It’s surprising that there are any manatees left in Lekki Lagoon, which is located ~63 km east of Africa’s largest city, Lagos, Nigeria (population 21 million!). Manatees are heavily hunted there and with the proximity of so many people, I’m astounded they still survive. A couple years ago, my colleague Bolaji Dunsin proposed a project to me: he wanted to teach local manatee hunters aquaculture as an alternative livelihood to hunting manatees. Bolaji attended a manatee training workshop I co-taught in Ghana in 2008, but in his regular job he works as a fisheries officer for Nigeria’s Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research. So he has both the fisheries expertise and an understanding of manatee research.
Bolaji had already spoken with manatee hunters in the Ise community on Lekki Lagoon when he developed his project proposal, so once it was funded he returned and conducted education programs about the importance of protecting manatees. He talked to hunters about giving up manatee hunting in return for training and provisioning with all the equipment they would need for catfish aquaculture. At first the hunters were skeptical and wanted the training without giving up hunting (of course!). It took Bolaji many trips to the community to convince the hunters they couldn’t have the benefits of aquaculture without giving up hunting. It can be hard to convince hunters that the steady income they’ll make over the long-term from selling fish is actually better for their family economy than the chunk of money they occasionally get from hunting and selling a manatee.
The hunters were finally convinced and took Bolaji out to mark their manatee traps for removal. All the traps were documented using a GPS to make sure they were removed and no new traps were set. Then the training began. Bolaji brought all the supplies to the community and the hunters learned how to build fish cages. They assembled the PVC pipes to create the cage structures, they learned how to breed catfish, how to determine the sex of the catfish and to prepare them for fertilization, how to fertilize eggs, and to strip fertilized eggs from female catfish. Pens were set up and catfish were raised to market size, first in two demonstration pens so that everyone could learn, and later in additional cages.
Nine manatee traps were removed from the lagoon. The next step will be teaching the village women how to prepare the fish to be sold in the market. This project has been so successful that Bolaji has been approached by three other villages asking for the same aquaculture training and set-ups. We’ll need to continue to raise funds to expand this effort, but we’re very excited to see this working so well! I commend Bolaji for a huge amount of hard work and for building the trust of the community. We hope his project can be used as an example for other places in Africa to show that alternative livelihoods to manatee hunting are achievable.