The inshore waters of Pemba's 40-mile long west coast contain one of East Africa's most important concentrations of marine biodiversity. There are many small islands, shallow lagoons, extensive coral reefs; 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 through 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 say that if the treasures of Pemba's west coast are to be preserved for the future, protective measures have to be introduced. A start was made as far back as 1993, when one of the best of the reef systems, around Misali Island, was made a conservation zone, with a core area closed to fishing, and regulation enforced by a ranger patrol. 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.
People know 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. In response, the Pemba Foundation developed a co-operative program, involving fishing communities and the government Fisheries Department, to implement a series of small, community-run conservation areas, modeled on Misali Island. This kind of inclusive program has been shown to be an effective conservation approach in other parts of the world also subject 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 could be directly involved in the creation of conservation areas, or MPAs (marine protected 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.
As a direct result of the consultation meetings, in 2017 we set out the buoys to mark a new MPA, closed to fishing and patrolled by community rangers in a boat provided by the Pemba Foundation. This area was created at the request of Gando village, whose representatives had attended the meetings, and set up in co-operation with the Fisheries Department and the Zanzibar Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS). From IMS, Dr. Saleh Yahya trained Gando's rangers, while Dr. Narriman Jiddawi created a catch-reporting system for the local area (see profiles below).
Mangroves are a vital part of coastal ecology: they provide shelter and nursery areas for many marine species; they filter the water; and they stabilise coastlines by providing a buffer against wave action. But they are also a convenient source of wood for house and boat building, charcoal, and the stakes used in seaweed farming. In Pemba, as in much of the tropics, people cut the mangroves without realising that they may be damaging their fish catch offshore, or opening up their shoreline to erosion.
Mangrove restoration is simple but labour-intensive -- you gather up the seedlings that sprout in healthy areas, then plant them out one by one in cut areas.
This restoration project involved six coastal villages in north Pemba, in an area where there's been heavy cutting of mangroves. Volunteers from the villages did all the hard work: around 3,000 person-days between seedling gathering and planting out. 180 volunteers were split into 6 groups, each of which received half a day of training from Ali Said, including discussion on the ecological value of mangroves. The Pemba Foundation co-ordinated the project and covered basic expenses -- hiring the meeting halls, bus fares, and refreshments for the volunteers.
Over the course of 2 months the volunteers were able to re-plant about 300,000 seedlings in 5 hectares (12 acres) of mangrove areas that had been destroyed.
Every year 1-2% of Pemba's 30,000 acres of mangrove forest is lost, so we'll be doing as much mangrove replanting as we can find funds for.
POSTSCRIPT: About 2-1/2 years after the re-planting was completed, we re-visited the areas to check on their progress. It was a disappointment (see pictures below): only about 30% of the seedlings had survived; some had never taken root, others had grown well for 2 years, and then died. Mangrove restoration is not so simple after all, but we think we've learned some valuable lessons for next time.
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 was 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.
Finally, Mohammed keeps up to date with Pemban fishing almost every morning, as auctioneer of Wete's fish market.
Mohammed advises the Pemba Foundation on fishing, fishing communities and fish conservation.
Narriman has collaborated widely in her work: with fishing communities; with senior officials of the national government; tourism businesses; with NGOs that seek to preserve marine resources; and with scientists and students in many parts of the world. She has conducted extensive multidisciplinary research involving both biological and social sciences in marine and coastal areas of East Africa, and has participated in a wide variety of projects that promote marine conservation. She was part of a multidisciplinary team to assess the interlinkages of mangroves, sea grass and coral reefs of East Africa, and the contribution of these resources to the wellbeing of local communities.
Narriman advises the Pemba Foundation's on marine conservation and communities, and for its fisheries program developed the fish catch reporting system to be used by local communities at beach landing sites.