For six years Blue Ventures has been working with the Vezo communities of southern and western Madagascar to collect data on shark landings. Training and employing a network of community-based data collectors has enabled us to gather comprehensive data on the traditional shark fishery across hundreds of km of remote coastline. The programme has also employed the use of the digital cameras in order to provide a visual record of shark landings in each village, to help with ID, and provide a means to verify data.
However, the delay in data from the field to researchers can range from 2 to 6 months. It is this delay, and seeing the rapid expansion of the mobile phone network in Madagascar, that led us to wonder whether we could use smartphones to collect fisheries data and reduce the delay in receiving information from the field.
Over the last few months we have been working on developing our “app” via Open Data Kit (http://opendatakit.org/about/), and trialing the new system with seven community data collectors in two regions of Madagascar. The aim of the app is to allow for standardised data entry through a system of menus and hints, to take photographs of each animal landed, plus the real benefit – to be able to send data as soon it’s collected via the 3G network to an online database.
One of the issues that has come to light is that despite increasing mobile phone ownership and use in the region, many people, particularly the older generation, have still never used a mobile phone or smartphone. So, in July and August this year we held extra training sessions for community members on not only how to use the app but also to increase familiarity with the smartphones. Data collectors are also provided with a personal credit allowance each month to further encourage phone use.
Over the next few months we will be getting feedback from data collectors and refining the app to make it as quick and easy to use as possible, whilst assessing its potential for replication to other fisheries and Blue Ventures’ projects in Madagascar.
After six years of religiously filling in copybooks, our team of data collectors are excited to try the new tools, and in May we were excited to be able to witness from a desk in London the first shark fisheries data sent directly via mobile phone from a remote village 9000 km away in Madagascar.