Who are we?
The Maru is a conservation and education center located on the northern lakeshore of Lake Malawi. Go to www.themaru.org for more information. Founded by the owners of Aquanuts Divers, a PADI scuba diving center located at Kande, on the lake's northern shores, The Maru works to promote awareness of, and care for, the lake's precious and unique cichlid fish populations that we dive with every day. Practically all of the Lake's estimated 1000 species of fish can be found nowhere else on the planet and we believe that they deserve more attention and care!
Why artifical "reefs"?
The people of Malawi get most of the little meat-protein that they consume from the Lake’s amazing fish species. Fishing on the Lake is therefore an important activity. For centuries one of the ways that fishermen here have worked with the Lake to provide them with more fish is by building underwater “reef” structures, sometimes called "brushparks," and locally known as "Virundu", which create more fish habitats particularly for breeding. Traditionally these Virundu were built by cutting down hardwood trees, once plentiful, and sinking them. Such structures were durable and provided an inviting lattice work of branches upon which algae could grow and in which fish could make temporary homes. After the breeding season, the fishermen would return and harvest a portion of the fish around the Virundu to feed their families. Unfortunately, these days hardwood trees are difficult to come by and fishermen are finding that inshore waters no longer have the fish they used to. This forces them to go deeper and deeper into the lake to catch the fish they need to feed their families. We first learned about Virundu by speaking with fishermen at Masakhahunju fishing village where the Maru conducts a Fisheries Monitoring Survey and started brainstorming with them how we might re-create them in the Lake in a way that was as equally as durable as hardwood, could be made from locally available materials, was scalable, and perhaps even more attractive to the lake’s fish.
What we came up with last year were structures inspired by the baskets that Malawians use to transport their fish to market. After getting a local weaver to make some of these structures from readily available bamboo we sunk 8 of them near Kande Island as a trial and began waiting to see if fish might find them attractive.
And it worked!
To our astonishment within two months fish had made our Virundu their homes! Look at the video below! (Ignore the wrong time stamp! This this video was taken in January of 2019)
You can join us on the next step!
So far so good! All of this work was done by February of this year. We knew our Virundu baskets were locally feasible, scalable, and attractive to the fish! What we didn’t know was how durable they were. For this we had to wait and see if they could last through the annual winter windy season (roughly May to August) when strong winds create strong underwater currents that could potentially uproot our Virundu from the lake floor. Unfortunately we now know our answer! This year’s windy season blew all of last year's beautiful trial Virundu away!
BUT WE SHALL NOT BE DETERED!
While very sad this is the nature of research. There is trial and there is error. But there is also progress and learning! So this new summer season we need YOUR HELP!
We KNOW that our reef structures WORK at attracting fish.
We KNOW that we can make them with LOCAL materials.
We also KNOW that we can SCALE them up to create potentially VAST underwater fish habitats.
All that we need to do is make them STRONGER to last through the annual winter windy season.
To do that we are going use IRON! The bamboo lattice work baskets were an ideal material on which algae could go and an attractive structure to the fish, they just weren’t strong enough to withstand the currents. BUT if we reinforce our bamboo virundu baskets with IRON rebar and anchor them to the lake floor with the same iron, we believe that they stand a good chance of making it through the Lake’s next winter windy season.
ITS WORTH A TRY!
We have calculated that the rebar needed to reinforce one 2-meter-long by 1-meter-round virundu basket and provide strong anchors to attach it to the lake floor will cost JUST $25 USD! As a trial we want to construct JUST 8 of them (hence the $200 USD), anchor them down, and monitor both how they are attracting fish and their durability through the next windy season. For your donation we will keep you regularly updated on our blog and other social media apps as to how they are faring and as a SPECIAL BONUS anyone who actually comes out to Lake Malawi will recieve a free snorkeling trip from our partner Aquanuts Divers out to Kande Island to see in-person how they are doing. Some come on then! Help us....