the Dugong Lodge for discussions with local conservation staff.  The familiarisation flight took place over the Bazaruto-Bartolomeu Dias area, and the team saw four Dugongs near Ponta Nhamabue and two at Santa Carolina, and several dolphins around Santa Carolina Island. Most importantly, the visiting scientists were able to see at firsthand the extent and condition of the large seagrass meadows over the Bazaruto Bay, the extent of fishing activities, and the impact of the various developments taking place on the islands and mainland.  The plane and the team returned to Maputo flying at low altitude along the coastline to see the extent of the transformation of other comparable areas.

The welcome sign and guard at the entrance to the Parque Nacionale do Archipelago de Bazaruto

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Corkeron and Marsh were surprised to see how similar the geography of BANP was to Moreton Bay in southeast Queensland, Australia, where there is a relatively large population of Dugongs, and both were impressed by the substantial seagrass beds within BANP. From his experience with similar systems in northern Australia, Corkeron opined that the seagrass within BANP could support a much larger population of Dugongs than the population estimated to occur there. This suggests that anthropogenic mortality, rather than habitat loss, is the key issue that needs to be addressed.  This is an important point that was raised and discussed in depth at the Dugong Workshop.

One of the gentle endangered Dugong, captured on film

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Corkeron summarised the flight as follows:  ‘For me, the main benefit of the aerial survey was to give me a perspective of the problems facing Dugong conservation in BANP. Most of the places where I’ve worked on Dugongs are remote, unpopulated parts of a wealthy, developed nation – Australia. Moreton Bay, with a reasonable Dugong population close to a major city, is a real outlier. The flight over BANP suggested to me that the conservation problems for Dugongs in Mozambique are about reducing human-caused kills of Dugongs, whether direct, inadvertent, or something in between.’

The comprehensive report on the Dugong Workshop has still to be approved by DNAC.”

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