Hi I’m Liz Drury O’Neill and welcome to the storytelling series as part of a podcast called “Characters of the closures: Human Experiences of Marine Conservation & Management”. This is our first story of the series, Nuru’s story. This series is part of the OctoPINTS project which I’m working on as part of my postdoc at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Disclaimer (for those listening not reading!) I have a bit of a cold, so you might hear a few sniffles throughout this recording, sorry.
I decided to have a go at telling a few stories based on my research data because recently during these Covid times I’ve got a bit sick of zoom and powerpoint and break out rooms and I really kind of wanted to engage in communicating science in a different more maybe natural but also more real or authentic and immersive way. I’ve been listening to Irish mythology stories a lot on Spotify in the last two years (Candlelit Tales) and then it struck me, sure why not take storytelling into my work.
So each month for the next few months I will share a story of a character from a marine fishing village on the Swahili Coast, the coastline that stretches from southern Somalia down to northern Mozambique in East Africa, where we have been doing fieldwork. The villages are based in Zanzibar in the centre of this coastline, so its a tropical island environment, with coral reef-mangrove-seagrass marine ecosystems. They are very much dependent on the ocean for nutrition and livelihoods.
The different characters of my stories experience an increasingly common fishery management and conservation intervention, a fishery closure- the one we work with is based on octopus. Fishery closures or marine protected areas are more and more common as they are relied upon to help us meet the sustainable development goals for 2030 and protect life underwater. But life on land in many areas around the world is very much part of these conservation initiatives, which aim to encourage and assist people who live and rely on the sea to manage and conserve their natural resources. I decided to bring our fieldwork to life a bit to try and represent the richness of the human experience within conservation. Hopefully marine protected areas can become more of an understandable human experience to us who don’t live them.
All the stories that I create are based on the voices, opinions, perspectives and arguments of fieldwork participants, so I am prioritising what they say and how they say it through fictional characters, so my participants remain anonymous.
To introduce you to the characters in the stories;
- We have fisherwomen who will fish in shallow waters by foot using sticks and spears, not going out of their depth,
- We also have foot fishermen who will do the same but who spend most of their time on boats using other gears.
- Our main octopus fishers, so those who target octopus the most are the skin divers, they are free divers using masks, fins and spears.
- The octopus is sold to male traders who will typically keep it on ice or freeze it and through agents and companies export it to portugal or italy or other places in the EU.
- And then we have different types of traderwomen, they can fry the octopus and sell bits of it in the village, they also can make really good octopus soup, again for sale in the village, they are dealing with much smaller amounts of octopus compared to the male traders.
- Then we have the fishing committee, they are from the villages and are the local officials responsible for fishery management.
- There is an NGO that is supporting the villages in this conservation measure
- And then there is the village leader, the Sheha.
After listening and talking to almost 70 octopus fishers, traders and local fishery committees across three villages in Zanzibar I found that the most pertinent topic was the breaking of rules. So this is a story about fishery compliance, what that is and what that means for different people. Compliance, or non-compliance, in marine protected areas like closures is important because it’s one of the main reasons such conservation projects don’t work out in the long-term. But it’s hard to study due to its clandestine nature. Marine protected areas have both positive and negative effects on people’s livelihoods. Therefore they are contested or disputed spaces, meaning different things to different people so compliance is not black and white in this context. I try to represent that here.