Zanzibar revives coral reefs - Mnemba success

From Mnemba, a picturesque island in the Zanzibar archipelago of Tanzania, there is a breathtaking view of the Indian Ocean. Until recently, this paradisiacal spot faced serious ecological problems. Three years ago, the coral reef surrounding the island was on the verge of destruction, threatened by climate change, overfishing, and other human activities. The local community faced the loss of their livelihoods and the threat of having to leave their homes.

In response to these challenges, the residents of Mnemba decided to actively engage in an environmental protection project. Initiatives were introduced aimed at rebuilding and protecting the coral reef, which is known worldwide for its uniqueness and beauty. Just 10 meters below the water’s surface, the coral reef seems almost within reach thanks to the crystal-clear water in this area.

A few years ago, local fishermen began to notice that the corals looked stressed, partly due to rising water temperatures. Additionally, reckless activities, such as the use of dynamite by fishermen and unregulated tourist traffic, contributed to the degradation of the reef. In response to these challenges, in 2021, the non-profit organization Africa Foundation, in collaboration with the sustainable tourism group &Beyond, began working with local communities to address these issues. Underwater nurseries were established on the reef, where coral fragments are grown and later replanted on the coral reef. Local divers take care of the coral fragments. Additionally, ecologists created artificial reefs – steel and stone structures placed about 3 km from the island. There, the corals grown in the nurseries are transferred to new locations.

The results are promising and visible as it is estimated that currently 80% of the reef has been restored. Artificially created coral reefs not only help rebuild marine life but have also become huge attractions for divers and snorkelers from around the world.

Dr. Camilla Floros, the lead scientist in the Africa Foundation’s Oceans Without Borders program, emphasizes that reef restoration must be done considering the right materials, based on experiences from other parts of the world. She highlighted that lessons have been learned from earlier initiatives to create artificial reefs to avoid repeating previous mistakes, such as using inappropriate materials like tires for building artificial reefs. Local communities actively participate in the projects, which is key to their success.

Atuwa Omar, a local resident who became part of the project as a caretaker, emphasizes that this work not only allows her to take care of her family but also provides education for her child. Despite the challenges she faces as the only woman in the project, she believes it was worth facing these challenges for such a noble cause as rebuilding this beautiful underwater world.

Bakari Jaha, the coordinator of Africa Foundation in Zanzibar, noted that the coral reef once attracted significant amounts of tourists. Previously, an area of only 200 square meters could receive 200 boats with at least 400 guests. In response, the government, together with &Beyond and Africa Foundation, decided to limit the number of tourists to 80 people. The initial entry fee was $3, which has been raised to $25, significantly improving both environmental protection and the region’s revenue. Additionally, due to the reef restoration work, local fishing was temporarily suspended, which has led to a reduction in illegal practices such as dynamite fishing. Fishermen have also started using more sustainable fishing methods.

The coral reef restoration project on Mnemba is so promising that the Zanzibar government plans to expand it to other threatened areas. Dr. Makame Omar Makame, director of the Zanzibar Marine Department, says the government has identified 14 areas with intact reefs that it plans to protect to counteract the pressure exerted by human activities and climate change.

About the author

Picture of Grzegorz Bubak

Grzegorz Bubak

My fascination with marine aquariums began over two decades ago when I stumbled upon an article about this topic in a magazine. Since then, the underwater world has become my obsession and passion, shaping my everyday life. I started my adventure with marine aquariums with soft corals, which were my first step into this fascinating world. Over time, captivated by the diversity and beauty of SPS corals, I decided to focus on their cultivation, which continues to fill me with constant wonder.

Thanks to my experience and passion for marine aquariums, I am ready to share my knowledge and expertise with other enthusiasts in this field. I am happy to be part of the Reef Pedia community, which serves as an invaluable source of information for all marine aquarium lovers.