Chumbe Island - Birgus latro and the old hermit on the island

We've had some down time between our two neap tides, so most days I've just spent reading and exploring Stone Town. Managed to get properly lost for a little while and enjoyed myself immensly trying to get back to more familiar grounds.
But we've also had a day of checking out Chumbe, our next site where we'll start working tomorrow morning. Chumbe is an island about an hour away from Stone Town and it's sort of a combination of a protected area with a resort. I've tried my best to capture the beauty of Chumbe, but I'm afraid I've failed completly. The underwater pictures I'll have to save for another day. I know I'll take a few hundred more during the following days there and I'll just put them all here at once for you guys. For now, you'll have to do with the above-water pictures.
We got to stay in the staff building, which was incredible. Preferred having to walk through part of the jungle to get to it, that way we saw so many more things. Walking there, we constantly heard the clanging and rustling of hermit crabs banging their shells against the many rocks on the island. I have never seen such big ones before, couldn't stop watching them run around with their stolen homes. Other times, paradise flycatchers (a bird, for those of you that care) took flight among the mangroves and just left us with our mouths wide open in awe.
Since we were working and checking out the seagrass beds we couldn't join the tourists on their forest walk, so we took one of our own later in the afternoon. It was absolutely amazing, there are no other words for it. The whole island is made out of dead corals, so it's literally walking on top of a forested coral reef, which is a very strange feeling. There are fossilised corals around every corner, caves that are home to a number of weird animals and vines entangling themselves in their attempts to reach sunlight.
Climbed the lighthouse too. There should be a lighthouse in my story, somewhere. It's on Chumbe.
Some of the friends in and around our hut. Counted to 12 geckos in the bathroom in the morning. Pretty decent sized ones, most of them. Nothing like here in Stone Town. The best surprise was having a green tree snake crawl in through the window next to my bed. Me and Elisa both got overly excited to see it and eventually it got sick of us and left to digest its lunch. Seems to have been one of the geckos.
This monster is probably what Chumbe is most known for. It's a coconut crab and about three quarters the size of my arm. At sunset, these giants crawled out of the caves all over the island and began to walk around, minding their own business. I knew they had them on the island, but didn't expect it to be so easy to spot one. They were literally everywhere and we had to stop several times on the way back to our house to make sure we didn't step on them. Trust me, you don't want to mess with a crab the size of a human baby.
I don't really know what words to use to sum this up. Chumbe was more than I expected and it really is a place worth protecting. My explorer heart just felt ready to burst any minute, there was always something new around every corner. And even the things you normally wouldn't notice just fascinate you there. Like the sound of hermit crabs scuttling out of the way for the coconut crabs. I've seen the Goliath of all crabs and everywhere there was the smell of thousands of forest flowers.
No, I give up. There are no words for it.

Prison Island - Dustbunnies and Nemo's evil twins

So – a fourth of the work is now over and done!
Our first site was Prison Island, or Changuu Island as the locals know it by. It’s an island right outside of Stone Town, where peacocks call their lonely cries and mating tortoises can be heard like modern day dinosaurs. Most of our traps were empty, which was expected, but still slightly disappointing. While Elisa occupied herself exploring transect lines, I spent the time snorkeling and taking pictures of all sorts of interesting animals.
Among all the weird things I saw, this was one of the most fascinating. These are apparently a couple of porcelain crabs living inside an anemone, sharing their home with a tiny clownfish. The clownfish here are nothing like Nemo, trust me. They’re quite fierce, despite their size. Contrary to what you might think, that they hide inside their protective anemone, they swim up to you and sort of grind their teeth at you. You can actually hear their mouths slam shut, with a loud CLOP! One of them decided to attack the camera, so I left them alone after a while. But yeah, Nemo’s scared dad – not so much.

At one point, I got a little bit too excited over seeing a bright yellow butterfly fish, and accidently swam into – yes, swam – one of these sea urchins. Since some of their spines are about the size of my arm, I was quite thankful for the wetsuit. Still hurt, but didn’t leave any mark. Won’t do that again.


This was one of my absolute favourites at Prison Island, a tiny boxfish that managed to get caught in one of our traps. It’s so incredibly cute and really box-shaped (hence the name). 

When we only had a couple of days left, I decided that it was time to live up to my reputation and get my dose of tropical infections. Wohoo! Now I have an ear infection, which is pretty easy to get here when you’re always in the water and it’s hot and humid on land (rainy season). So, now I’m ordered to stay out of the water for the next week. Fortunately, we only had the last few days on Prison Island left and now we have to wait for the next neap tide until we can go to the next site anyway. Spent my time on the boat learning all the fish (samaki) in Kiswahili instead, much to the amusement of our boat guy.

