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fisheries conservation in the Pemba Channel
The reefs and islands of Pemba's west coast are a biodiversity hotspot.
The inshore waters of Pemba's 40-mile long west coast encompass arguably East Africa's most important concentration of marine biodiversity. The area contains many small islands -- some uninhabited, most with fringing coral reefs; shallow lagoons; extensive coastal reef systems; and thick mangrove forests.

The west coast is heavily used for fishing, shellfish gathering, seaweed aquaculture, and mangrove cutting. Pemba has more than 360 villages, around half of which are on or near the coast. Because Pemba's east coast is not hospitable to small boats, fishers come from all over the island to work on the west side. So the marine resources of the west coast are intensively exploited, and they also provide a vital source of food for Pemba. Fresh fish is on sale every day in the town markets, and much finds its way throughout the island by means of an informal network of bicycle distributors. 

In spite of these pressures, the reefs and mangroves are still relatively healthy. But populations and exploitation are growing, and biologists have long understood that if the treasures of Pemba's west coast are to be preserved for the future, protective measures will have to be introduced. A start was made as far back as 1993, when one of the best of the fringing reef systems, around Misali Island, was made a conservation zone, with a core area closed to fishing, and regulation enforced by a ranger patrol of local fishing people. The remarkable story of how this came about is told in a documentary, the making of which led to the formation of the Pemba Foundation.

Following the Misali success, the Zanzibar government declared the entire Pemba west coast a conservation area, PECCA: Pemba Channel Conservation Area. But it's been a challenge for the government to patrol and manage such a large area -- about 1,000 sq km. Eventually the marker buoys disappeared from the Misali closed area, and enforcement weakened.

It’s generally agreed that Pemba's reefs and nearshore waters are overfished.  Experienced fishers tell us that catches are reduced, fish are smaller, and they want to see conservation measures introduced.  In response, the Pemba Foundation has developed a co-operative program, involving fishing communities, the government Fisheries Department, local marine scientists, and resort hotels, to design and implement a series of small conservation areas, modeled on Misali Island, and distributed along the west coast within PECCA. This kind of inclusive program has been shown to be an effective conservation approach in other parts of the world subject, like Pemba, to heavy pressure by artisan fishers.


In late 2015 the Pemba Foundation sponsored initial consultation meetings, to gather the views of the 35 fishing villages that would be directly involved in the creation of conservation areas. 4 meetings were held in different regions of Pemba, and 61 community representatives attended. Support for a conservation project like this was close to unanimous. Full details are contained in the downloadable report.

In 2017 we set out the buoys to mark a new conservation area, closed to fishing, and now patrolled by community rangers in a boat provided by the Pemba Foundation. This area was created at the request of Gando village, and planned co-operatively with the Zanzibar Government Fisheries Department.

Launching Gando's new patrol boat. The Swahili says "Gando Community Patrol".

We have also worked with the Misali fisheries rangers to replace the buoys marking the Misali closed area, and we're talking to the Fisheries Department and more communities about creating further conservation areas in 2018. 

Overall, the chances of conserving vital fisheries on Pemba west coast are looking brighter.

Profile: fisheries scientist and manager Ali Said Hamad
Ali Said Hamad is a highly experienced fisheries scientist and manager, with extensive international training. A Pemba native, he studied fisheries science and conservation at Kunduchi Fisheries Training and Research Institute, Dar es Salaam; Rhodes University, South Africa; and the University of Kent, UK. He is now Head of Planning in the Zanzibar government's Department of Marine Resources, based in Pemba. 

Both in his professional and volunteer work, Ali is especially interested in a community-based approach to conservation and regulation. He was a key figure in the establishment of the Misali Island Marine Conservation Area (MIMCA), the success of which is largely due to its thorough integration into the fishing communities that neighbor the island. Ali has published academically on the Misali experience, and also derived a handbook for coastal managers in the western Indian Ocean. After MIMCA, Ali took a leading role in setting up a larger marine protected area, the Pemba Channel Conservation Area (PECCA), and was its first manager

Ali has been running a community-based turtle conservation and monitoring program for over 18 years, and volunteers in supporting Pemba's communities in need.

Ali collaborates closely with the Pemba Foundation on marine conservation. He speaks Swahili and English. Reach him at ash.asfsay@yahoo.com.