Shushuk Mela 2013

On February 8th 2013 the Conservator of Forest, Khulna Circle, inaugurated the fourth Shushuk Mela or Dolphin Festival in Mongla. The floating exhibition anchored at 15 villages in the fringe area of the Sundarbans forest. Over 13,000 visitors were welcomed on board during the month-long event, and around 4500 people attended the 15 evening film shows.

The key messages of this years exhibition were 1) Dolphins are our pride; 2) Dolphins need protection; 3) Together we can protect our dolphins. The Shushuk Mela provided a platform for learning more about our endangered freshwater dolphins, discussing existing protective laws as well as proposed regulations for the new wildlife sanctuaries, anticipated challenges related to the new wildlife sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins, and for exchanging ideas about sustainable fisheries practices and alternative income generating activities.

A team of 10 trained interpreters guided the visitors through the traveling exhibition. New exhibits, including a bioscope showing the live birth of a dolphin calf, a photo opportunity mural for visitors to take photographs of their friends and family (and the dolphin hotline number) with their mobile phone, and a showcase displaying locally produced goods and handicrafts to encourage innovative and creative approaches for income generating activities, attracted lots of attention.

Training workshop for Coastal Fishermen Safety Network

On November 2nd our principal researcher, Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli, assisted by our project director, Brian D. Smith, and our financial manager, Masudur Rahman Saikat, conducted a training workshop for coastal fishermen in Bagerhat. 17 participants, including captains, engineers and senior crewmembers of five fishing vessels learned how to use a Global Positioning System (GPS) and a depth sounder to safely navigate the dangerous shallows of the coastal waters. The participants also learned about the cetaceans of Bangladesh, their conservation status and the correct procedure for releasing entangled cetaceans and collecting samples from dead dolphins. One hand-held GPS, one depth sounder set-up and a sample collecting kit was given to three of the five represented fishing boats. In return for increasing the safety of these fishermen at sea, the fishermen pledged to release entangled cetaceans and collect information from dead animals for the BCDP. A weatherproof training handbook was distributed among the participants as a reference, along with data sheets for collecting information about navigation, sightings and mortalities. A waterproof storage bag was also provided to keep the all equipment and documents safe and dry.

Kick-off for Field Season 2012/13

On November 5th we kicked off the 2012/13 field season. In a first phase the team conducted a blind test with ‘pingers’, devices emitting a ‘ping’ sound at about 70khz, to determine changes of behavior for freshwater dolphins. Four confluence areas in the new wildlife sanctuaries were selected as test locations. The experimental study was carried out over a period of 20 days by a team of 6 BCDP members, 7 volunteers, and 7 crewmembers aboard three vessels.

In November the BCDP principal researcher, Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli, started his research work in the coastal waters adjacent of Sundarbans and the deep-sea canyon ‘Swatch-of-No-Ground’ in the Bay of Bengal. During this years three-month session he conducted sample collection in support of a genetic study of Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins, and continued his study on population dynamics of bottlenose dolphins (using photo-identification) and their interactions with fisheries.

Go4BioDiv Youth Forum in COP11 of Convention on Biological Diversity

Our Education and Training Program Assistant, Ms. Farhana Akhtar, was invited as a resource person to participate in the Go4BioDiv Youth Forum from 5th -19thOctober 2012 in the Sundarbans and Hyderabad, India (www.go4biodiv.org). Go4BioDiv is an international youth forum carried out parallel to the Conference of the Parties of Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The third Go4BioDiv Youth Forum focused on the theme “Conserving the coastal and marine biodiversity for sustainable life and livelihood”. There were four workshops, and Ms. Farhana co-moderated the workshop on Public Outreach, Education and Communication. All the workshops aimed to formulate a declaration presented to the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 11 of CBD). Her efforts to moderate the workshop, manage side events and share her experience from the BCDP Educational Outreach program were greatly appreciated by the organizers and participants.

Student Internship Program

In April of this year we announced a new round of student internships for Bangladeshi students enrolled in Masters and PhD programs. Two students were selected through a thorough process. They are currently receiving logistical, technical and financial support for completing their Master’s thesis: Ms. Zenifar Azmeri (supervised by Dr. Mohammed Mostafa Feeroz, JU) is assessing the feasibility of using photo-identification techniques for Irrawaddy dolphins here in Bangladesh, while Mr. Shihab Khaledin (supervised by Dr. Monirul H. Khan, JU) is studying the environmental impacts of mechanized vessel traffic on the new wildlife sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins in the eastern Sundarbans forest. These studies support ongoing research priorities of the BCDP and strengthen our collaboration with national universities, while also building local capacity for designing and carrying out conservation oriented research.

