It was a year ago now that we took action and created our “patrol initiative” with Mafia Island Marine Park and, we’re so proud of the difference that it has made, that I wanted to share this with you and prove that it is possible. Some of you may not have seen our posts and will be asking what the patrol initiative is so I will give you some background first…
A year ago now, we opted to help the Mafia Island marine park by providing a daily boat with fuel and a Captain in order for them to better look after Chole Bay and the surrounding area.
A lot of people have asked me why the marine park needed help and tell me “we’ve paid a lot of money to come in here, so why can’t they use that?” This is always my response… Tourists pay the marine park fees and Mafia Island is a quiet place with few tourists. Even in “busy season” most of the hotels have a maximum occupancy of 20-30 people and, in the Utende area, there are only 6/7 “hotels” and a handful of smaller guest houses. If we do the maths, this doesn’t actually add up to a large sum of money, especially not when we consider that you’re talking about a marine park that’s 822km2 big. We also can’t forget that not all of this money stays in Mafia – some goes to other marine reserves in Tanzania and to the municipality as well. This means that the resources of the marine park are over-stretched and they simply cannot be everywhere at the same time.
The majority of the local people earn their living from fishing – tourism is not the main source of income for this island, so everyone who thinks that “banning fishing in the marine park” is the answer are being very selfish and are depriving the local community from earning a living. What we do need to do, however, is ensure that the fishing here is sustainable for the benefit of everyone. The marine park has been designed to be a multi-use marine park, this means that some zones allow fishing and others don’t so, in theory, everyone can earn their living from the area.
With the resources of the marine park over-stretched and, with people wanting to earn as much as they could, the illegal fishing in Mafia was getting worse and worse – fishermen resorted to bigger and better techniques to get the biggest haul that they could, including using nets, dynamite and other illegal methods. Fishermen from other areas were hearing about the fish at Mafia Island Marine Park and coming in to try their luck and leaving the next day with a boat full of fish. Local people were complaining that fishing was getting harder and harder and began resorting to “easier” methods of catching fish themselves. Each time the marine park tried to respond and launch their boat, people would wait on the beach phoning all of their friends and telling them to leave before they arrived. Either that or they would go early morning or at night before anyone had time to see them. It was an impossible situation that only seemed to be getting worse.
This meant that we had 2 choices; complain about it or try and help. We chose the latter.
In the beginning the majority of the investors on the island wanted to support this initiative and provide money and staff to help. Some of the patrol staff started to get abuse from the local community and so slowly investors began to drop out. A lot of people were scared and thought that the patrol was an unnecessary risk to their business or deemed it vigilantism. When you start things like this though, it’s never going to be easy! You are in a situation where people have been getting their own way and fishing how they like for a while, so changing people’s perceptions was never going to be simple! Undeterred, the staff of Big Blu (Butiama Lodge Company Ltd.), Shamba Kilole Eco Lodge and Mafia Island Marine Park continued.
I honestly believed that, if we could just get people to fish according to the marine park laws for a few months, then we would show them that the fish stocks would increase, their lives would get easier and everyone could benefit. No one wanted them to stop fishing, just to fish in the right way – get your permit and use sustainable methods so that we can all benefit in the future.
The day-in-the-life of the patrol boat was tough in the beginning – there were warnings given and advice about correct fishing methods, then they began confiscating equipment and fish from those who didn’t want to comply – this led to confrontations and, on one occasion sabotage of the boat! Then slowly but surely the local fishermen started to see results. The fishing was getting easier for them now that all the big nets had gone. They started to communicate with the marine park staff and begin to develop relationships. Eventually the day-in-the-life of the patrol boat was getting easy – a few reminders about permits seemed to be the order of the day. Everyone was learning that they were there every day now so there were only few attempts to fish illegally and those that did were closed down quickly.
We continue to patrol the Chole Bay and surrounding area today, every day, supported by Big Blu (Butiama Lodge Company Ltd), Shamba Kilole Eco Lodge, Mafia Island Lodge and, of course, Mafia Island Marine Park. I am massively proud of the work that we have done and want to thank everyone who has supported us financially, physically and emotionally! To the Captains’ who began and continue to take this journey, the support staff who have kept everything running, the marine park staff that turned up every day and really showed us that it is possible to work
together – well done!
Sure the road has been rocky, some didn’t make it, and we have had to overcome problems on the way, but what journey that is worthwhile is easy?
Big Blu Mafia Island Dive Centre
Mafia Island, Tanzania