A Joyful Adventurous Life Together

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Antananarivo, Madagascar
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Research updates...

Once again an apology for the lack of communication. Busy, busy with gasy lessons (a upcoming blog post will detail some interesting 'gasy fombas (customs) and finoanas (beliefs) about WITCHES and CREATURES. Look for it...), research, and fun. For the moment, let me try to tell you why we've bad bloggers.

The octopus saga continues, dear friends. Last month -- it seems so long ago! -- we had 2 biologists from Blue Ventures living in our house for 3 1/2 weeks. Tom taught them statistics. A surprising realization for both of us was that biology training in the UK does not include stats. But Sophie and Haj worked their tails off, learned basic stats and a hardcore computer coding language called R, and are now well equipped to run some analyses on the enormous datasets that Blue Ventures continues to collect. Tom volunteered for a month to teach us. (Really in the end, my octopus problem became his octopus problem. Fetsy aho! (= sly I!)) We now have biological results about the successes and failures of the reserves. WOOHOO! Let the economics begin (a year late)!

But in case you think that is all we were doing last month, not so! Tom was preparing for a "Rapid Assessment Program" of biodiversity and ecological health in the northeast. While he is paid for the work by Conservation International, he worked days and days off-contract to gather materials, herd cats (a.k.a. the other marine scientists), confirm the methodologies, etc. He sat on our patio cutting and assembling quadrants...try explaining THAT in 'gasy. A wonderful coincidence of the RAP is our first friend visited Mada -- Sea flew in the night before the expedition. I got to spend more time with him than planned because Air France kindly left all his luggage in Paris (including enormous amounts of gear for the expedition that he schlepped). Lovely for me!

(News flash: Tom is well. He's in Vohemar, the infamous shipping port town from which all rosewood is being illegally exported. In fact, a friend of mine told me that this morning 'gasy radio reported suspicion of the RAP boat -- CI team are illegal exporters of rosewood! They clarified that the boat was full of SCUBA divers, and they had no idea what they were up to. So much for the communications push CI did -- Tom was on TV before they left.)

I have been working (for Blue Ventures) on a funding proposal for a UK call regarding ecosystem services. It was a nightmare -- the proposal was 2 pages, but the call included 36 pages of instructions. And then their online systems kept adding up our budgets incorrectly. Finally we gave up and left the sum 2000 pounds off, only to receive an email weeks later acknowledging the mistake and asking for spreadsheets. (The best part was that ALL the applicants were copied on the email, so now I know who else has applied -- Gretchen, Peter Kareiva, and a bunch of other usual suspects! Tough competition.)

Back to octopus, I've been developing the economic models to value the marginal benefit of the marine protected area. It bends my brain a bit. Lots of fun, though, now that I have data to work with. Unfortunately, sometimes I can't break my connection to my model (just one more adjustment! one more run!) and I don't sleep until the wee hours of the morning. I'm hoping to have a rough draft to vet with some folks here by the end of this weekend.

My climate change policy analysis project is cooking as well. I hired a fantastic research assistant (a law/environmental policy student) who is helping me gather the myriad documents and understand the legal/institutional context of marine conservation here. People in the NGOs have been incredibly generous with their time and with information. Soon I'll approach government agencies for interviews, which is going to be a whole new can of worms...

Tom and I have narrowed our potential sites for fieldwork, I think. I'm going to meet him up north the end of next week to check out two of the sites. One on the NW coast is an existing MPA where WWF is working on climate change integration. The other is on the NE coast, a new MPA co-managed by Conservation International. Projected climate impacts are quite different in the two sites. I don't know enough about the sites and management regimes yet to know if they offer interesting contrasts.

Then there are all the extraneous things going on that an economist can sink her teeth into. Commenting on World Bank policy notes, discussing environmental impacts of ginormous mining projects, debating export policies, tracking down facts about illegal concessions being sold by a corrupt government...

We've also been having a lot of fun. Amend that. I (Kirsten) have been having a lot of fun. While Tom taught octopus, I went to scope the marine parks on Masoala Peninsula (and hike for 4 days). Masoala is the largest remaining standing forest in Mada (its protection is run by the 3rd big NGO here, Wildlife Conservation Society). Unbelievably fun. I'll blog soon about that trek. While Tom herded cats the weekend before last, I went mountain biking through the rice patties about 3 hours outside of Tana. I suffered a bloody knee (I didn't realize we were supposed to bike on the tiny dike, I guess, and literally went INTO the rice patty). I have some great photos I will upload (of the landscape, not the bloody knee). Then this past weekend (Easter), I joined a group of folks to go back to Andasibe to worship the lemurs. We got up close and personal with indris and Goodman mouse lemurs (OMG! Like, SOOOOO CUTE!).

The inter-tubes have been clogged recently, so this is probably all they can handle. I'll post again soon!

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