Support for graduate university students

Ms. Mahfuza Afroz successfully completed her Masters dissertation on 'Examination of the stomach contents of freshwater cetaceans and overlap with fish catches in the Sundarbans' in February 2012 at Khulna University. Inspired by her experience working with the BCDP, Ms. Afroz volunteered as an interpreter for the 2012 Shushuk Mela and successfully applied for a ten-month internship through the Conservation Leadership Program (CLP) to coordinate our mortality monitoring network and publish the results of her dissertation in a peer-reviewed journal.

Mr. Zahangir Alom completed fieldwork for his Ph.D. dissertation at Jahangirnagar University on the “Ecological and human use characteristics of freshwater-dependent cetacean habitat in the Eastern Sundarbans Reserved Forest of Bangladesh.” Mr. Alom is currently analysing data and writing his dissertation which should be completed before the end of 2012.

NGO Facilitator's Training Workshop

To expand the scope and impact of our educational outreach activities, the BCDP works with a network of social development organizations. Partner organizations were assessed and selected through a series of interviews in October 2011. From 21 - 22 January 2012, the BCDP organized an intensive training workshop for grass-root level facilitators from these NGOs. In addition to the 14 participants from our partner organizations, two representatives from the Forest Department and two students from Khulna University were invited. During the two-day workshop we used games, models and illustrations to communicate basic knowledge about cetaceans, the status and diversity of these fascinating animals in Bangladesh, and the newly established Wildlife Sanctuaries and proposed regulations. The participants greatly appreciated their newly acquired knowledge as well as our innovative educational outreach techniques which they will apply during their meetings and workshops in local communities. All participants were given a training handbook and certificate along with coloring booklets, posters and stickers on cetacean conservation for dissemination among their target communities.

Shushuk Mela 2012

The third Shushuk Mela (or dolphin exhibition) was inaugurated by the Chief Conservator of Forests on February 18, 2012. He was joined by about 30 other senior officials of the Forest Department as well as a large number of representatives from local media and NGOs. During the next 26 days, the floating exhibition traveled to 15 villages and towns, seven of which had been visited during last year's exhibition. These areas contain the homes of fishermen operating in the three new wildlife sanctuaries. We learned as much from interviews conducted as part of a doctoral dissertation, partially supported by funds from FTM, on the ecology and human use of 'hotspots' for freshwater dolphins in the Sundarbans (see below).

A total of 19,128 people visited the floating cetacean exhibition: 55% were under the age of 16 and 28% were between 17 and 40 years old (the primary age range of most professional fishermen). Visitors were guided through the exhibition by interpreters from our exhibition team of three BCDP staff and seven volunteers. Volunteers were recruited from Khulna and Jahangirnagar Universities, the Wildlife Division of the Forest Department, and partner NGOs. All interpreters participated in an intensive one-day training course and received mentoring during daily feedback sessions with the BCDP staff. Several had not worked with our project previously, but they proved to be excellent communicators and are now experienced members of our network of environmental educators. We also engaged interested children and had them serve as 'dolphin ambassadors', assisting our education team in organizing the visitors and attracting more guests. Approximately 10,000 coloring booklets and 3,000 posters on cetaceans and their conservation, along with 15,000 stickers promoting the dolphin hotline for our mortality monitoring network, were distributed during the Shushuk Mela.

The exhibition provided a platform to informally discuss suggested regulations, including strict enforcement of the ban on illegal fishing gear, restrictions on vessel speed, prohibitions on dumping solid waste and contaminated water from commercial vessels, and anticipated challenges in the new wildlife sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins. While most fishermen agreed with enforcement of the ban on illegal fishing gear, they expressed concerns about the current practice of allowing fishing in existing wildlife sanctuaries for 'unofficial payments'. This puts those fishers who support and abide by protective regulations at a disadvantage and undermines conservation efforts.