The weather varies so much here, in the morning the sky can be a leaden grey and you hear the omniscient sound of approaching thunder. Which either means you’ll be soaked in a few minutes, or that the sun will come out and shine as if nothing happened. Both are just as likely, which makes planning difficult. Will spend the next week preparing for site #2 and keeping my ears dry. Maybe I’ll be able to hear what people are asking me soon, otherwise communication might become difficult. 

It's a trap! - Madema and spider webs

It really does make me happy that we’ve finally started to work on the project for real, and left most of the permit stuff behind us. I know those parts are important too, but preparations and paperwork has never really been my thing.

The other day we spent shopping for necessary things, such as buckets, ropes and weights and got caught in another torrent of rain. The narrow streets literally turned into rivers and what would’ve been a not too long walk, turned into a three hour trip! Every now and then, the rain would just come cascading down from the sky and we would all run in to the nearest shop and pretend to admire their beautiful clothes. Everyone else was doing the exact same thing though. Excellent opportunity to learn some Swahili. “Leo mvua” which means “Today it’s raining”. (The typical Swede, always talking about weather). I enjoyed wading through the knee-deep water, even though I didn’t really wanted to think about what was in the water and instead tried to be thankful that I didn’t have any open wounds on my legs this time (which I had in PNG).
Unfortunately and understandably, I didn’t bring my camera to the markets, so there are no pictures of school children running through the water and men slowly making their way to the mosque through the rivers that just kept coming.

But as I said, we’ve started working on our project, which included the building of 10 madema traps. (In case you’re wondering what they look like, they’re the ones on the pictures). The trap maker arrived a few hours after sunset and we started working outside (he did most of the job though) by putting together the disassembled traps. It was hot (“It’s Africa, of course it’s hot” – was our assistants comment to this observation), sticky and I have a nice blister as a souvenir from the plastic bands that we used to tie all the wooden parts together. Also learned that a machete is a “panga” and a smaller knife is called “kiso”. It worked out pretty decent; we now have the traps and can start using them as soon as the tide is high enough (in less than a week). 

Oh, and check another trap maker out. While we were building the madema, Elisa (my supervisor) noticed that the trees above out heads were covered in spider webs and spiders the size of… well I don’t really know what to compare them to. Smaller than my hand, but bigger than I would like them to be! Just as I was wondering what would happen if one of them fell down, we spotted one hanging on to our traps. I managed to take a picture of it before our human trap maker threw it out on the street.
“They can be dangerous, these spiders. This one? Oh… I don’t know.”
It’s gonna be fun living on Spider Lane for another seven weeks. 

Zanzibar - spices and sand (and lots and lots of rain)

Yes, I’m still alive. I’ve been really busy this summer (more than I would have liked to be) and I have prioritized being with people rather than writing on my blog (or anything really). Some of you might know, others not, that I’m not in Sweden at the moment, but that I’ve fled to Zanzibar. I’m not here on vacation or on missions, but to study the fish in tropical seagrass beds and collect material for my master thesis. I’m not gonna go into detail (if you’re interested you can just ask me), but I’m looking at reducing bycatch in dema fisheries (a certain type of wooden trap) and comparing marine protected areas with heavily fished areas. So, I’m gonna spend the following two months on the island of Zanzibar, snorkeling and trap-building.

Zanzibar has a reputation for being a paradise island, and I understand why. Even if I’ve never had a desire to go here until now, the island has a tropical magic on its own. The fact that your taxi driver stops by a local fruit stand to get you a mango just because he feels like it, or that a tropical thunderstorm forces everyone under the nearest roof, even if it belongs to someone you don't know, adds to the feeling of being far away from Sweden.
At 5.30 a.m. the minarets wake devoted Muslims and call for the morning prayer, to the background noise of revving trucks unloading their fish at the market next doors. During the night we’re frequently woken up by sudden rain showers, drum-rolling off the tin roofs. I don’t mind the sounds at all, but either way, they add to my lack of sleep. So does the heat and humidity. Like Fanny commented when we stepped off the plane “It’s like walking into a fish tank”.

Most fish tanks are no way near as beautiful as what I’ve seen snorkeling here though. Triggerfish as colourful as a 5-year olds painting, lionfish on guard with its venomous wings spread out around itself and mooray eels writhing like snakes through the seagrass beds. It really is a bit of paradise, but from what I’ve heard, the entrance fee to paradise is already paid, while here your wallet will notice the cost.

This week I'll be spending buiding traps and preparing permits for my field work. It's gonna be pretty awesome and I'll try to write here whenever possible. Have an additional hundred something fish species to learn by heart as well...

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