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Malaysian TEDs Visit, Day 3

By Nicolas Pilcher, 13th June 2012

It’s six am – I only managed to sleep until four am because of jet lag. Seems the older I get the harder this is to deal with… Anyway, it’s six am and the rain is pounding against the window of my condo, trees outside are bent sideways, and the howling resembles a midnight train through the forest. And today we’re supposed to be going out on the NOAA research vessel Caretta to trial TEDs with sea turtles… Hmmm, I think there might be a change of plans. I turn on the TV and the weatherman says there’s a 50% chance of rain. Only 50%? It’s pouring outside!!! This is Florida. Middle of the summer. It’s supposed to be sunny and blue and hot. It’s not. It’s rainy and windy and miserable. But at seven am we pull up at the NOAA facility to check in and find out about the plans for the day.

Sure enough, plans for the day have been shelved – ‘blown-in’ they call it, so we revert to Plan B: let’s build a TED from scratch. We rummage around the stores and come up with reams of new net webbing, and a TED super-shooter grid, a few sewing needles, a knife or two, and loads of enthusiasm. The Malaysian delegation were all ready: notepads out, cameras out, backpacks off and stored. And Jack Forrester was there ready to lead them through the entire process. First we need a long rectangle of net to make the extension into which the TED will be installed. Then this needs sewing down a long end to make a cylinder of webbing. Sharum takes the lead on this, but passes on to Syed, then Rosidi shows them all how it should be done. Takes a real gear guy and Rosidi knows his stuff… Now we hang the leading edge of the TED grid, measure back and hang the rear end, and hang the whole thing up to make sure the angle is just right. Now comes the interesting bit, sewing the webbing onto the grid all the way around to make sure it doesn’t slip and a turtle doesn’t get stuck. Everyone helps, with one team going left and the other round to the right. Even I help with this bit, as the rains hit once more and everyone takes shelter in the cabin. Ok, now things get interesting, because all the measurements and requirements the guys learnt yesterday come into play: How large can the opening be? How far from the sides? Ohhh the little details…. Ok, so now they are all hands-on: Sharum and Syed on the grid, knives out, turtle escape hole being crafted, while Godfery and Rosidi are cutting new webbing to make the flaps. Cutting net webbing in a straight line requires great skills, and the guys don’t let anyone down. It’s a veritable TED-making operation! Jack is gently guiding the team through step by step, and questions are flying back and forth. Not just the how, but also the why. So we’re nearly at the end, the two flaps need sewing on so they overlap a but at the leading edge, but Rosidi’s there counting meshes (knots) like he’s done it all his life, while the gang get the flaps and sewing needles ready. Now they take turns sewing for another half an hour and there you have it: a brand new TED installed in a six-foot extension, ready to be installed and used in real fishing operations.

But it’s now over yet. The NMFS guys had one last surprise up their sleeves, as they bring out Jeff Gearhart to inspect the new TED. Will it pass legal regulations? Will the Malaysia team pass on the first attempt? Hmmmmm. Tensions are high. Laughter all around tried to disguise the worry, but all in a good natured way. Let’s measure the opening. Let’s measure the flap extension beyond the escape hole. What about the angle? Anything else? And the guys pass! It’s a winner, with the angle the way it was designed to hang, and the openings and overlaps and extension all looking perfect. First time. Score one for the Malaysian team.

So the weather ‘blew us in’ but the day was not wasted. We had planned to do this later in the week but just switched the days around, and by the time we were done it was just shy of six pm. A whole day of learning and sharing, with just about everyone on the team having the chance to chip in: Capt. Drew, and his many years of experience. Jeff, Warren, Nick, Dan, Dominy, John, Jack. You name them, they all came down to lend a hand. I don’t know, for the life of me, how the Malaysian team ever understood some of them, with their southern American drawl and thick accents, but I must say that watching from the upper deck as they all laughed and joked the day away it was a memorable event. Another wonderful day in the Malaysian TED adventures over with the NMFS team in Florida!

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