Assessing the effectiveness of the Shushuk Mela 2011

To assess the effectiveness of the our traveling, vessel-based exhibition on cetacean diversity or Shushuk Mela in 2011, our Educational Outreach Team carried out a Knowledge-Attitude-Practice (KAP) survey in four villages: two that we visited in 2011, and two that we did not visit in 2011 but planned to visit in 2012. A standardized questionnaire was used to interview 50 people in each village, including fishermen, children, and women. Results from the survey revealed a considerable difference in the knowledge and attitudes between villages that were visited and those that were not. For example, 60% of respondents living in villages visited by the exhibition knew that Ganges River dolphins are mammals while only 31% of the respondents from villages that were not visited were aware of this fact. About 80% of all interviewed fishermen said they would cut their fishing gear to release a live dolphin caught in their net, with a slightly larger percentage reporting the same in the two villages visited by the Shushuk Mela last year. In the villages we visited last year, no one reported that they would sell a dolphin carcass and only 3% said they would render it for oil. By comparison, in villages we had not previously visited, 16% reported they would sell a dolphin carcass and 7% reported they would render it for oil. These results indicate that the Shushuk Mela has been successful at raising awareness among local people on the conservation of freshwater dolphins, and that our emphasis on reducing by-catch is well-founded and should be strengthened. Another KAP survey will be conducted in June 2012 to assess the effectiveness of the 2012 Shushuk Mela and provide input for improvements to be incorporated into the one planned for 2013.

Declaration of Wildlife Sanctuaries for freshwater dolphin in Eastern Sundarbans Reserved Forest

After months of anticipation, on January 29th 2012 three new wildlife sanctuaries (Chandpai, Dhangmari, and Dudhmukhi) were declared for the protection of threatened Ganges and Irrawaddy dolphins by the Ministry of Forests and Environment. The three wildlife sanctuaries safeguard 19.4 mi (31.4 km) of channels with a total area of 4.1 sq mi (10.7 sq km). The locations and sizes of the sanctuaries in the Sundarbans were determined according to a study conducted by the BCDP and published in the journal Oryx in 2010. This study found that the habitat of Ganges River and Irrawaddy dolphins were clumped in waterways where human activities are most intense. Declaration of the wildlife sanctuaries is a great success for our project and a triumph for cetacean conservation in Bangladesh, but it is only a first step. We are currently collaborating with local communities and government officials to develop and implement a science-based, community informed management plan that aims to conserve threatened freshwater dolphins, provide benefits for local fishermen, and inform adaptive human-wildlife management to cope with the impacts of climate change.

October 2011: A dedicated Survey of the Western Sundarbans completed

Researchers from the BCDP recently completed a dolphin survey of the western Sundarbans in Bangladesh. Supported by a team of students from Khulna and Chittagong Universities, Forest Department officials, and international volunteers, during nine days they searched for these elusive animals in nearly 1,000 kilometers of mangrove channels. An intensive training workshop prior to the expedition gave all team members the skills to search for cetaceans and record scientific data on their occurrence. The observer team reported a total of 128 sightings of cetaceans. The highest numbers of sightings were recorded for Irrawaddy and Ganges River dolphins but a surprising finding was the occurrence of finless porpoises and even a sighting of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, cetacean species that are more often associated with higher salinity coastal waters.

The results of this recent survey will help to identify additional ‘dolphin hotspots’ in the western portion of the Sundarbans mangrove forest and contribute to the establishment of a protected area network for cetacean diversity in Bangladesh.

September 2011: Invited presentation on the BCDP Educational Outreach Program at Student Conference on Conservation Science in Bangalore, India

Our Education and Training Assistant, Farhana Akhtar, was invited to attend the Student Conference on Conservation Science, 14-16 September, Bangalore, India. Farhana presented a talk titled “Sharing the Challenge of Conserving Bangladesh’s Cetacean Diversity with Local Communities“. The talk highlighted innovative approaches of the BCDP to communicate information on cetaceans and their conservation. Attending students and conservation scientists included Dr. Andrew Balmford, University of Cambridge (UK), Prof. Yvonne Sadovy, University of Hong Kong, Prof. Raman Sukumar, Indian Institute of Science, and Dr. Ullas Karanth, WCS India. Participants at the conference were particularly enthusiastic about our boat-based, travelling Shushuk Mela or dolphin exhibition. This conference was a welcome opportunity to network with students from neighbouring countries and learn more about conservation activities in the region.

