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  Field Notes From
Gabon's Coastline

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Gabon On AssignmentArrows

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From Author

J. Michael Fay

Gabon On Assignment

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From Photographer

Michael Nichols

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Michael Nichols (top) and Mark Thiessen


Gabon On Assignment Author Gabon On Assignment Author
Gabon's Coastline

Field Notes From Author
J. Michael Fay

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    I knew that we were finally having a real impact on illegal fishing one day when we were cruising south along the coast toward photographer Nick Nichols's camp at the Moubani Creek Inlet. We sped up, and I couldn't believe my eyes. We spotted two Chinese trawlers that looked as if they were right on the beach. My blood started to boil. We turned toward the beach, and about five minutes later we could see them pulling their nets in and high-tailing it full speed out to sea. But we were close enough to pull up alongside them. I yelled and screamed at these offenders and called in a report to the folks in Libreville. These guys were completely panicked and obviously knew who we were. They disappeared out to sea.

    Back in the early days before we put the fear of God into these guys, I arrived at the Nioungou Inlet to find four Chinese boats. They had been raking the inlet in a coordinated crisscross pattern for two days. I couldn't even fathom the killing that was going on underwater and the years it would take for the damage to right itself.

    We were paddling kayaks up the Nioungou River. After maneuvering through the papyrus swamps, we arrived at some of the most beautiful flooded forest you can imagine. I could hear thrashing in the water, so I slipped my kayak between the trees and went deeper into this flooded world. Then I saw two enormous V-wakes in the water. I thought it was a giant python and approached. But as I got closer I saw a squarish nose rise out of the water and the body of a manatee followed. It was feeding on the vegetation along the banks, almost completely exposed. The encounter lasted about two seconds. Then she sensed me and disappeared. That was my first and last view of this wonderful creature. Africans believe they are mermaids. I can see why.


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