Yesterday morning as the entire island was bracing for a direct hit from Tropical Cyclone Gula, the warnings were called off, and Gula decided to take a different route through the Indian Ocean. Instead, we've just been pelted with tons of rain in the last two days, which is very good as there is a bit of a drought here lately.
My work is still coming along quite slowly. I did manage to get out with a National Park officer on Wednesday, and he took me to a locality that I was not interested in going to. We spent a total of 2 hours in the forest, and we found a very small (11 individuals) population of Coffea myrtifolia. It was about 12:00pm when we got out of the forest, and I was keen to go to a different site, but was told that I would have to discuss that with his supervisor and make arrangements for another day. Needless to say, kind of disappointing.
My Mauritian colleague, Yasmina, has also been very disappointed with the way the Park Service is treating our research, so she contacted the Forestry Service yesterday and arranged a meeting with someone there. I met with a big-shot with a large office, and he was very helpful, indicating that he understood that I had little time remaining in Mauritius, and that he would make sure to get me out to the field as soon as Saturday with an agent. This sounded great, and I was nearly giddy with how helpful he was being, and the prospect that I could actually visit some localities before next week. After this meeting, I was handed off to the next official down in the hierarchy for a brief meeting where I gave my song-and-dance again. Then I was handed down to the next official in the hierarchy (offices getting smaller each time), and gave my song-and-dance once again. It should be noted here that each time I met with another guy, they were visibly less interested in actually trying to understand the goals of my research in their beloved forests, or even in wanting to hear how my research could positively impact their conservation efforts (one of the primary objectives of the Mauritian Forestry Service). After I provided this man with a partial list of localities I need to visit (he interrupted me as I was attempting to provide him with the full list), he says he can take me out on Tuesday (?!). It should be noted that he very helpfully arranged someone to take me out to a locality that I know from first hand accounts is in flower right now, but not until Wednesday. Such is the problem with government agencies, be it in Mauritius or the USA.
I have been in Mauritius 2 weeks now, and I've collected a grand total of 1 population consisting of 11 individuals. I have mapped 2 other populations, and they will be simple to return to and sample. But still, in 2 weeks in Madagascar (a poor country with much less infrastructure), I collected more than 20 populations.
Perhaps much of this is my fault for not being more hands-on in the preparation for work in Mauritius. I assumed (naively) that since the government agencies were aware of our work and the timing of my visit, that they would be prepared and willing to help in any way they can. It turns out that any help from these agencies must instead be coerced and begged for with extreme persistence.
I think the lesson I'm taking away from this trip is that next year I need to be self-sufficient, and I need to make arrangements with the relevant government agencies such that they know that I will need to work in the forest on my own timetable (and therefore alone).