August 2011 - February 2012: Conservation Leadership Programme Intern joins BCDP

Emile Mahabub has joined the BCDP team as an intern to assist with the research and educational outreach activities. He has been taking an active role in planning and conducting an impact survey for evaluating the effectiveness of the educational outreach activities, and more specifically the floating dolphin exhibition. He is currently involved in planning the logistics for the upcoming Shushuk Mela 2012, assessing and selecting new partners for the BCDP NGO Educational Outreach Network, and he will participate in a cetacean survey in the western Sundarbans as well as other BCDP research activities in the coming field season. Emile has a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Management. Since 2005 he has worked as nature guide for The Guide Tours Ltd. in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh. Last year Emile was awarded the Conservation Leadership Programme’s Future Conservationist Award. His internship with the BCDP is funded by the Conservation Leadership Programme in affiliation with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

May 2011: GPS navigation Training for Coastal fishermen from Pirojpur

The BCDP program ‘Saving Lives – People and Dolphins’ aims to assist coastal fishermen by providing safety at sea through navigation equipment and training in the use thereof, in return for minimizing cetacean bycatch and reporting cetacean sightings and mortalities.

On May 29th 2011 the BCDP Principal Researcher, Project Coordinator and Financial Manager traveled to the fishing town of Hularhat/Pirojpur in the south-east of Bangladesh, equipped with several weather-proof copies of a training handbook and cetacean identification charts they had specially developed in Bengali language, appropriate for the elementary level of literacy among fishermen, and two hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) devices that were modified with colored dots for easy reference.

They were met by the fishing vessel captain that has been assisting the BCDP team for the past five years with the survey work at the Swatch-of-No-Ground and in the coastal waters. He introduced the trainers to Mr. Sukhoranjan Das, the owner of five fishing vessels, who kindly offered his home as a venue for the training session. The group was joined by another fishing vessel owner, Mr. Amio Babu. Both owners are very keen on equipping all their vessels with GPS and Depth sounders, and had arranged for their vessel crew members to join the session.

Along with the two fishing vessel owners four captains, three mechanical engineers and five crew members participated in the day-long training. The theoretical part, which elaborated on the contents depicted and described in the manual, was followed by a practical session. The participants clearly enjoyed this part of the training, as they were ecstatic to see the devices at work, and eager to learn how to handle this valuable tool. The third session focused on cetacean identification and completing data sheets. Thereafter all participants boarded an engine boat on the nearby river and practiced their newly acquired skills.

Our Principal Researcher feels confident that two persons from the two boats, which have been provided with a GPS each by BCDP, are now sufficiently competent to handle the devices properly. He plans to visit them again after they return from their first voyage with the GPS to retrieve the collected information and provide clarifications as needed.

May 2011: Working Session for Wildlife Sanctuaries

On May 9th 2011 the BCDP organized a working session with the Forest Department to discuss the establishment of three wildlife sanctuaries for freshwater dolphins in the Eastern Sundarbans Reserved Forest. The session was attended by senior officers from the Forest Department Wildlife and Nature Conservation circle, a representative from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and the entire BCDP team. Mr. Ishtiaq Ahmad, Chief Conservator of Forests, chaired the session. The BCDP presented detailed study results compiled in a comprehensive background document supporting the proposed protected areas in the mangrove waterways. The justification and benefits were highlighted in regards to saving endangered species, incorporating climate change impacts, promoting sustainable development and generating local socio-economic benefits. The BCDP presented recommendations for the regulations and management of these new wildlife sanctuaries, which include law enforcement, sustainable fisheries, appropriate infrastructure, improved administration, strengthened collaborations and benefits for local communities. The CCF expressed his positive support for the wildlife sanctuaries to be declared within the coming months, and welcomed the science-based, community-informed recommendations proposed by the BCDP.

March 2011: New Look for BCDP Website

In collaboration with the SBW Neue Medien in Romanshorn, Switzerland, and Kaspar Mühlemann (Design) our website has received a totally new and user friendly look. We are grateful to our volunteer intern from Switzerland, Barbara Mühlemann, for taking on this task with the necessary perseverance and care. All collaborators worked without remuneration for our project, for which we are very grateful!

March 2011: Foundations for Tomorrow – Building Local Capacity for Cetacean Conservation

With financial support from the Foundation for the Third Millennium (F3M) the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project (BCDP) has significantly strengthened its educational outreach and capacity building work. The most noteworthy achievement was convening a boat-based educational exhibition featuring the cetacean diversity of Bangladesh and our conservation activities. The exhibition reached over 5,000 visitors living close to our planned protected area network. We also recruited a full-time educational assistant to help with the exhibition and two workshops held to increase the research skill of our network of volunteer students. Additionally, the BCDP Education and Training Director, Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur, and the Project Director, Brian D. Smith, were invited as guestspeakers to the regional collaborative workshop ‘Determining and quantifying threats to coastal cetaceans’ from February 22-24 2011 in Kuching, Sarawak.

