Regional collaboration on the design and implementation of interview surveys in six Sousa teuszii range countries

Regional collaboration on the design and implementation of interview surveys in six Sousa teuszii range countries

CCAHD investigators interviewing local people

The Critically Endangered Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuszii, AHD) is found in small populations along a 7000km stretch of coastline in Central and West Africa – in nearshore habitats that are heavily used by humans for fishing, transport, and coastal development. Limited capacity and resources make it impossible to conduct expensive boat-based surveys throughout the species’ entire range, but fishers and coastal community members who share resources and habitats with the dolphins hold a great deal of Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) that can provide valuable insights into where the species occurs, and what threats it faces.

The CCAHD identified interview surveys to assess LEK as a top priority in its 2020 assessment of short and medium-term priorities for AHD conservation.  Subsequently, a project was proposed to design, test and implement coordinated regional LEK interview surveys in six AHD range states including Senegal, The Gambia, Liberia, Cameroon, Gabon and Congo. The project, titled ‘Harnessing local ecological knowledge to fill data gaps and support conservation of the Critically Endangered Atlantic humpback dolphin’ is one of the first to be funded under the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s (SMM) Conservation Fund and is hosted by the African Marine Mammal Conservation Organisation (AMMCO) in Cameroon.

The project was launched in July 2022 when partners met online to discuss priorities, and to work with LEK interview survey expert, Dr. Samuel Turvey from the Zoological Society of London, to develop a standardized questionnaire to meet the project’s needs. The questionnaire was then tested in a few participating countries, and partners met again to discuss challenges they had encountered and ways to improve the questionnaire.

In January and February of 2023, project partners met online to consolidate the final drafts of the standardized questionnaire, the manual for interviewers, and various support materials (marine mammal species identification guides, maps of each survey location etc). Online training sessions were held in both English and French to ensure that all participating teams were aware of best practice with regards to interview techniques and representative sampling in fishing communities. Training, which involved 27 team members across all six participating countries, included a separate session on the use of the electronic data collection method, Kobo-Collect, which facilitates data entry on smartphones or tablets.

In the first 8 months of 2023 the coalition of CCAHD partners collectively conducted over 800 interviews in coastal fishing communities in all six participating countries. Regular online meetings were held throughout the year to allow partners to compare their experiences and discuss challenges and solutions.

As of early 2024, all six teams have completed their fieldwork and are now reviewing and ‘cleaning’ their data to ensure that it is in a consistent format for analysis. Some teams are using the data collected at national level to support work toward academic qualifications for team members, but the data will also be compiled at a regional level and analysed by project partner and interview survey data expert, Dr. Sam Turvey.

It is expected that the analysis will yield valuable insight into the following:

  • Indication of AHD presence or absence in areas where systematic surveys have not yet been conducted;
  • Possible insight into relative abundance and potential hotspots, as well as trends in abundance over time (for example fishermen’s perceived changes in the total number of dolphins seen or frequency of encountering dolphins);
  • Assessment of potential bycatch hotspots and the types of fisheries likely involved in bycatch;
  • Other perceived threats in addition to fisheries;
  • Prevalence of hunting / consumption;
  • Cultural significance.

Stay tuned for news on the next exciting phase of this project!

Table 1: Overview of interviews conducted in each of the six project countries (Note that interviewees primarily included fishers operating in nearshore habitats that may comprise AHD habitat, but in some cases other coastal community members and stakeholders, including those involved in (protected area) management, marine/coastal tourism, marine/coastal transport, development, were also interviewed).

Country Partner Number of people trained Number of people interviewed
Senegal African Aquatic Conservation Fund 2 120
The Gambia The Gambian Marine and Coastal Environmental Initiative 7 56
Liberia Save My Future Foundation 2 165
Cameroon African Marine Mammal Conservation Organization 5 239
Gabon NGO Aquatic Species 3 70
Congo Renatura Congo 8 167
Total 27 817