March 2011: Shushuk Mela 2011 – Sharing the challenge of conserving Bangladesh’s cetacean diversity with local communities

Following an overwhelmingly successful cetacean exhibition (Shushuk Mela) held in October 2009 in the capital city Dhaka, we modified the exhibition to convene it on a wooden palm collection boat that traveled to local villages close to our planned Protected Area Network. The event aimed to increase awareness among local communities about cetacean diversity in Bangladesh and to build local constituencies for the establishment of three Wildlife Sanctuaries for Ganges River and Irrawaddy dolphins in the Sundarbans.

A conservation management plan to address the threats facing these dolphins and to ensure that their habitat is protected is being developed by the BCDP together with the Forest Department and local fisher folk. The ‘Shushuk Mela 2011’ provided a platform for discussing locally appropriate conservation interventions with community members. Visitors, including fishermen, traders and local leaders, reacted positively to the conservation interventions proposed by the BCDP, which stress the importance of healthy fish stocks and maintaining sufficient freshwater flow for humans as well as dolphins.

A large wooden boat traditionally used for collecting palm leaves harvested from the Sundarbans forest was modified to create a floating exhibition space. Information was presented on thirty panels, with photographs, illustrations and simple Bengali text, and in interactive games that encouraged both children and adults to test their understanding. Life-size models also gave the visitors a closer look at these amazing creatures and their features. Trained volunteer interpreters from local universities guided the visitors through the exhibition, encouraged questions and initiated discussions. Altogether the ‘Shushuk Mela 2011’ completed a two-week long tour through seven villages adjacent to the Sundarbans mangrove forest. In addition to the more than 5000 visitors welcomed aboard, an estimated 3000 persons enjoyed our nightly film documentary screenings.

March 2011: Internship Program

Ms. Mahfuza Afroz was awarded a BCDP scholarship for completing her Master’s degree with the Fisheries and Marine Resource Technology Department at Khulna University. She will complete her dissertation, with assistance from the BCDP, on ‘Examination of the stomach contents of freshwater cetaceans and overlap with fish catches in the Sundarbans’. For further details regarding the BCDP Internship Program, please contact edu@shushuk.org.

March 2011: Technical Training Workshops

Training workshops were convened for 14 students from Khulna University, 4 local tour operators and 2 Forest Department officers on mortality monitoring and the examination of cetacean carcasses, and for 12 students from Khulna University on calibration surveys for estimating freshwater dolphin abundance from sighting data collected by nature tourism vessels operated by The Guide Tours Ltd. The curriculum for the mortality monitoring workshop focused on postmortem examinations, including species identification, determination of cause of death, documenting and photographing carcass parts, and collection and preservation of biological samples, as well as instructions on how to release live dolphins back into the water and disseminate appropriate educational messages.

The workshop on calibration surveys was held onboard a nature tourism vessel of The Guide Tours Ltd. and consisted of a brief introduction to cetacean conservation efforts and survey methods, followed by practical training on how to systematically record cetacean observations, measure environmental parameters and behave appropriately in the company of tourists. The most promising students were identified as volunteers for participating in upcoming captain’s sighting network calibration trips. All workshop participants received comprehensive training manuals and certificates.

March 2010: International Awards for BCDP

The BCDP Principal Researcher, Rubaiyat Mansur Mowgli, has been nominated as new member of IUCN Species Survival Committee Cetacean Specialist Group.

A selected group of BCDP trainees has been awarded this year’s prestigious Conservation Leadership Award. More

March 2010: Current Field Work

From January – December 2010 the BCDP team is active during full moon periods and slack tides in the designated dolphin hotspots and randomly selected non-hotspots in the Eastern Sundarbans mangrove waterways. They are investigating the human use patterns and related ecological and socio-economic factors.

The results of this study will enable BCDP to formulate science-based, locally informed recommendations for regulations to be implemented in the proposed Protected Area Network for Freshwater Dolphins in the Sundarbans Reserved Forest by the Forest Department of Bangladesh.

March 2010: Shushuk Mela on Tour

From December 2010 to February 2011 our innovative and interactive ‘Shushuk Mela’ or Dolphin Exhibition will be coming by boat to the communities in the fringe area of the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest. If you want our exhibition to make halt in your community, be sure to contact us for early reservations (edu@shushuk.org)

March 2010: Internship & Volunteering Opportunities

We will shortly be announcing unique collaboration opportunities for Bangladeshi Masters and PhD students. Stay tuned for the details!